LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Peter Pan – More than Just The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow UP

on March 21, 2013 1:59pm

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.

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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.

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2 responses to “Peter Pan – More than Just The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow UP

  1. bkfining says:

    Great post!

    I think that you bring up an interesting point about the less-examined themes also present in Barry’s works. I think that this addressed effectively in the film adaptation Hook, starring Robin Williams. As the “Peter Pan” in this film is actually a grown man who spends much of the movie refusing to shed his grown-up ways, more focus is placed on other themes. For example, the theme of loyalty is portrayed as Peter starts to bond closely with the Lost Boys whom he originally was skeptical of, and as he is willing to fight to the death to save his children, whom he originally had a strained relationship with. The theme of “never grow up” actually doesn’t really seem to play a part in the adaptation at all. Rather, the overriding message being portrayed is “never forget what is important in life,” though this message is depicted through displays of excessive-maturity vs. childlike spirit. The movie shows that one can be mature and responsible (ultimately: a grown-up), without losing many of those characteristics that seem to be identified with children, such as loyalty, curiosity, etc.

  2. I like your post alot!
    The theme of never growing up is definitely the main topic in Peter Pan I agree with this and how they do not mention that much about Peter Pan loyalty. He does have a great personality with his friends because even if he sometimes thinks he is the best at everything he will give his life for his friends and is very naïve. Peter Pan is a charming guy that always does innocently acts and always gets what he wants. A good New Article that I will suggest you read talks about different version of Peter Pans and how his tales has been told and retold during years by changing the characters ages and appearance, the progress and ending of their stories and even their meanings. The article can be found at this link http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/apr/05/who-is-peter-pan/?pagination=false and it also agrees with you how Peter Pan always acts as a child focusing in the theme of never growing up. A topic I believe it was not describe it in the book his appearance in details. His abilities are well explained and everything for him to work out is just to think something positive out of his imagination. For the theme of youth I will say that I like the idea that he never grows up and always stay young. Imagine how awesome will it be to be Peter Pan for one day or forever and never grow up into adulthood. The world will be a much better place because they have fantasies and imagination while now people only are always stressing about things. I agree that by telling this story children may have anxiety to be like him but if you know the right way to teach it to children they will be able to make differences in the world and not do silly stuff.
    However, about the movies I do not remember that much but I agree with bkfining. I will actually watch this weekend just for fun to bring good memories.

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