After both of her parents died in a cholera outbreak in India Mary was going to her uncle’s house in England.
“But you are going to be sent home,” Basil said to her, “at the end of the week. And we’re glad of it.”
“I’m glad of it, too,” answered Mary. “Where’s home?”
Doesn’t she sound like a TCK? Confident– I’m glad of it too! – yet not clear where home is. In her case, Mary seems even more rootless than the average TCK, however, because of the lack of attachment and involvement of her parents.
Today we begin our discussion of The Secret Garden by focusing on key aspects of two of the primary characters – Mary as a TCK and Colin as he faces a childhood illness.
Mary had been closest (as much as one can use the term “close”) to her Ayah. And in her case, the power distance between Mary, a child, and her Ayah was backwards. Mary held all the cards, even “slapping her Ayah in the face when she was angry.” When Mary arrived in England, Martha was the house servant who attended her. You can guess how well her attitude went over with English servants =)!
“Mary listened to Martha with a grave, puzzled expression. The native servants she had been used to in India were no in the least like this. They were obsequious and servile and did not presume to talk to their masters as if they were their equals… Indian servants were commanded to do things, not asked.”
“Why doesn’t tha’ put on tha’ own shoes?” she said when Mary quietly held out her foot.
“My Ayah did it,” answered Mary, staring. “It was the custom.”
She said that very often – “It was the custom.” The native servants were always saying it. If one told them to do a thing their ancestors had not done for a thousand years they gazed at one mildly and said, “It’s not the custom” and one knew that was the end of the matter.”
“But, in fact, he (Ben, an elderly gardener) did not object to her as strongly as he had at first. Perhaps he was secretly rather flattered by her evident desire for his elderly company. Then, also, she was more civil than she has been. He did not know that when she first saw him she spoke to him as she would have spoken to a native, and had not known that a cross, sturdy old Yorkshire man was not accustomed to salaam to his masters, and be merely commanded by them to do things.”
True, it was a different era with different cultural expectations between foreigners and locals AND, I hope(!) we come to the lands we come with a different attitude than Mary, her parents, and ex-pats in their roles. Yet, Mary’s behavior makes me so uncomfortable I’m quick to look for ways the TCK’s I know are NOT like her. But if I’m honest, similarities exist. In what ways do you see Mary as a TCK? Have you seen your kids interact with people when you go “back home” in ways that are appropriate in your context but may not be so appropriate in your passport country?
Let’s also discuss Colin and the themes of childhood illness, both the impact on the individual and the family. Do any of you have chronically ill children or siblings when you were growing up? For Colin’s dad, having a child who was ill and reminded him of his dead wife, he responded by pulling back. His relationship with Colin was almost non-existent. Colin was so spoiled, I found myself like the servants, not wanting to be around him! He needed (watch out for a really obvious observation) connection and boundaries.
In my family, my grandpa’s younger sister had polio and it shrunk her right arm and leg a bit. For that time period, it was a family tragedy and much money and effort were invested to “make her normal.” I remember seeing a class picture of her where she had colored over her arm with pen.
It confused me as a child. My great-aunt was profoundly influenced by the message she wasn’t normal and it was until in her 80’s when she fell and broke a hip and had to live in a nursing home that she socially blossomed. For my great-aunt, it ended up being life long and, for the most part, negative and isolating.
Illness show up in most of our family histories and I’ll look forward to your stories in the comments.
My compassion for Colin grew as I saw the scared, abandoned boy he was.
If you’ve read this book before, how does the TCK lens and childhood illness change things? What else have you been thinking about as you start this book? See you in the comments!
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