Peter Pan; or the Boy who Wouldn’t Grow Up, when first staged in 1904, was received with almost unanimous enthusiasm. The critics though appreciative were ‘a little cautious and puzzled’ (Watson, 2009, p. 143); and not surprisingly so. Peter Pan was no ordinary children’s tale. With its queer mixture of childlike fantasy and very adult dark humour, even the first, spectacular viewing of the play must have hinted at the layers of subliminal messages it contained. Peter Pan evidently deserved further penetration. The Peter Pan myth, as indeed it grew to become, has been interpreted with various perspectives. The Spectacle used in the play, the psychological character of Peter and Wendy’s relationship, the biographical link to Barrie’s own experiences with the Llewellyn Davies boys – have all been scrutinised and commented upon. But the most prominent observation the play seems to make, and Barrie through it, is on the divide separating children and grown-ups.
What does Peter Pan say about childhood and adulthood? Or to divide it further, on girlhood and boyhood? Does this commentary hold ground a hundred years after its inception? In what ways have its interpretations changed? Children are known (and often rebuked) for asking too many questions: what better way to begin such an exploration than to try and answer these?
Barrie’s treatment of adult males in his play might be a good place to begin. Neither of the two significant men characters, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, is portrayed charitably. Mr. Darling has the trappings of a characteristic patriarchal head, but that is all. He holds no real authority, either at the workplace ‘where he sits on a stool all day, as fixed as a postage stamp’ (Barrie, 2008 , Act I) or at home; as is evident in the scene about the medicine between him and Michael in Act I. Without being too simplistic, one can sum up Mr. Darling as a fussy man, too anxious about social propriety and not