Thomas Jefferson once said “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time deprives all its good dispositions.” this quote is describes The Gardener almost perfectly. The main character Helen Turrell casts a web of lies that fooled everyone and even myself, until the gardener reveals the truth about Helen’s story.
Helen Turrell decides to take in a baby from her brother, which had died recently from falling off his horse. Both the father and the mother had died and Helen decides that she would be the best one to care for the child, since the nurses didn’t do such a great job. She named the baby Michael and tells him to call her auntie instead of “mummy”, as she was his aunt and not the mother of the child. Michael grew up into a fine man, and continued his education at Oxford with a scholarship. At Oxford he was drafted into the military to fight in World War I, there he fought but soon enough he was killed by a shell splinter. Michael’s body was covered in the rubble and was presumed missing. When there was an armistice for the end of the war, his body was discovered and buried in one of the war memorials. After hearing the news, Helen went out on a search for Michael’s grave at the Hagenzeele Third cemetery. There she met a gardener and Helen asked the same question to countless cemeteries she visited “have you seen my nephew Lieutenant Michael Turrell?” The gardener responds with “I will show you where your son lies”. The response the gardener gave was surprising because Helen specifically said nephew and the gardener said son.
Although most people would interpret the story as how I did, this story The Gardener has a different story once it is understood. The story begins with Helen taking in the child from her dead brother. After closer inspection in the story near the end of the story, she described the request of looking for the grave as “slowly and word for word, as she had many thousand times in her life”. The way she described this request was peculiar because when people describe their relationship with other family members, it’s natural and most people don’t think about all the times they called their mom, “mom”. After picking up on this detail other parts of the story become more questionable, like how Helen just happened to gain custody of the child before any other family member. She even knew that she herself was not a child-lover, given this fact there could have been any family member that could have been more suitable. For a non-child lover Helen went through a lot of trouble for the child, she dismissed the nurse that was taking care of the child, and then took the child home back with her in Hampshire.
With all these abnormalities within the story a question stems from it whether the child is Helen’s or her brother’s. The answer to the million dollar question: Yes. The introduction of lies tells us that Helen was sick and went to seek treatment in France and payed her sister in law for the child. In fact Helen was perfectly healthy and was pregnant with Michael. She told all these lies because she was too ashamed to have a child when she was not even married. Helen told everyone that she was just Michael’s aunt and nothing more; she even made her own son believe the lies, and refusing Michael to call her mummy.
In the last couple of lines of the story, the gardener tells Helen “Come with me, and I will show you where your son lies.” This part of the story was what many people had different views on the real identity of the gardener was. Even though Helen specially asked the gardener about her nephew, he responded with her son. Some interpretations of the last lines were that maybe the gardener was Jesus, and he knew the truth about Helen and her child. Based on the descriptions of the gardener of how he reacted to the request made by Helen, the gardener looked at Helen with infinite compassion before he showed Helen the grave. When the gardener was given the task to dig the grave for Michael, he thought of his own son. These clues led me to believe that maybe the gardener was Michael’s father. A gardener in a cemetery would not look at someone with infinite compassion, because he probably sees people like Helen everyday morning over their loved ones. Helen was probably a special case, the two of them probably met before and conceived the child who was Michael.
This story was inspired by Kipling’s own life. He had a child, John Kipling, that grew up and joined the army. Like the story both Michael and John fought in world War I and just like Michael, he was also killed in war and his body was nowhere to be seen. Although Michael’s body was found soon after the war was over, John’s body was still pronounced missing. The story contains many similarities to the author’s life, such as Michael being born in India (the birthplace of Kipling). The details that were given to describe the grief the Helen felt when her son died was probably how Kipling felt when his son died too; making the story seem more real.
Like Jefferson said “the falsehood of his tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions”. Helen could have gave Michael a more loving childhood, she could have allowed him to call her “mummy” like the rest of the boys at school. But instead she decided to lie to everyone and almost fool everybody except the gardener.
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Ruggenberg, Rob. “The Gardener.” , by Rudyard Kipling. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016
@tyrocitycom. “The Gardener – Reference Notes.” Reference Notes. N.p., 17 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.