How does the secret garden transform Colin and Mary?

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The secret garden transforms Colin and Mary physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Both children were weak and sickly before they started spending time in the secret garden. Mary was scrawny and pale; had dull, thin hair; and had little endurance. Even before she found the key to the garden, she was becoming stronger and fitter from playing outside most days. Colin, who thought he would die young as a hunchback, rarely got out of bed or off the couch. He couldn't walk, not because of anything specifically wrong with his legs, but simply because he was so weak from reclining all the time. The secret garden motivates Colin especially, but Mary as well, to exercise. They not only do purposeful exercises in the garden, but they also are physically active as they dig, plant, and weed the greenery.

The garden is emotionally transformative for both children as well. Each child was raised as an only child primarily by servants who catered to his or her every whim. Thus they were selfish and self-absorbed, tending to explode with temper tantrums when things didn't please them. When they begin taking care of the garden, their focus turns outward. They learn to nurture the flora and fauna and become givers instead of takers. They discover that they not only like other people, but they actually like themselves. Colin begins to dream of a future as a scientist and orator and begins exercising his mind and his voice as well as his body. For both children, their emotional maturity grows by leaps and bounds.

Finally, the garden transforms the children spiritually. In chapter 23, Colin makes a great speech about "magic." He describes how something in the garden started "making things out of nothing." He begins grappling with metaphysical concepts, and his conclusions are very like religious faith, although he doesn't realize it. When Dickon sings the doxology, Colin remarks, "Perhaps it means just what I mean when I want to shout out that I am thankful to the Magic. . . . Perhaps they are both the same thing." Colin and Mary then sing the song with Dickon, praising God.

As the children help the secret garden grow, it helps them grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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Mary has been orphaned and neglected, and Colin is sickly boy shunned from the rest of the household and kept hidden. The two are both stubborn, spoiled, and inquisitive. When they work on the secret garden, a healing process begins for the children. As the garden grows, so do each of them, growing healthier and more understanding of each other and the world around them. Mary and Colin are both children who have spent their lives inside, sheltered, shackled, and stunted. They are psychologically the same: hurt, lonely, and weak. They have been surrounded by servants all their lives, having every whim catered to, but no one has shown them love. Only their material needs have been taken care of. As the garden awakens, so do the children: “ ‘I’m growing fatter,’ said Mary, ‘and I’m growing stronger. I used to always be tired. When I dig I’m not tired at all.’ ” (Chapter 11). Both Colin and Mary begin to get stronger and happier.

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