J M. Barrie's Peter Pan is a poignant tale about the magic of childhood. The main character, Peter Pan, is a magical boy who wishes never to fall into the banality of adulthood, but to have an adventure every moment and remain forever young. The play details Peter's relationship with a young girl, Wendy, who is on the cusp of young adulthood. Peter's gang, the Lost Boys, wish for a mother to read them stories. Peter goes and retrieves Wendy to be their new mother. Their adventures reveal much about the nature of childhood and Barrie's thoughts on the bittersweet necessity of growing up.
In order for Barrie to get his message on the importance of growing up across to the audience, he must first set himself up as an authority on adolescence and the child's mind. A fine example of how he establishes this can be seen in the description of Peter's natural habitat, Never Land. The beginning of Act II (47-50) explains the manner in which Never Land must be introduced to the audience. The description creates an air of mystery, awe, and expectation. At first the audience gets only a vague impression of the grandeur. The narrator explains "What you see is not the beasts themselves but only the shadows of them" (47). However, as the scene draws near, other details about the set and the characters becomes clear. Never Land is the physical realm of childhood; everything is bright and wondrous and new. Furthermore, everything is placed just so for the amusement of a child. The mermaids are preening for Peter's arrival and
"everybody and everything know that they will catch it from him if they don't give satisfaction" (48). The audience is even told that the sun is "another of [Peter's] servants" (48) Peter has complete and utter control over every aspect of his fantasy play land: here he is God. Everyone can remember their own childish games of "pretend," where a tree branch could be a sword, birds could speak if you wanted them to, and flapping your arms in the breeze could fly you around the world. When one plays "pretend" as a child, anything is possible. Barrie has such a thorough understanding of a child's mind that he creates a fantasy land that we all remember. In this manner, Barrie creates credibility for his argument on the importance of putting away childish things at the appropriate time.
Barrie expresses the core of his argument through the actions of the children and Peter himself. Throughout the play, the reader observes many instances of the children playing "grown-up." When Peter first brings Wendy to Never Land, we see Slightly, one of the Lost Boys, playing doctor (69-70). This shows a fundamental need to grow up and find your purpose or profession. In many of the different acts the reader also sees the children pretending to have a family. The best example of this is in pages 98-118. The Lost Boys and Wendy's creation of a family reflects not only the children's need for a family, but their need to grow...