The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Character Analysis
Mary Lennox

Mary Lennox is the protagonist of the story. Mary undergoes a major transformation throughout the course of the novel. In the beginning, she is described as a sour and rude little girl who has been accustomed to being endlessly catered to by her servants in India. The sudden death of both her parents as well as her main servant, Ayah, catalyzes the greatest transition in her life thus far: a cross-continent move to her uncle's manor in Yorkshire, England. Here, Mary quickly discovers that her spoiled behavior will not fly in this new environment.

Slowly we see Mary mature as she comes to terms with the selfishness and isolation that has characterized her early life. She begins to open her heart to new friendships with the many characters—human and animal alike—who populate her uncle's estate. Her discovery of the secret garden marks the point when Mary truly starts becoming joyful and enthusiastic about living. Whereas in India she spent all her time indoors, Mary has now become a lover and caretaker of nature, eager to bring vibrancy back into the neglected garden. At the same time, she meets her cousin Colin and encourages him to heal and regain his optimism, recognizing in the boy her own former complacency towards life. In this way, the revival of the Craven household runs parallel to Mary's own development into a wise and compassionate young girl.

Colin Craven

Colin is the son of the wealthy and reclusive Archibald Craven. Colin's mother died when he was an infant, and thus his father mostly avoids the boy, finding his presence too painful of a reminder of his deceased wife. For his whole life, Colin has been made to believe by the servants who care for him that he is very sick and crippled. Throughout the book, however, the reader comes to realize that this sickness is less of a physical condition than a psychological malaise born from the sense of being unwanted and unloved.

At 10 years old, Colin is already anticipating death, having been told by the nurses and doctors around him that his health is on the decline. With this defeatist attitude, Colin is constantly acting out and throwing temper tantrums, earning him the reputation of being terrifyingly misbehaved by the manor staff. It is not until he is found by Mary that Colin finally feels understood and seen for the innocent child that he is, rather than as a sick patient. With the help of Mary and Dickon, Colin leaves behind his known routine to explore the gardens and experience the natural world. This change sparks within him a new zest for life, and by the end of the novel, all of his symptoms and ailments subside, underscoring the power of belief to determine one's health.

Dickon Sowerby

Dickon is the younger brother of Martha, Mary's main servant at her uncle's estate. Mary immediately takes a strong liking to Dickon as he represents the complete opposite of her former life in India. He is a down-to-earth farm boy who has a naturally happy temperament and strong, almost magical ability to connect with nature. He is portrayed throughout the novel being accompanied by various animal companions, who follow him around as if he is one of them. Dickon speaks in a thick Yorkshire accent that Mary tries to copy, admiring his unpretentious and poetic ways of expressing himself. Dickon's seemingly effortless connection to nature is put to use when he leads the effort to bring the secret garden back to life.

Dickon's warm and generous heart is key in helping Mary to open up and have an appreciation for the beauty of life. He is also shown as a highly compassionate boy in his kindness towards Colin at his lowest moment.

Archibald Craven

Archibald Craven is Mary's uncle and the master of Misselthwaithe Manor. He has constantly mourned his wife since her tragic death 10 years prior, becoming a recluse and avoiding anything that reminds him of her, including the secret garden where she died and his very own son, Colin. Mr. Craven's misery is underscored in the novel as an example of how grief keeps people from growing and experiencing life to its fullest. By the end of story, Archibald has somewhat of an epiphany while at an Austrian riverside, triggering him to realize that he must reignite his will to live and honor his wife's memory by acknowledging those things she held dear. With this he recognizes he must be a better father to Colin and thus returns to his estate with the intention of starting life anew.

Lilias Craven

Lilias Craven was the wife of Archibald Craven, the uncle of Mary. Though she died 10 years before, she serves as an important character in the story. It is through her sudden death in the garden that has caused Mr. Craven to spin into what seems like an insurmountable grief and close off to the world. The titular secret garden was Mrs. Craven's favorite place and we are told that she is a great lover of nature and beauty. We are also told how Mrs. Craven bears a strong resemblance to her son Colin, which is why he is neglected by his father. As Colin begins to heal from his sickness, he reconnects to the memory of his mother and comes to adapt her characteristic love for life.

Ben Weatherstaff

Ben Weatherstaff is a groundskeeper at Misselthwaithe Manor. He is one of the first people Mary befriends when she arrives at the manor. Though he often has a gruff exterior, Ben eventually warms up to Mary, and they find common ground in their mutual disagreeableness and desire to isolate. Ben Weatherstaff feels a loyalty to Mrs. Craven and has secretly been tending to her garden in the years since she passed. Ben eventually joins Mary, Dickon, and Colin in their effort to revive the garden and is delighted to see Colin regain his health.

Susan Sowerby

Susan Sowerby is the mother of Martha and Dickon. Though mostly a peripheral character, we are shown through Mrs. Sowerby an example of a strong maternal figure, which eventually prompts Colin Craven to consider his relationship with his own mother. The mother of 12 children, Susan Sowerby is described as being very generous and warm, much like her son Dickon. Although seemingly an ordinary peasant woman, she plays an important role in the plot, advising Mr. Craven to let Mary be independent, providing extra meals for Mary and Colin, and influencing the eventual reunion between Mr. Craven and his son.

Martha Sowerby

Martha Sowerby is a young woman who works at Misselthwaithe Manor as the main servant of Mary. Martha is contrasted with Mary's previous nanny, Ayah, in that she doesn't coddle or indulge Mary's every request. Her kind-hearted yet blunt honesty helps Mary transform into a more humble and light-hearted little girl. Martha is also responsible for introducing Mary to her brother Dickon, who plays a big role in the story.

Mrs. Medlock

Mrs. Medlock is a housekeeper and servant at Misselthwaithe Manor. She primarily serves Mr. Craven but also is the one who initially brings Mary to the estate. Mrs. Medlock is somewhat intimidated by her employer and thus does everything in her power to make sure Mary follows his rules.

Dr. Craven

Dr. Craven is a cousin of Archibald Craven and serves as Colin Craven's doctor. Dr. Craven is shown as not always having the most integrity in trying to help Colin heal, prioritizing his own concerns of inheriting Archibald's estate over helping the child recover from illness. By the end of the story, however, Dr. Craven seems genuinely pleased to see Colin overcoming his sickness.

Mr. and Mrs. Lennox

The Lennoxes are Mary's parents. We do not find out much about them, besides that they are very wealthy and have mostly left their daughter to be raised by her nanny. Their sudden death by cholera is what prompts Mary to move to her uncle's manor.

Ayah

Ayah is Mary's main servant in India. For Mary's whole life, Ayah has done everything for her and acted in a very docile manner. She dies from cholera alongside Mary's parents in the beginning of the story.

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