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Nurturing the Soul: An Analysis of "The Secret Garden"

Updated on January 15, 2017

Have you seen "The Secret Garden" (1993)?

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The film The Secret Garden is an adaptation of the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The central characters are children who learn valuable lessons about life through getting to know each other. The main character, Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly) is a lonely girl whose parents have abandoned her as much before the earthquake in her homeland of India as they do now that they're deceased. She is relocated to live with her uncle at his mansion in England. There, she finds out she has a cousin named Colin, and reveals family secrets neither of them knew.

Mary Lennox

A common mistake parents make is having a "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude toward their children; unfortunately, children do not learn like that. Mary's parents ignored her to go to parties. This was so common that even after her parents' death, Mary dreams of being in her aunt's garden as a little girl and her mother leaving. Her parents' lifestyle causes Mary to lack the ability for emotional expression; therefore, she doesn't cry or know how to make friends. Since she was taken care of by her parents' employees she doesn't know how to take care of herself. It isn't until she moves to England that she becomes independent and capable of feeling emotion.

"My parents didn't want me. My mother cared only to go to parties. And my father was busy with his military duties. I was never allowed to go to the parties."


Mrs. Medlock

Like Mary's biological mother, Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith) isn't particularly maternal; she's controlling. She tells Mary, the staff, and even her boss' son, Colin, what to do. She doesn't see Mary as a child in need, but just another responsibility because she is already overworked. She doesn't trust children; therefore, she tells Mary to stay in her room or stay outside at specified times. She can't handle unexpected schedule conflicts or doubt in her caretaking methods. She can only work from what she knows; therefore, she is overly concerned about Colin for fear of losing her job; however, Lord Craven sees that she has been preventing his son from getting well; therefore, it is her overbearing nature that leads to her retirement.

"What did they do with you in India? Carry you around in a basket?"

Mrs. Medlock

Martha Sowerby (Laura Crossley) cares for Mary which in turn teaches Mary to care for herself. Martha's insistence for Mary to relax and have fun changes Mary's outlook on life. She learns not to take everything so seriously. Mary seems frustrated with Martha because she has never been given so much attention nor been played with in a loving way, before. Martha's maternal personality gives Mary permission to be a child, and to learn how to care for herself. It also inspires her to do the same for the garden and teach Colin to become independent.

"I thought all girls like to be tickled."


Colin Craven (Heydon Prowse) has a similar childhood as Mary. He hasn't had attention from his parents; however, in his case, his mother's death has kept his father in constant depression and it hurts him to see son. Colin is bedridden and like Mary, he doesn't know how to take care of himself. His presumed illnesses keep him from getting emotionally close with anyone which makes it easier for him to stay away from people, completely. Mary convinces him to let go, and take risks such as leaving the mansion. It is through his experience of knowing Mary and being outside that he realizes he isn't sick at all. It's clear he has been suffering from weak muscles and hypochondria.

"I'm not as selfish as you are! Just because I'm always ill!"


Dickon Sowerby (Andrew Knott) teaches Mary how to care for the earth. He is used to caring for himself and the planet. Mary is deceived by the dark look of the plants during the winter, but he knows the garden is still alive. He shows Mary how to plant flowers. This knowledge teaches her that she can heal herself and others. It is through her friendship with Dickon that Mary matures and moves on from her troubled childhood.


"It's full of life."


Lord Archibald Craven (John Lynch) will see Mary, but not his own son, Colin. His wife's death has caused him a decade of grief. He's afraid to see his son, but Mary brings them together by reopening the garden. Lord Craven gives Mary permission to plant seeds; however, he feels he has to leave to escape the spring. Mary, Colin and Dickon summon Lord Craven through a dream that convinces him to return to see the garden and find his son.

"You brought us back to life, Mary. You did something I thought no one could do."

Lord Craven


The garden is a character in itself. In the beginning of the film, it is abandoned and appears to be lifeless. It isn't until Mary is captivated with its mystery that it's renewed by being replanted and cared for. It represents the other characters. Throughout the winter, everyone is unhappy and secluded. Once the spring comes and the garden is regrown the characters are together and happy. The garden's new state represents the rebirth of the characters who have all been in their own individual pain for the past ten years.

"The spell was broken. My uncle learned to laugh, and I learned to cry. The secret garden is always open now. Open, and awake, and alive. If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden."


© 2014 social thoughts


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