Different Views on Peter Pan

A Comparison of Peter in "Peter and Wendy" and "Hook"

Essay, 2013

27 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Index of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Why Choosing Peter and Wendy and Hook?

3 Gender-background: Masculinity of Peter Pan

4 Main Characteristics and Abilities of Peter Pan
4.1 Embodiment of Childhood
4.1.1 A Boy who does not Grow up
4.1.2 Ability of Living on an Imaginable Island
4.1.3 Ability of Eating by Imagination
4.1.4 The Ability not to be Frightened about Mistakes
4.2 Ability of Flying
4.3 Peter as a Nature Boy
4.4 The Ability to Forget

5 Conclusion

6 Outlook: Social Impact of Peter Pan
6.1 Peter Pan Syndrome
6.1.1 Irresponsibility
6.1.2 Anxiety
6.1.3 Loneliness
6.1.4 Sex Role Conflict
6.1.5 Narcissism
6.1.6 Chauvinism
6.1.7 The Crises: Social Impotence
6.2 Great Ormond Street Hospital



1 Introduction

This essay wants to compare and contrast one of the first versions of Peter Pan Peter and Wendy from 1911 with the movie Hook from 1991 . The hypothesis of the paper is that both interpretations have different central messages depending on the cultural and social background in which the book was written and the movie was made. To expose these central messages the paper focuses on the characterization of Peter Pan[1] who is the main character in both stories. The object of this research and the aim of comparison and contrast of the two adaptations are to discover how the differences of these messages look like and how they are in detail related to society.

The essay is structured as follows: After the introduction the second chapter explains why especially these two adaptations of Peter Pan are chosen. The third chapter discusses the gender background of Peter Pan to open a cultural perspective and get a better understanding of the main character. After that follows the characterization of Peter in the fourth chapter. This, as the main part of the assignment, is divided into several subchapters which describe different facets of Peter’s character. The most remarkable characteristic of Peter is his person being an embodiment of childhood. This factor will be analyzed in even more subchapters. Furthermore, the fourth chapter gives a conclusion and points out the main results. Finally, in the sixth chapter an outlook will be taken and two examples of the huge social impact of Peter Pan, on the one hand The Peter Pan Syndrome and on the other hand the relation between the author of Peter Pan J. M. Barrie and the Great Ormond Street Hospital will be described in detail.[2]

2 Why Choosing Peter and Wendy and Hook?

The first printed version of Peter Pan is called Little White Bird and was published in 1902. This version was written for adults and has only some chapters of Peter Pan and describes his early living and how he became Peter Pan. The entire book has dark undertones except the middle chapters about Peter Pan (Barrie, 1902). Depending on the great success of Little White Bird in 1904, the first theater play of Peter Pan came on stage. In 1911, Barry adopted the story of the play to a new book which was called Peter and Wendy. This version was written for children. The story develops the image of Peter Pan that is still known nowadays. This is actually the reason why the author of this paper chooses the version of Peter and Wendy.

Hook is a movie by Steven Spielberg and is chosen because it shows another perspective of Peter Pan. In this adaptation Peter is a grown up man, who actually has forgotten, that he is Peter Pan. The starting point of the story in the movie Hook opens in a different plot of action than in the book Peter and Wendy. In the movie Hook Peter has to train and fight to get his memories back. After he gets them back he is turned to Peter Pan with all his abilities but with an appearance of an adult. He never looks like a child again (Spielberg, 1991).

3 Gender-background: Masculinity of Peter Pan

The character of Peter Pan in Peter and Wendy can be seen as a young boy without responsibilities. The author of this paper indicates his gender as more neutral than masculine because Peter is a child or rather the embodiment of childhood, which will be described later. In this context he has no sexual desires. An indication for this theory is that Wendy wants to kiss Peter, but Peter does not know what a kiss actually is. (Barrie, 1911, p.41)

The character Peter in the book adaption Peter and Wendy also can be seen as a kind of a father-figure for the Lost Boys. On the one side Peter gives the commands and on the other side he always does funny and exciting things with them like fighting with the pirates. In contrast to a role of a father figure he does not want to take over the responsibility for “his children”, the Lost Boys. So, in the opinion of the author of this paper, he is not a real father, even more a leader. In the book Peter and Wendy the character of Wendy contrasts Peter. She stands for the perfect picture of the “Angel of the house”[3]. She is a real mother for the lost boys. For instance, she gives them assignments, tells them stories and really takes care of them.

Hawkins has a quiet interesting theory concerning the relationship between Peter and Hook. He thinks that Peter and Hook have a relationship in that kind that they are a homosexual couple. Furthermore, Hook is a representation of the author J. M. Barrie (Hawkins, 2008, p.12).

In Hook Peter’s character implies quite almost a heterosexual father. At one point of the story he forgets that he is married and has children. At that point he is the old Peter Pan again and behaves very childish, but in a body of a grown up. When Tinkerbell kisses him, he remembers who he really loves. This love is so strong that he frees his children out of imprisonment and goes home to his wife. He leaves Neverland to become a part of his family again.

In theater plays Peter Pan is very often played by a female character. That could on the one hand have something to do with the soft skin of women which implies youth. On the other hand they are normally lighter people as male characters and in this way are able to handle the flying scenes easier than males. There is another quite interesting theory which claims that Peter Pan is played by a girl because this opens the opportunity to show a hidden lesbian relationship between Peter and Wendy. This relationship must be hidden because of homophobia in Victorian Era. (Rose, 1984, xiii)

This paper shows that the gender role of Peter Pan is not clearly be identified. For the Lost Boys he is not a real father, he has problems with Wendy’s affection for him and other authors thinking about homosexual tendencies. All in all in the opinion of the author of this paper how Peter Pan´s gender looks like lies in the eye of the beholder. There is a lot of room for interpretation.

4 Main Characteristics and Abilities of Peter Pan

In the following, the main characteristics and abilities of Peter Pan as well as their relationships to society will be described. The paper wants to point out that there are different perspectives of the book and the movie.

4.1 Embodiment of Childhood

To call Peter Pan childish is quite an understatement. He is the embodiment of childhood. Coats suggests in this context Peter Pan is “a wistful celebration of childhood” (Coats, 2006, p.3) How the embodiment of childhood is represented in Peter Pan will be described in the following.

4.1.1 A Boy who does not Grow up

The most remarkable characteristic of Peter Pan is that he has lifelong childhood. A boy who does not grow up is a perfect image for a lot of stories and fantasies not only for children. When you do not grow up, you do not have to think about wasting time. You have a lot of time for all things you want to do especially for playing games. In our modern life all of us have to make many decisions and take priorities so that every individual can structure his live as most efficient as possible. In this context adults often forget playing. Peter does not have to take priorities, he has all the time he wants for being a child and this implies freedom. From a perspective of a child, Björnsdottir points out that Peter has never to go to school, do chores, brush his teeth or go to bed (Björnsdottir 2010, p. 10). So Peter has not to do anything of these things which children usually hate.

However this is only the positive side of the story with all its advantages. When you do not grow up, you never know, what it means to be an adult and to have responsibility for something or somebody. So, for instance, you never know what it means to be a father or a mother. You never look into the eyes of your children. Spoken in a psychological perspective bearing Erikson’s Stage Theory[4] in mind, Peter stopped at one stage of development and he is not able to go on to the other stages. In Erikson’s Stage theory, the eight stages of development are tied to social and interpersonal tasks (Erikson, 1982 in: Kail and Cavanaugh, 2010, p.168-176). Peter does not want to manage these tasks. This means stagnation and that he will never become a complete individual. Many people in our society avoid growing up. Kiley calls these people victims of the Peter Pan Syndrome which will be characterized in the sixth chapter (Kiley, 1984).

Throughout the entire story of Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan is a boy who is never growing up. The importance of this characteristic is even shown by the position of the description in the book. The opening line in the first chapter explains: “All children, except one, grow up.” (Barrie, 1911, p. 1) The author’s lifetime and therefore the development of the book is characterized by the middle and the end of the Victorian Era, the entire Edwardian Era and the beginning of the First World War. The relation between childhood during that time and Peter Pan will be described very detailed because it is important for all other described characteristics and abilities of Peter Pan later.

Childhood during that time can be divided in poor and middle/upper class children’s life. Poor children lived in city slums and a lot of them were hungry and sick. The healthy ones were forced to work for usually eight to twelve hours per day, six days a week, had no access to education, and even playing with other children was scarcely allowed to them by parents or any other kind of adult tutor or teacher. These children were unhappy, often they have been treated very hard, seen as slaves, earning little more than nothing to help with the daily household expenses (Barrow, 2013/ Magalhães and Leal, p.39).

Magalhães and Leal point out that books for children in that time “seem to have first appeared as a consequence of children’s unhappiness, as they tried to give them back their lost hope, opening up their dream capabilities through the creation of imaginary worlds, full of fantasy and beauty. In these utopian realms, children could eventually be happy, having to obey to no rules, as they could simply be children and nothing else, utterly free to play as much as they wished, without all restraints of the adult world they knew so well and abhorred so much.” (Magalhães and Leal, p. 39)

The paper thinks Peter and Wendy is in that way a very important and interesting story especially the characteristic of not growing up. (Barrie, 1911) When poor children read or are told such a story they can imagine that they do not grow up either and for all times live in childhood. Never growing up could be an escape from poverty and sickness and means that they do not have to solve their problems.[5]

The movie Hook has a different perspective than Peter and Wendy in that way that the man who is Peter Pan is embodied by an adult man throughout the entire story of the movie. At the beginning of the story Peter Banning alias Peter Pan focuses on his career and has no time for his own children. He fulfills all stereotypes of an adult business man. Furthermore mobile phones disturb Peter’s care about his children. Peter changes his behavior when Hook kidnaps his children. Remembering his own childhood, Peter Banning changes into Peter Pan again. Only through becoming Peter Pan again and only through doing the childish stuff that he has done in the past he can rescue his children. (Spielberg, 1991) So, in the opinion of the author of this paper, the movie emphasizes how valuable childhood is and that it should not be forgotten when you become old.

By taking a closer view on the time in the early 1990’s when the movie was made it can be seen that most people in the industrial countries do not have to be frightened about material poverty. They have other problems like how they can balance their career and family life. This is reflected in the movie.

The job of Peter Banning as a lawyer who arranges company mergers and acquisitions can classify him as a kind of yuppie (short for "young urban professional" or "young upwardly-mobile professional"). The yuppie generation came up in the late 1980s. Vocational success is the overall aim in his life like a yuppie. Hanson pointed out that that “Yuppism […] is not definable entirely by income or class. Rather, it is a late-twentieth-century cultural phenomenon of self-absorbed young professionals, earning good pay, enjoying the cultural attractions of sophisticated urban life and thought, and generally out of touch with, indeed antithetical to, most of the challenges and concerns of a far less well-off and more parochial Middle America. For the yuppie male, a well-paying job in law, finance, academia, or consulting in a cultural hub, hip fashion, cool appearance, studied poise, elite education, proper recreation and fitness, and general proximity to liberal-thinking elites, especially of the more rarefied sort in the arts, are the mark of a real man” (Hanson, 2010). The yuppie generation is in that way criticized, that Peter Banning neglects his private family life to have success in his job. The spread of mobile phones which have a close relationship to the yuppie generation are also been criticized because Peter Banning’s Phone disturb him to care about his family (Spielberg, 1991).

How the idea of a boy who never becomes an adult was born is another interesting factor. This could have something to do, like many things in Peter Pan, with the author’s personal life and experience. David, one of Barrie’s brothers, died in 1867 in an accident in the age of thirteen. In Barrie’s and especially in his mother’s imagination David will always stay in the age of thirteen. Barkin expressed it with the words:

“If Margaret Ogilvy drew a measure of comfort from the notion that David, in dying a boy, would remain a boy for ever, Barrie drew inspiration. It would be another thirty-three years before that inspiration emerged in the shape of Peter Pan, but here was the germ, rooted in his mind and soul from the age of six” (Birkin, 2004, p. 5).

4.1.2 Ability of Living on an Imaginable Island

Living on an imaginable island which is called Neverland is another feature of Peter Pan. However, this island is not like a paradise. It is an island full of danger and adventures with pirates, mermaids and redskins. In this context White and Tarr write the following: “Neverland is never innocent, nor is it heaven or hell, nor reward or punishment, but rather an imaginary place individual to each child, reeking with desires for safety and home as strong as those that lured each child away from home in the first place” (White and Tarr, 2006, p. vii-viii). Also quite interesting is to think about where Neverland actually is located. Fox has the theory that the “name itself playing upon the possibility of a space existing outside time (Fox, 2006, p. 23).

In Peter and Wendy the author of this paper indicates a close relationship to the Victorian Society which is reflected in the behavior of the Darling family (Barrie, 1911). Magalhães and Leal describe this society as a very strict one. In detail this society is highly industrialized and marked by hard working people, ruled by narrow moral values and almost entirely submitted to a patriarchal social order. Children and childhood are beginning then to be sensed as particular problems of the time, with their own needs and demands to which there were no definite answers (Magalhães and Leal, p. 39). Coats even deepens this understanding calling this society “child-hating” (Coats, 2006, p. 3).

For Peter and the children in the Victorian Era, especially the poor ones, Neverland offers an escape from a very strict and child-hating society in which they actually have no place. Peter differs from the other characters like Wendy, her brothers and the Lost Boys. At different points of the story all friends of Peter living in Neverland want to go home and have a mother and a father. Peter declines this. He flies back to Neverland however that means that he has to give up the friendship to the other children. For the paper it was a dramatic ending of the story. Peter prefers living in Neverland instead of returning to society, staying with his friends and having a real mother and father was hardly to understand. Children in the Victorian Era could have another view of the story. For these children it could mean, Neverland could ever been an escape from a strict ruled society and you don’t have to go back to.

In Hook Neverland cannot be seen as an escape. The paper sees it as the homeland of Peter. The grown Peter Pan came back to the island Neverland and at this point he slightly starts to remember who he is. The island is also much friendlier as in the book version and Peter does not want to live forever on that island. It can be more indicated as the place where the exiting part of the story takes place (Spielberg, 1991).

4.1.3 Ability of Eating by Imagination

Peter has as well as the Lost Boys the ability of eating by imagination. The paper thinks that all children like to play such a game. It is the fantastic imagination that you can eat whatever you want to. In the opinion of the paper it is quite similar to the medieval motive of the land of Cockaigne. The New York Public Library describes this land as follows: There are “Mountains of grated cheese sit in a sea of Greek wine, roasted birds fall from the sky like rain, trees produce ripe fruit all year round, owls lay fur coats, artichokes are always ripe for picking, and people are arrested for working. The Land of Cockaigne was a medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food.” (New York Public Library, 2013)

In the book Peter and Wendy the paper sees also a strong connection to poor children in Victorian Childhood. As already mentioned many were poor, sick and hungry. The imagination to eat whatever you want could be for these children something that gives them hope (Barrie, 1911).

In the movie Hook the motive of eating by imagination is only one factor that helps Peter Banning getting his memories back. First, Peter acts as an adult and doesn’t believe that he can get food by imagination. However, after several tries he is successful and this is one step for him to become the old Peter Pan again (Spielberg, 1991).

4.1.4 The Ability not to be Frightened about Mistakes

One of the most brilliant and wonderful characteristics of Peter is that he is not frightened of making mistakes. A capability that most children have however most adults have lost. The society claims perfection in every section of our lives. So people are frightened to do mistakes. Robinson says in a TED[6] -talk that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. With this statement he wants to clarify that in our modern society everybody is afraid to make mistakes and therefore nobody is brave enough to go new ways or invent new things. Human beings have lost their capacity of creativity (Robinson, 2012). So in that case Peter can help the people to be brave, stay foolish enough to go on new ways and create new ideas.

In the story of the book Peter and Wendy this motive is very strong. Peter is always a brave boy who faces danger and fights against enemies and does not care about his own life (Barrie, 1911).

In the movie Hook Peter hasn’t got this ability from the beginning of the story but develops it later. He has to remember what it means to be Peter Pan and has to train to get his memories back. From the point of time when he is Peter Pan again he gets back his ability to be brave and loses his anxiety of doing mistakes. This helps him in the end to free his children (Spielberg, 1991).

All the described characteristics of Peter Pan provoke the paper to interpret the character of Peter Pan as the embodiment of childhood.

4.2 Ability of Flying

The ability of flying is another facet of Peter’s character. Flying is a very strong motive for freedom. You can fly, means moving fast to wherever you want to be.

In the book adaptation Peter can fly all the time. Here the paper sees also a strong connection to poor children in Victorian Childhood. The ability of flying is a good strategy to escape from essential problems at that time such as poverty, sickness and hard working conditions. The ability of flying is also a basic requirement to arrive Neverland (Barrie, 1911).

The motive of flying, as an escape, is also used in the Movie Forest Gump. Jenny and Forest, the two main protagonists in Forest Gump, run away from Jenny’s father and Jenny says to Forest: “Pray with me! Pray with me!” Then Jenny prays: “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far - far, far away from here” (Zemeckis, 1994).

Interesting is that the character Peter in Peter and Wendy can’t fly on his own. He needs stardust and a wonderful thought. The wonderful thought is something individual and can differ depending on every person. Transferring this onto Victorian Childhood, children’s wonderful thoughts can help them to fly away from their cruel reality (Barrie, 1911).

In the movie Hook Peter’s flying ability has nothing to do with an escape. At the beginning of the story Peter cannot fly. He is also afraid of traveling by plane. This emphasizes his aversion of flying. Only the wish to rescue his children brings him to try flying. For flying he only needs, like in Peter and Wendy, a wonderful thought. However, the meaning of this wonderful thought differs. The most wonderful thought of his life is, in Peter’s case, not his job however it is his love to his children (Spielberg, 1991).


[1] The concentration on the characterizing on Peter Pan is because of the limited space in this assignment.

[2] A mind map in Appendix 1 visualizes the structure of this paper.

[3] The popular Victorian image of the ideal wife/woman

[4] In Appendix 2 is a table which describes Erikson’s Stage Theory to show the different stages of growing up.

[5] Many sources pointed out that Peter Pan was primary written to entertain the five boys of the Llewellyn Davis family to whom Barrie had taken a fancy (Barkin, 2003/ Björnsdottir, 2010, p.10). This could be absolutely true, but the paper thinks there is a deeper relation to society and the time when the book was written.

[6] TED – Ideas worth spreading is a webpage where talks about different topics are uploaded. The aim of this non-profit organization is to spread ideas around the world.

Excerpt out of 27 pages


Different Views on Peter Pan
A Comparison of Peter in "Peter and Wendy" and "Hook"
University of Paderborn  (Angelistik)
Conceps of Childhood
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1078 KB
Peter Pan, Peter Pan Syndrome, Hook
Quote paper
Christian Janßen (Author), 2013, Different Views on Peter Pan, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/386055


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