Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Winter Garden reflects Verweerd’s Reformed Christian perspective, thematically and symbolically. Ika’s journey from a childhood marked by her mother’s sin to personal growth and recognition of grace in her own life drive the spiritual arc of the novel. At the heart of the narrative lie the need for reconciliation and expiation of sin, and these themes are represented through the opposition of two Scriptural verses.

Samuel 4:19-22 recounts the Israelites’ loss of the ark of the covenant and the naming of a child, Ichabod, “the glory is departed.” Choosing such a name for her illegitimate daughter serves as a perpetuating self-punishment for Nelly de Haan, especially given her minister father’s condemnation and the disapproval of the village.

Ika finds solace in prayer and reading the Scriptures, particularly the consolatory verses of Isaiah 43, the assurance of the constancy of Christ. It is these lines that give her strength to confront her mother’s illness and stubbornness and bring the two women together in a moment of understanding and forgiveness. When Nelly de Haan dies in Ika’s arms, they are the first words her daughter whispers.

The dove symbolizes the constancy of Christ and serves as a reminder of the possibility of grace, negotiating the two Scriptural verses that bookend Ika’s relationship with her mother. The bird also keeps her company as she designs the winter garden that represents a mother holding a baby in her arms, the final image of emotional and spiritual reconciliation of the novel.