24 May 2011
In his novel, Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie presents his readers with a fantasy world named ‘Neverland.’ The properties of this place are that you must be a child to go there and that it exists outside of the solid, real world. The novel of Peter Pan discusses the idea of never growing up and maintaining child-like innocence for an eternity. Peter Pan, the character, does not grow up and his band of ‘Lost Boys’ are also permanently children. The obvious implication of this is that Barrie has carved out an allegorical message of why, as adults, it is important that we maintain some of the magic of childhood before it is lost entirely to the realities of work, finances and bills. With that in mind, this essay will discuss how Neverland represents childhood and how Barrie created this haven for innocence and fun.
The focus of the text is immediately addressed in the first sentence of the book: “All children, except one, grow up.” (Barrie 1). We later find out that the exceptional ‘one’ is Peter Pan: the boy who never grew up. Barrie immediately presents us with his reason for writing such a fantastical book and he demonstrates his dislike for adults and the growing up process by juxtaposing the adults alongside the children. Each adult is presented as being boring or angry. Captain Hook, for example, the captain of the pirates who have crashed Neverland and who pursue Peter Pan, is presented in nothing but negative tones: “the blackest and largest in that dark setting, reclined James Hook… instead of a right hand he had the iron hook… he was cadaverous and blackavized, and his hair was dressed in long curls, which at a little distance looked like black candles, and gave a singularly threatening expression to his handsome countenance.” (Barrie 68). The image of such a man is frightening and immediately casts a shadow of dispersion over adulthood because of its contrast to the fun, happy disposition of the children. The suggestion here is that whilst Neverland represents the innocence of childhood and Captain Hook represents the onset of adulthood and its tyrannical invasion of our youth.
Neverland itself is described as being different for every child, which further compounds its status as a dream-like, metaphysical representation of childhood: “Of course, the Neverlands vary a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting, whilst Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it.” (Barrie 12). It is arguable, then, that Neverland exists solely in the minds of children as a magical place where anything can happen: Neverland is the metaphorical representation of the child’s imagination – there are no limits except the impact of adulthood which prevents children from accessing Neverland. Neverland exists only in the minds of children which is also why only children can go there. It differs from the ordinary world because in reality, children have to grow up and become these dark, shadowy, scary figures like the presentation of adulthood as represented by Hook. Its essential elements consist of child-like imagination, enthusiasm and fancy; in its truest form, it is not a solidly formed place and so it can take on the dimensions and specifications of any child’s design.
Throughout the novel, Barrie deals solely in metaphors to address his adverse view of adulthood and how it impacts upon our childish lust for life. He clearly sends the message that children are the best of humanity and that humanity is fundamentally flawed due to its own aging force: everyone must grow up, but as a result they lose the elements that make humanity so wonderful. Towards the end of the book, when the children are grown up, Barrie speaks quite harshly of them and the lost boys in particular: “All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worthwhile saying anything more about them.” (Barrie 207). The message here suggests that since they are now adults, they are no longer any different from the other millions of boring, older people. When discussing Wendy’s development into adulthood, he refers to memories of Peter Pan as being “no more to her than a little dust in the box in which she had kept her toys.” (Barrie 207) which demonstrates both Wendy’s increased age as well as the implication that Peter and Neverland were all imaginary, childish games anyway. Neverland represents childhood in its fullest sense: free of restrictions, full of fun, unabashedly imaginative and standing up against the inevitable growth into adulthood. Only children can go there because only children have the imagination to conjure it up; adults lose that ability as part of growing up. Barrie presents uses Neverland to represent childhood in its fullest sense: something that only children can appreciate and understand and as something that seems mysterious and unknowable by adult minds.
Barrie, J.M. The Adventures of Peter Pan. Iowa: 1st World Library, 2003. Web.