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Although it seems, from much of Barrie’s writing, that he adopted the mind of a child himself, he did assert that “the childish imagination, splendid as it is, has the most terrible limitations”, and that it is only by growing up that one truly understands the world (Carpenter p179). Peter Pan thus seems not only to celebrate the imagination, but also to declare its limitations. The restrictions of childhood are perfectly represented by Barrie in the character of Peter.
The tragedy of Peter Pan seems to be when the darling children are reunited with their parents, and Peter is left “looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred”.
It now is clear to the audience that Peter is a victim of his own worship of immaturity. As a result of this adoration for infancy Peter becomes isolated and lonely as his development is halted. His only relationships are with the Lost Boys, and he never progresses or shows any romantic or sexual emotions.
Although Peter Pan is, in many respects a celebration of immaturity, Barrie seems to be warning that those who choose to remain immature will become, like Peter, unable to enter into a traditional family framework. Barrie’s Peter Pan is a tale of playful escapism and over time the name Peter Pan has become a byword for eternal youth. Peter may also be seen to personify immortality when compared to the mortal child represented by the darling children.
The character, inspired by the “Edwardian ideals of youth” (Wallshli?? ger p128), reveals the limitations as well as the marvels of childhood and makes the audience very much aware of the “price of remaining a child” (Carpenter p179).
It is Barrie’s unique “mix of ingredients” that has made Peter Pan such a well-loved story for so many years. It is, on one hand, a typical adventure story “laced with dreams of military glory”, and on the other, a fantasy tale (Wallshli?? ger p129).
The play was a success from the very first performance in 1904 when the audience response was wildly enthusiastic. The creation of such vivid and memorable characters as Hook and the ticking crocodile has ensured Barrie’s firm command of his reader’s reactions and enabled him to take them to his secondary world, Neverland. This is, to the Darling children and others who read the story, both an enchanted other world and a dream reality which acts as an escape from their real lives.
Peter Pan, while becoming the dream figure of an age that declined to grow up, also represents the beautiful, heavenly Victorian child as well as the fun loving boyish hero of Edwardian society. It Barrie’s particular combination of fantasy and reality that has formed such a wonderful escape world for so many children and is ultimately “not just an imaginative creation by one man, but a public phenomenon” (Carpenter p170).
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan. London. Penguin Books Ltd. 1911 (2002)
Carpenter, H. Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. London. Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1985
Townsend, J. Written for Children. Harmondsworth. Penguin Books Ltd. 1974
Wallshlï¿½ger, J. Inventing Wonderland: The lives of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A.A. Milne. London. Methuen Publishing. 1995 (2001)
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