Themes and Characters

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Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, the two main characters in The Secret Garden, are cousins but psychologically resemble twins. Both have been effectively orphaned—Mary by her parents' death, and Colin by his mother's death and father's subsequent abandonment. Brought up by servants who dislike and fear them, the two are unruly, nasty children, prone to temper tantrums whenever they do not get their way. The servants, however, meet only the children's physical needs and desires; they do not satisfy their need for love and affection. Without being aware of it, Mary and Colin are exceedingly lonely, isolated, and frightened that life will continue to bring them no genuine, lasting joy.

Mary, however, begins to understand herself and her needs when she is brought to the home of her uncle, Mr. Archibald Craven, and must learn how to dress and care for herself. Having no peers or playthings, Mary comes to identify with the craggy, angry gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, as well as with a robin who has been abandoned by his nest mates. She recognizes for the first time that she has always been lonely, yet she does not know how to bridge her isolation. With the robin's help she discovers the dying secret garden, and, because it too has been abandoned, Mary becomes determined to restore the garden to its former loveliness. The act of reviving the garden restores Mary's physical strength, and she is gradually transformed into a vibrant, healthy, happy young woman capable of looking beyond herself.

Colin does not appear until almost halfway through the novel, when Mary discovers him hiding from the world in his room. Colin's mother died in childbirth after a tree branch in the garden struck her and forced her into premature labor. Unable to recover from the shock and grief of her death, Mr. Craven has become reclusive and avoids seeing his son. Although he does not consciously wish Golin any harm, he cannot see him without remembering his deceased wife. Colin fears that he will develop a hunchback and die. A hysterical, angry young man who has been deeply hurt by his father's unthinking rejection, Colin needs companionship; he needs to learn how to love and be loved, and he needs to learn how to help himself. Mary, recognizing much of herself in Colin, forces him to see that there is nothing physically wrong with him except the debilitation brought on by spending most of his life in bed. Lashing out at him with her own very violent temper, she challenges him to recover and introduces him to the secret garden.

Dickon, the housemaid Martha's younger brother, is the exact opposite of Mary and Colin. A static character, he offers unqualified acceptance to the two troubled children and thus helps them grow. He has an uncanny, almost supernatural ability with wild animals and nature, drawing squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and lambs to his side by playing his pipes. A Yorkshire lad, he is at one with nature and at peace with himself. He has no doubts, no fears, no feelings of isolation, and no selfishness. Innately kind, he provides Mary and Colin with the first positive, nurturing friendship they have ever experienced. Dickon's character gently reinforces the novel's themes of rebirth and redemption through nature, and helps make The Secret Garden a novel of hope and joy fulfilled.

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