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...
(The entire section is 1563 words.)