To what extent do you think Peter Pan suffers from a sort of nostalgia for the state of childhood?
‘Let them doze among their playthings yet a while! For who knows what a rough wayfaring existence lies before them in the future?’ (Stevenson, 1879).
To what extent do you think Peter Pan suffers from this sort of nostalgia for the state of childhood?
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Childhood and the inevitability of losing that childhood at some point in the future is a key element of this story, and it is clear that whilst Barrie might have intended this story for an audience of children, he has also aimed it at an adult audience to provoke nostalgia and happy memories about the time when they were children. The whole concept of Peter Pan, the one child who will never grow up, immediately highlights the theme of nostalgia for childhood. Note the following quote that also signals this as a strong theme running through the work:
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she 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!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.
Although the last sentence can be read as being slightly ironic, the quote definitely emphasises the importance of nostalgia in this work for a time when children were free to make believe and imagine and have fantasy adventures. Adult life, it is inferred, is definitely not as interesting as the life of a child, and a child therefore loses something when they grow out of this childlike state of innocence where anything is possible through the power of their imagination.
However, at the same time, it is possible to argue that this text actually presents very adult themes and adventures. Captain Hook represents a real enemy that must be vanquished, and critics have noted that the world of Peter Pan, although it aparently presents us with a black/white universe of evil and good, actually has a large area of overlap with good and evil becoming very difficult attributes to apportion in their entirety. The Indians, for example, are on their way to hunt for scalps when they meet the pirates, and Peter Pan himself has to resort to various unscrupulous tricks and actions in order to secure victory. Some have therefore argued that this text is about far more than just nostalgia for the state of childhood, as it actually presents a rather complex picture of the world where categories such as "good" and "evil" are muddied and indistinct.
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