Essays and Criticism
The Depiction of Women and Men in Peter Pan
Many critics have argued that Peter Pan idealizes women, especially in their roles as mothers. By idealize, critics mean Barrie oversimplifies them, seeing them only as mothers rather than wellrounded human beings. While Barrie does idealize women, the female characters are not so simple. By looking at the main female characters, how they are idealized, and the development of their roles within the play, it becomes clear that they are complex idealizations. Barrie emphasizes this complexity by contrasting the women with his less favorable depictions of adult males; the men in his play are silly and in dire need of mothering.
Mrs. Mary Darling is the most idealized female character in Peter Pan. She is the epitome of motherhood. She has sacrificed her wedding dress to make coverlets for her children’s beds. She dislikes going out or socializing, preferring to stay at home with her children. When she has to go out, as she does in Act I for her husband’s job, she is reluctant to leave and believes that something is wrong. She even acts like a mother to her husband. When he cannot tie his tie, she does it for him, soothing his anger like she would a small child. In Act V, scene ii, when the children return home, she agrees to adopt all the Lost Boys and even offers to adopt Peter. When Peter refuses, she will not allow Wendy to go back with him to Never Land but only to visit once a year to do his spring cleaning.
Mrs. Darling is the baseline for women in Peter Pan. She could be no more perfectly written for such a role: she is polite and giving, without faults, desires, or ambitions, except those that relate to her children.
In many ways, Wendy is her mother’s daughter. About eight- or ten- years-old, Wendy likes to play house with her brother John. When her father tries to convince her brother Michael to take his medicine, she is the one to immediately help him deal with the situation. After Peter Pan enters the nursery and explains the situation with his shadow, Wendy solves the problem and sews it on for him. Wendy is a junior version of Mrs. Darling.
But when Wendy is in Never Land, she proves that she is more than a petite version of her mother. She does act as mother to the Lost Boys—though she admits ‘‘I am only a little girl; I have no real experience’’—though her actions are not solely motivated by the interests of her ‘‘children.’’ She wants to swim with mermaids, though Peter warns her they like to drown children. In Act IV, Peter becomes uncomfortable with being the father to Wendy’s mother, even if it is only pretend. Wendy knows there is more to these kinds of relationships, a fact unclear in the depiction of Mrs. Darling. When Wendy asks Peter, ‘‘What are your exact feelings for me, Peter?,’’ he replies, ‘‘Those of a devoted son.’’ This upsets Wendy, but she cannot tell him what she wants him to be exactly because ‘‘It isn’t for a lady to tell.’’ This statement reveals Wendy’s desires—as well as an understanding of the mores in male/female interactions—in her relationship with Peter.
In Never Land, women, including Wendy, are allowed to be more complex, perhaps because it is a fantasy land that exists outside of the rigid social conventions of England in the early-twentieth century. Tiger Lily is a prime example of Never Land’s empowered females. Though she is a minor character, Tiger Lily is not a mother or surrogate nurturer; she is an Indian leader, the daughter of an Indian chief. Barrie describes her as ‘‘the belle of the Piccaninny tribe, whose braves would all have her to wife, but she wards them off with a hatchet.’’ In Act II, when she learns pirates are in the area, she wants to attack them and collect their scalps. They lose this battle, and Tiger Lily nearly...
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The Peter Pan Principle
Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, has flourished in the hearts of children and adults since he first took flight 83 years ago. The stage and book versions, written by Englishman J.M. Barrie, have never been entirely out of fashion. But now a new generation is learning to love Peter Pan—and his struggle with the villainous Captain Hook. For many Canadians, the highwater mark of the current revival is the Shaw Festival’s spectacular production at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., which opened Aug. 14. But publishers, too, have been getting in on the action. Montreal’s Tundra Books has just released The Eternal Peter Pan, the first volume of a trilogy of Pan-related books. As well, the rights to Barrie’s drama and novel, now held by a London children’s hospital, become public next year—giving added momentum to rumors that Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is planning a film version starring Michael Jackson. It all confirms Barrie’s genius in finding a theme that has caught the imagination of four generations.
That theme is simple: growing up is not as wonderful as adults sometimes pretend. Peter Pan has seen the writing on the wall—the dull jobs and bored faces of so many grown-ups—and he wants no part of it. In the book version, his quixotic revolt is frequently overburdened by Barrie’s ponderous commentary. But the play sticks economically to the story line, a virtue wonderfully enhanced by the Shaw’s magnetic production. Its Peter Pan has more gusto than an old Errol Flynn...
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Review of Peter Pan
I would feel a good deal safer dealing with this review of the Barrie classic if I had managed to get a child to go with me. As a matter of fact I did vainly try to seize a child, with somewhat mixed results. My first (progressive) nephew had the chicken-pox, and the school in which my second (progressive) nephew abides, refused to release him in mid-week. Thirdly, the daughter of one of my best (Jungian) friends flatly refused to go, although her little brother, aged four, kept shouting into the telephone, ‘‘Peter Pain! Peter Pain! Me. Me.’’ Needless to say, I gave up on that one.
The reason for all this benevolence was frankly in the interests of criticism as well as curiosity. Admitting, as I must, to a real nostalgia for Eva Le Gallienne’s distinguished and absolute production of the play in the early thirties, it seemed to me I ought to temper possible prejudice with some outright junior reaction. Failing this conspiracy however, I might as well confess to having had a very good time at the present Lawrence-Stevens production. The business adds up, surprisingly, to fair Broadway. There is, in the person of Boris Karloff, the very best Captain Hook imaginable; there is, in Jean Arthur, an intriguing Peter; there is an enchanting Nana (you remember the sheepdog nurse) played by Norman Shelly; there is one excellent Ship set by Ralph Alswang; and there is music by Leonard Bernstein which is up-to-the-minute and sensitive, saving only those moments when he descends into radio solos with interpolated lyrics of his own. And finally there is, alas, our ridiculous system of rehearsal- time which literally forces a show as technically complicated as this one before the public before it can possibly be ready.
One can only suppose that Wendy Toye, the choreographer, must be even now delivering a few honest...
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Barrie Wins Through
Considering the perishability of fantasy, the low esteem in which whimsy is now held and the knowing smiles of the recently analyzed, it must require a good deal of courage to offer ‘‘Peter Pan’’ today. Peter Lawrence and R. L. Stevens, producers of the current Jean Arthur-Boris Karloff revival, are suitably rewarded for their daring—they seem to have a hit on their hands.
But having taken the plunge with Barrie, it is too bad that the present backers then lost their nerve a bit and decided to help him along with a few ideas of their own. They engaged Leonard Bernstein to write ‘‘additional’’ lyrics and music, and hired a small male ballet troupe to fill out what they must have regarded as a thin evening. But the foxy Barrie needs no plumber’s helpers, and ‘‘Peter Pan’’ is not thin; the additions merely slow up the action, clutter the stage with a number of unemployed merrymakers and from time to time overpower the innocence of the play with a ‘‘production number’’ vulgarity. Bernstein’s contributions are the more unfortunate because they are the more obtrusive. His songs are not only unwanted; with one or two possible exceptions they are strikingly inferior. In particular, ‘‘Who Am I,’’ inflicted on Wendy, who is otherwise touchingly played by Marcia Henderson, is a stale and cynical song-mill concoction. The settings, to get the rest of the trouble out of the way, are heavily jocose in the...
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