On the surface, Mary Poppins appears to be a fun story about a magical nanny who brings a family together. Although the story is focused on two children, Jane and Michael, I find the adult characters much more fascinating. They each represent an important part of society, and yet they cannot fully embody their traits because something is constantly limiting them.
Let’s take each character in the order of introduction in the movie. I would also like to connect songs to each character.
Bert is a mystical person, like Mary Poppins. He seems to have a different job every day and does whatever he likes. He symbolizes freedom. He even says, “I does what I likes and I likes what I do.” After singing “Chim-Chim Cher-ee”, Bert calls the roof tops “a trackless jungle just waiting to be explored”. He has the freedom to do anything, even dance on rooftops. However, I think the main thing he stands for is creativity. He can draw picture with chalk, act as a one-man band, and sell kites. However, his limitation is that he cannot actually produce magic the way Mary does. No matter how much he wants to jump into the drawing, he can’t without her help.
Admiral Boom is a ship captain. He stands for timing and punctuality. However, his limit is that he has no actual ship to command. He only has his servant, Mr. Binnacle, to instruct. Unfortunately, there is no song associated with Admiral Boom.
Next, we meet Mrs. Banks. She is a suffragist who is fighting for women’s rights. She symbolizes liberation and independence. However, she is limited in her cause by her husband. Her song “Sister Suffragists” is about “equal rights with men”, but Mrs. Banks herself cannot stand up to her own husband. After her songs, she instructs one of the maids to put the sashes away because “the cause infuriates Mr. Banks”. She wants equality so badly but can’t even have paraphernalia from the cause visible in the house.
Mr. Banks is all about “tradition, discipline, and rule”. He likes his life to be calculated down to the moment. This is represented well in his song “The Life I Lead”. However, his limitation is his children. Although they are not actively trying to ruin his schedule, they do not fit in perfectly. He comes home ready to “pat them on the head and send them off to bed”, but they are missing. He cannot fit children into perfect plans.
Mary Poppins can be considered many different things. She is a nanny, a teacher, a magician, a problem-solver, and much more. However, I read an interesting analysis of her on the web. Liz, blogger of DoctorLizardo, considers Mary “a trickster goddess, introducing (necessary) chaos” into the lives of the Banks family. She has many supernatural qualities: carried by the wind, able to speak with animals, and, of course, the wonderful, bottomless bag. The song that best represents her is “A Spoon Full of Sugar”. The message of this song is to find the fun in a difficult task. Mary Poppins herself makes everything fun. Her limitation is the wind. She must leave when it changes.
Uncle Albert obviously symbolizes merriment and humor. His laughing literally lifts him into the air. He “can't hide it inside” so it’s contagious and lifts others up, too. Uncle Albert’s song, “I Love to Laugh”, describes the different types of laughs people possess. A sad society we would live in if we did not have jokes and laughing. I can’t think of a limitation for him. If you do, please comment below.
The bird woman represents charity. All she asks for are “tuppence a bag” to feed the birds. Her limitation is her poverty, which is another symbolic characteristic she has. She sits on the steps asking to “feed the birds”, but who is feeding her?
The chairman of the bank, Mr. Dawes Sr., obviously represents greed. He wants to take the tuppence away from Michael. The song of the bankers is trying to turn the generous Michael (who just wants to donate his money and feed the birds) into a greedy young man like themselves. Mr. Dawes Sr. limitation is his lack of humor. This ultimately kills him but also helps the other bankers to realize their mistake.