All children grow up except one: Peter Pan

Peter Pans story and its themes

di Angela Maraggia


Peter Pan: or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904) is the title of Scottish playwright and novelist J. M. Barrie’s most famous play, and Peter and Wendy (1911) is the title of Barrie’s novelization of it. Both tell the story of Peter Pan, a mischievous little boy who can fly, and his adventures on the island of Neverland with Wendy Darling and her brothers, the fairy Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, the Indian princess Tiger Lily, and the pirate Captain Hook. The play and novel were both inspired by Barrie’s friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family. Barrie created Peter Pan in stories he told to the sons of his friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, with whom he had forged a special relationship. The character’s name comes from two sources: Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys, and Pan, the mischievous Greek god of the woodlands. It has also been suggested that the inspiration for the character was Barrie’s elder brother David, whose death in a skating accident at the age of thirteen deeply affected their mother. (fonte: wikipedia)


James Matthew Barrie was born in Scotland in 1860, the ninth of ten children. For the first six years of his life, James lived in the shadow of his mothers love for his older brother David. Tragically, at the age of 14 David dead after being injured in a skating accident . While his mother derived some consolation from the notion that David would remain a boy forever, Barrie drew inspiration. In his desperate attempt to be loved and to replace David in his mothers life, Barrie virtually became David. Trying so hard to be his brother stunted his own development and at 14, and only five foot high, he stopped growing and never grew any taller. The idea of the everlasting childhood stayed with Barrie and became one of the defining reasons for his lifelong love of children, as well as the inspiration for his most famous play, Peter Pan. Barrie married but didnt have any children but he had many as friends. In Kensington Gardens in 1897, Barrie met the eldest three Llewelyn Davis boys, George (five), Jack (four) and Peter. Barrie developed a strong friendship with the children and their parents, Sylvia and Arthur. When Sylvia and Arthur both tragically died of cancer, when the boys were still young, Barrie became their guardian and, decided to adopt them and bring them up as his own. His life with the boys has been explained as the strongest inspiration for the creation of Peter Pan in 1904. Barrie himself once said:

“By rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks to produce a flame, I made the spark of you that is Peter Pan.”


Plot summary

The play begins in the Bloomsbury flat of the Darlings, which is visited by Peter Pan , a boy who ran away as a baby when he realized he had to grow up. So he escaped to Kensington garden where he met some fairies but feeling homesick one day came back to discover his mother had got another baby. So disappointed he flew on the island of Neverland where got the leader of some fairies, some lost Boys but he also has an enemy, Capitan Hook. One night flying around London, through an open window, he could listen to Mrs. Darling telling bedtime tales to her children. The Darlings dog frightened Peter, and he flew away, leaving his shadow behind him, and some nights later Peter returned to catch his shadow and Wendy Darling helped him to sew it. Moved by her kindness he would like to consider Wendy as his mother and suggested her to follow him with little brothers on his island where he lives with all the lost boys, protected by a tribe of Red Indians but a pirate gang led by Capitan Hook overcame the Red Indians, and Wendy is captured along with all her family”. Peter arrived just in time to prevent Capitan Hook from making them walk the plank, defeats the villainous pirate in a duel and saw him eaten by the crocodile that has stalked him for years. He then took Wendy and her brothers back home, declined Mrs. Darlings offer to adopt him and is partly compensated for the loss of his beloved Wendy when Mrs. Darling promised to let her return to the Neverland each year to do spring cleaning.


An Afterthought

A few years after the premiere of the original production of Peter Pan, James Barrie wrote an additional scene entitled An Afterthought, which is sometimes, but usually not, included in productions of the play. It was, however, included as the final chapter of Peter and Wendy. In this scene, Peter returns for Wendy years later, but Wendy is now grown, with a daughter of her own. When Peter learns that Wendy has “betrayed” him by growing up, he is heartbroken. But Wendy’s daughter Jane agrees to come to Neveland as Peter’s new mother. In the novel’s last few sentences, Barrie mentions that Jane has grown up, and that Peter now takes her daughter Margaret to Neverland. Barrie says this cycle will go on forever as long as children are “innocent and heartless”.


The main characteristic of this lifelong child is his flying skill:

This is explained somewhat. In The Little White Bird he is able to fly because he – like all babies – is part bird. In the play and novel, he teaches the Darling children to fly using a combination of “lovely wonderful thoughts” (which became “happy thoughts” in Disney’s film) and fairy dust; it is unclear whether he is serious about “happy thoughts” being required (it was stated in the novel that this was merely a silly diversion from the fairy dust being the true source), or whether he requires the fairy dust himself. In Hook, the adult Peter is unable to fly until he remembers his ‘happy thought’.


Major themes

The play’s subtitle “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” underscores the primary theme: the conflict between the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. Peter has literally chosen not to make the transition from one to the other, and encourages the other children to do the same. However, the opening line, “All children, except one, grow up,” and the conclusion of the story indicates that this wish is unrealistic, and there is an element of tragedy in the alternative.

There is a slight romantic aspect to the story, which is sometimes played down or omitted completely. Wendy’s flirtatious desire to kiss Peter, his desire for a mother figure, his conflicting feelings for Wendy, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell (each representing different female archetypes), and the symbolism of his fight with Captain Hook (traditionally played by the same actor as Wendy’s father), all could possibly hint at a Freudian interpretation Oedipus Complex (2). Most “children’s adaptations” of the play omit any romantic themes between Wendy and Peter, but Barrie’s 1904 original, his 1911 novelization of it, the 1954 Disney musical, and the 1924 and 2003 feature films, all at least hint at the romantic elements. (fonte: wikipedia)


Sex Roles:

Sex roles, especially motherhood, are explored in Peter Pan. Peter convinces Wendy to come to Never Land so she can see a mermaid, but he really wants her to act as a mother to himself and the Lost Boys. She is to tell them stories, like her own mother tells to her. Though Wendy admits she has no experience playing a mother role, she imitates her own mothers behavior and manages to win the boys over.

Duty & Responsibility:

Duty and responsibility – or their lack- drive the actions of many characters in Peter Pan. Peter Pan wants to avoid all adult responsibility and goes to great lengths to achieve this goal. He refuses to play father to Wendys mother, uncomfortable even when pretending the role. In the end, when Wendy and her brothers decide to go back home, Peter will not let himself be adopted by the Darlings as the other Lost Boys are. If he went back, he would eventually have to grow up, assume responsibility, and become a man. This is unacceptable to Peter so he stays alone in Never Land, and Wendy comes back annually to do his spring cleaning. Despite his fear of adulthood, Peter does his duty as captain of the Lost Boys and protector of Wendy (and Tiger Lily). He rescues all of them from Captain Hooks band of pirates. He can only be responsible in these types of situations.



(2) Oedipus complex, Freudian term, drawn from the myth of Oedipus, designating attraction on the part of the child toward the parent of the opposite sex and rivalry and hostility toward the parent of its own. It occurs during the phallic stage of the psycho-sexual development of the personality, approximately years three to five. Resolution of the Oedipus complex is believed to occur by identification with the parent of the same sex and by the renunciation of sexual interest in the parent of the opposite sex. Freud considered this complex the cornerstone of the superego and the nucleus of all human relationships. Many psychiatrists, while acknowledging the significance of the Oedipal relationships to personality development in our culture, ascribe love and attraction toward one parent and hatred and antagonism toward the other not necessarily to sexual rivalry but to resentment of parental authoritarian power.


  • torna all’indice di Peter Pan Tesina esame di stato 2011 di Angela Maraggia