For today’s post I would like to discuss the character of Peter Pan. He is the titular character in J.M. Barrie’s play, and has become one of the most recognizable modern fairytale characters! Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell, and the Lost Boys are all remembered fondly.
They have also inspired many further works of art, in both literature and film! The influence of this character can even be seen in fashion via the Peter Pan collar, popular in the 1960s. Peter Pan is the most iconic eternal youth one can find. He is the boy who chose never to grow up, and this lends its name to Peter Pan syndrome (when adults do not want to grow up).
The basic story of Peter is well known, he lived in Neverland and had a rivalry with Captain Hook. One day he brought Wendy and her brothers with him to Neverland, second star from the left and straight on til morning! There is where we are introduced to the land from the perspective of Wendy and her brothers as visitors. We learn of Captain Hook and how his hand was eaten by a crocodile.
We also meet the Lost Boys, a group of boys who also live in Neverland with Peter and Tink. Peter had brought Wendy there to act as a mother to the Lost Boys, and himself, after witnessing her with her brothers. At the end of the day Peter is more than just the leader of the Lost Boys, he is likely the most lost out of all of them! He certainly wants a mother, a person to care for him, but he feels he must steal her away from her own life. This can be interpreted as him not feeling he deserved the love and attention he so clearly needed. His never wanting to grow up showed a fear of what being an adult meant, and likely was something author J.M. Barrie himself dealt with.
The rivalry with Captain Hook can be interpreted as an adolescent boy fighting with his own burgeoning manhood. Captain Hook, and his crew, are some of the few adults the reader, or audience, meets in Neverland. So I think it makes sense to view him through the lens of Peter’s own fears about becoming a man, and how that may change his nature. He may even feel if he grows up he will become a villain!
Tinkerbell and Peter have an interesting and unique relationship. She is always there for him, and gives him advice. We know that she is incredibly jealous of Peter and Wendy, and showed much spite towards the girl. In the original stage production Tink was simply played by a light, and the other actors reacted to the light (and tinkling of bells) as if she had spoken. In the Disney version we meet Tinkerbell as a very feminine looking pixie. She has and hourglass shape, and knows she is appealing to look at. This is why I see Tinkerbell as being a symbol of Peter’s sexuality, which he is repressing in staying a child. His rejection of Tinkerbell to pay more attention to the maternal Wendy shows this fact! Just like he fears becoming a villainous man, he fears his own sexual instincts, and his relationship with Tinkerbell exemplified this fact. In this case Wendy is safe because she is seen as maternal and chaste. On the other hand Tinkerbell is seen as sexual, and therefore unsafe to his desire to say a boy forever!
The fact that in stage productions for decades Peter had always been played by an adult woman further adds to his androgyny. He is forever the boy, never a man, and he is at a point of adolescence where he fears his own sexuality. If the boy ever let himself grow up, then maybe he would become something he could ever imagine. We get to see glimpses of this in the film Hook, which starred Robin Williams as an adult Peter. In this he is an adult, yet often still acts as a youth, a bit of an exemplar of the Peter Pan syndrome I mentioned in the first paragraph!
In the original story we can see that Peter may have begun to question his decision to stay a child, and how Wendy may have helped him realize this. Certainly, I believe that is why so many people see a possible love story with Peter and Wendy, although as I have discussed I feel he saw her as safe and chaste. Whether Peter truly stayed the eternal child, possibly grew up a la Hook, or ever saw Wendy again is open to interpretation. What we do know is that this story, and this character, has become one of the staples of childhood. In this way the story is truly immortal!
I hope you have enjoyed my short analysis of the character of Peter Pan. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is three versions of Peter. I found the image on nypost.com.
- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Hook (1991)
- Finding Neverland (2004)