How would you identify the writing technique in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Chapter Five?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several interesting writing techniques employed by Barrie in Chapter 5. The first and most obvious is the technique whereby the third-person narrator takes the audience into confidence and addresses the reader directly:

Would that he could hear us, but we are not really on the island, and he passes by, biting his knuckles.

Barrie employs this technique right from paragraph one, Chapter one where he introduces Wendy and her family life:

One day when [Wendy] was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!"

In contemporary literary theory terminology, this is called meta-reference and is a category within meta-fiction. These meta- classifications simply mean that a text refers to itself or to its creative process: characters--and a narrator--display an awareness of their role within a work of fiction. In meta-reference, characters--or a narrator--may "break the fourth wall" and do the equivalent of making asides to the audience (breaking the fourth wall is a term borrowed from theater and is represented by asides to the audience).

This meta-referencing narrator is called an "intrusive narrator." An intrusive narrator interrupts a narrative's progress and "dream"; the narrator speaks out of turn, you might say, drawing attention to the narratorial role and knowledge and to the reader's relationship with and dependence upon the narrator. Michael Jackman of Indiana University Southeast defines an intrusive narrator as one who will break the narratorial rules for being distant and invisible and ...

  1.  Give editorial comments and insights about the action that only the narrator can know
  2.  Directly address the reader in second person (“you may think that…”) or change the narrative briefly from third person to first person point of view (“I am of the opinion that…”)

There are many instances when Barrie's narrator breaks the rules of distance and invisibility and intrudes his observations, thoughts, exclusive knowledge, and personality into the narrative. One type of intrusion leads to another technique employed: he adds songs (a poem set to music) to the narrative as he does when he describes the pirates' ditty:

after a pause,... come the pirates ... and it is always the same dreadful song:

     "Avast belay, yo ho, heave to,
     A-pirating we go,
     And if we're parted by a shot
     We're sure to meet below!"

Two more classic techniques are personification, giving the animals human traits: "a gigantic crocodile. We shall see for whom she is looking presently," and direct dialogue such as follows:

"What kind of a bird, do you think?"

"I don't know," Nibs said, awestruck, "but it looks so weary, and as it flies it moans, 'Poor Wendy,'"

"Poor Wendy?"