"All children, except for one, grow up." This is the opening line of both the book and the play. The main theme of the story is the conflict between wanting to remain a child, but knowing that one has to become an adult. Peter Pan is the living and breathing manifestation of the desire to remain a child forever, without responsibility or cares. He makes decisions based on his desire to remain a child forever, even giving up Wendy and the companionship of the Lost Boys, so that he can stay young and continue to go on wild adventures. Peter represents the desire never to get older and never to mature as a person, but to remain immersed in one's imagination and sense of play.
Both Mrs. Darling and Wendy are portrayed as very maternal, and it is suggested that their role in life should be to nurture children. This is a stereotypical depiction of the role of women in society. There is even a suggestion that Wendy is falling in love with Peter, but he tells her he thinks of her more as a mother figure. Part of Peter's arrested development, his desire to be a child forever, is also wrapped up in a Freudian conundrum in which he can only see the females in his life as potential mothers. Indeed, it is hinted that his primary trauma, what sent him to Never Land in the first place, was being abandoned by his mother. He fled his pram as a child, and when he returned to his nursery, his mother had closed the window and no longer expected him to come home. Peter's "mommy issues" are, therefore, at the center of his character, why he has become such a reckless and adventure-seeking character, and why he is always in search of a mother.
Good Triumphing Over Evil
A central and rather simple theme in the play is that of the triumph of good over evil. Captain Hook is a bona fide "baddie" and his deeds are evil and intended to cause harm. He kidnaps Tiger Lily and also attempts to murder Peter by poisoning him. After Peter has come to rescue the Lost Boys and the Darling children, Hook also attempts to kill him again. He gets his comeuppance when Peter kicks him into the open jaws of the crocodile. Peter, the adventurous boy who will never grow up, represents good, while Hook represents evil. The play suggests that good always triumphs over evil.
The first time we see a portrayal of a close family relationship, Mrs. and Mr. Darling are preparing to go out to dinner, as they interact lovingly with their three children. They are adoring parents who think highly of their children, and their quarrels are always loving and affectionate. When Peter asks Wendy to accompany him to Never Land, she brings along her brothers, Michael and John. Then, in Never Land, she meets the Lost Boys, orphans whom Peter had discovered in Kensington Gardens. Wendy immediately acts as a mother to the boys, and they create a makeshift family where there never was one.
Finally, at the end of the story, Wendy begins to miss her parents horribly, and decides to go home, bringing the Lost Boys with her. When her mother hears about the Lost Boys, she offers to adopt them, providing them with a mother and a family.
A defining characteristic of Peter Pan is his insatiable thirst for adventure. More than family, romance, or stability, Peter loves a good challenge. He loves to find adventures and he loves a fair fight. The plot of the play is made up of a series of adventures, usually led by the spritely Peter, and always ending in triumph. Adventure becomes one of the most exhilarating elements and defining characteristics of his curious eternal childhood. While adults must grow up, get educations, pursue careers, and leave spontaneity behind, children have the privilege of going on any number of adventures and living always in the moment.
The play is filled with instances of magic and a harnessing of that which the adult world deems "impossible"—the children fly, Never Land is populated by a wide array of storybook characters, and fairies abound. Belief in the impossible and faith in the power of the mind is what keeps these magical events occurring throughout the play. When Peter first teaches the Darling children to fly, he advises them to think happy thoughts, and it is this joy that lifts them off the ground. He also explains that new fairies come into existence every time a baby laughs, and die when anyone says they do not believe in fairies. When Tinker Bell almost dies after drinking the poison, the clapping of the audience—a vocal expression of belief in fairies—that brings her back to life. Belief and the imagination have an uncanny ability to make the impossible possible throughout the play.
A major reason Peter does not want to grow up is because he does not want to assume adult responsibilities, but instead wants to stay a child and have fun. In the beginning of the play, we meet Mr. Darling, a character who is rather comical precisely because he has to assume so many adult responsibilities as the breadwinner of the family. Barrie describes Mr. Darling in terms of his adult responsibility as a working man: "He is really a good man as breadwinners go, and it is hard luck for him to be propelled into the room now, when if we had brought him in a few minutes earlier or later he might have made a fairer impression. In the city where he sits on a stool all day, as fixed as a postage stamp, he is so like all the others on stools that you recognise him not by his face but by his stool, but at home the way to gratify him is to say that he has a distinct personality."
Peter Pan Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Peter Pan is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.