In discussion of Peter Pan, both literary and casual, there is an understandable focus on the themes of youth and a reluctance to reach maturity. Indeed, with Peter himself the quintessential “boy who would not grow up”, it certainly is a message worth exploring, and worthy of its inextricability with the work. However, believe that there are other themes in J.M. Barry’s work that are at times overshadowed by this emphasis on “never growing up”. This inequity of focus has somewhat skewed the message of the books, and, without an examination of possible author intention, there is a great potential for misinterpretation.
One theme, for example, that I believe to be under-discussed is that of loyalty. Peter has a fierce loyalty to his friends and adopted “family”, and in that way he is made to be more than simply a selfish and immature young man. While Peter is definitely both of these things, one must also consider that he has to a degree been made these things by his circumstance and lack of familial security. These deficits of course mirror Barry’s own life (with specific regard to a feeling of abandonment and neglect by his mother), and run much deeper – and are certainly causational – of a fear of growing older.
Peter Pan also captures those themes of youth as more than simply innocence, but as a curiosity and a fire for life that – according to Barry – are somewhat dimmed upon reaching maturity. Peter is not inclined to stay young in order to eschew responsibility but rather to capture for longer its excitement and wonder. These messages, far from encouraging hedonism or selfishness, merely encourage curiosity and imagination. In a retaliation to the Victorian notion of children as young adults, Barry allows them to have a childhood free of adult anxieties and hang ups.