Character Analysis in Peter Pan
Peter: For Peter, the most important things in life are adventure and staying a child forever. His unwillingness to grow up presents various problems, including forgetfulness and a lack of empathy for others. He strongly dislikes adults and refuses to become part of the normal world. This means he is unable to change or mature. Throughout the novel, Peter is shown to care passionately about the protection of others, especially those who cannot protect themselves.
Wendy: Peter wants Wendy to act as a mother to The Lost Boys because she is loving and nurturing. However, other points in the narrative also describe Wendy as strong and brave. Unlike Peter, Wendy is mature and thoughtful. Much of the debate over Barrie’s depiction of female characters focuses on the character of Wendy. Some have argued that Wendy’s job in Neverland, to look after the Lost Boys, reinforces stereotypical gender roles.
Hook: Captain Hook is Peter’s greatest enemy. Though he is supposed to be a fearsome pirate, he is often shown to be cowardly or lacking courage. Hook is especially scared of the crocodile that follows him around. The crocodile once bit off his hand, including his watch. Now, when Hook hears the ticking noise, he knows the crocodile is close by.
Character Analysis Examples in Peter Pan:
Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through 5
"He had his position in the city to consider..." See in text (Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through)
Unlike Mrs. Darling, Mr. Darling is more concerned with “his position in the city.” Barrie portrays Mr. Darling in such a way to show what happens to children who grow up and lose their sense of wonder: they begin to worry about money and jobs, instead of adventure and joy.
"perambulators..." See in text (Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through)
A “perambulator” is a British word for baby carriage. Nana’s habit of looking into unwatched perambulators shows that she has a motherly instinct just like Mrs. Darling.
"Of course we can, George..." See in text (Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through)
Motherhood is one of the major themes in the story. When Mr. Darling doesn’t seem to think keeping Wendy is a viable financial option, Mrs. Darling appeals more to their will, than their reality, because of her love for her daughter and her husband. She knows that he wants to keep her, and just needs the peace of mind and encouragement that she has to offer.
"Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes..." See in text (Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through)
This simile compares Mrs. Darling’s mind to matryoshka nesting dolls. These dolls appear as one large doll, but it can be opened to reveal smaller dolls inside of smaller dolls. The simile implies that Mrs. Darling’s mind is full of sweet and romantic surprises.
"she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother..." See in text (Chapter 1 - Peter Breaks Through)
The flower symbolizes Wendy’s childhood and innocence. Wendy's inability to resist plucking the flower symbolizes that her fate is out of her control. Although she does not grow up at this precise moment, her instinct to pluck the flower is a metaphor that foreshadows her inability to stay young forever.
Chapter 2 - The Shadow 5
"Michael, who was of a suspicious nature..." See in text (Chapter 2 - The Shadow)
Being suspicious is a characterization of a child’s nature, and Barrie uses adjectives to characterize how adults differ from children. Notice how the adjectives change for characters as the story progresses. Barrie describes Michael with the most childlike characteristics because he is the youngest of the Darling children.
"Wendy was wiser..." See in text (Chapter 2 - The Shadow)
This follows the theme of motherhood in the story. Wendy immediately knows the difference between Nana’s happy and unhappy bark because of her protective instincts.
"breadwinner..." See in text (Chapter 2 - The Shadow)
A “breadwinner” (bread-winner) is the person in a household who provides money for living expenses. Mr. Darling feels his position of “breadwinner” garnishes him respect in the household. Although it is admirable that he keeps food on the table for his family, he does not comprehend that this concept of money is not at the forefront of his children’s minds.
"it would have been better for the house if he had swallowed his pride and used a made-up tie..." See in text (Chapter 2 - The Shadow)
Mr. Darling is the epitome of a grown-up in this story. He worries about money, appearances, and perhaps worst of all, pride. Mr. Darling not only acts as a foil for his wife who still has held onto a touch of her childhood, but his kids most especially.
"Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter..." See in text (Chapter 2 - The Shadow)
Recall in chapter 1 when Mrs. Darling is described as having “a romantic mind.” This supports that claim by showing Mrs. Darling’s wistful and young mindset that separates her from her husband.
Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away! 5
"as sharp as a knife with six blades and a saw..." See in text (Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away!)
This simile compares Michael's readiness for adventure with the keen edge of a sharp blade. "Sharp" has connotations of being quick-minded and ready for action. Perhaps Barrie chooses to over-explain Michael’s readiness because Michael is the youngest of the children and most willing to adventure.
"Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys..." See in text (Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away!)
This response supports the major theme of motherhood in the story. Even though Wendy herself is just a little girl when she meets Peter, she begins to take on responsibilities of a mother to Peter and the Lost Boys, because they don’t have mothers of their own.
"I can't help crowing, Wendy, when I'm pleased with myself..." See in text (Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away!)
Recall in chapter 1 when Wendy can’t control her desire to pick the flower. Here, Peter exhibits a similar character trait by not being able to control his desire to crow. While Wendy’s inability to control picking the flower represents the inevitable truth that she will grow up, Peter’s inability to not boast represents that he will be childlike forever.
"Wendy, I ran away the day I was born..." See in text (Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away!)
Peter ran away the day he was born to avoid the responsibility of growing up. This is a fantastical aspect of the story that separates Peter from the real world; in the real world, one-year olds cannot run away from their parents. It is ironic that even though Peter desires to avoid responsibility, he has chosen to be the leader of the Lost Boys, a group of children who all have run from their parents.
"It must be sewn on..." See in text (Chapter 3 - Come Away, Come Away!)
Wendy’s quick thinking follows the major theme of the story of women as caretakers for men. Throughout the story women are portrayed as strong and individualistic, always willing and ready to help out more foolish and self-absorbed male characters.
Chapter 4 - The Flight 2
"Hook..." See in text (Chapter 4 - The Flight)
Captain Hook is Peter’s greatest enemy. During their first battle, Peter cut off Hook’s hand and a large crocodile ate it. The crocodile so liked the taste of Captain Hook, that he follows Hook around at all times trying to eat the rest of him.
"this was rather an odd way of getting your bread and butter, nor even that there are other ways..." See in text (Chapter 4 - The Flight)
Recall in chapter 1 how Mr. Darling is described as the “breadwinnner” (bread-winner) of the family. Mr. Darling is a foil to Peter Pan. Mr. Darling keeps food on the table by holding a steady financial job, while Peter does so by chasing birds in the sky. This metaphor contrasts the wild imagination of children against adults’ staunch acceptance of reality.
Chapter 6 - The Little House 1
"A lady to take care of us at last..." See in text (Chapter 6 - The Little House)
Wendy takes on responsibilities of a mother for the Lost Boys, but Peter refuses to follow lead and act as a father. While Wendy's actions support the theme of motherhood in the story, they also potentially reinforce stereotypical gender roles, suggesting that her only use in Neverland is to take care of the Lost Boys.
Chapter 7 - The Home Under The Ground 3
"while Michael was quite willing to believe that she was really his mother..." See in text (Chapter 7 - The Home Under The Ground)
Since Michael is the youngest of the Darling children, he is the most adaptable to new situations and circumstances. Barrie uses “willing” to illustrate how Michael wasn’t tricked or forced to believe that Wendy is his mother. This shows how his young age enables him to believe in seemingly anything.
"having the appearance of a nose permanently turned up..." See in text (Chapter 7 - The Home Under The Ground)
Barrie describes Tinker Bell’s disgust with and jealousness of Wendy by noting that she has “the appearance of a nose permanently turned up.” He could have simply stated that she looked upset, but this further description gives the reader a better idea of the type of conceit she has. Tinker Bell’s continuous disapproval of Wendy promotes a controversial side of Peter Pan that portrays women as jealous.
"if you wanted to go fishin..." See in text (Chapter 7 - The Home Under The Ground)
Having worms in the floor would be something adults would not like because it would be considered dirty. However, this example reinforces how these children are more concerned with practicality than pride, they enjoy the worms in the floor, so they can go fishing whenever they’d like.
Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon 6
"o die will be an awfully big adventure..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
For Peter, the most important things in life are adventure and staying a child forever. In Neverland, nothing seems to change much for Peter, and because he values adventure above his well-being, death may seem worth it.
"it was two against one that angered him..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
Peter’s anger in this situation could be triggered by the thought of his parents. Although it is never mentioned explicitly, Peter is likely an only child, so growing up in his household (with his hatred of adults) may have felt like a “two against one” situation.
"she was too proud to offer a vain resistance..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
Barrie uses “pride” to highlight character weakness in the story. Recall in chapter 2 how Mr. Darling blames his wardrobe decisions as one of the reasons the children vanished; he was too proud to wear a “made-up tie.” In both Mr. Darling and Tiger Lily’s scenarios, “pride” is seemingly their downfall.
"she must die as a chief's daughter..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
Barrie portrays Tiger Lily as brave in times of distress, showing an ability to be “impassive” during a life-threatening situation. This supports the argument that Barrie portrays women in a positive light (a heavily debated upon topic). Compare how Barrie portrays Wendy and Tiger Lily with Tinker Bell. The fairy's character is interesting because she seems to be petty and emotionally unstable.
"Was it not brave of Wendy?..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
Wendy has consistently shown bravery and courage in the face of adversity. In this instance, she acts like the mother bird who protects her eggs by letting the children sleep while she stands ready for confrontation with the pirates. Wendy proves herself as one of the strongest and most caring characters in the story.
"wide awake at once as a dog..." See in text (Chapter 8 - The Mermaids' Lagoon)
Barrie employs a simile to compare Peter to a dog to show his bravery and watchfulness. Recall earlier how the Lost Boys are all children who fell out of unwatched perambulators, and how Nana would instinctively check all the unattended perambulators at the park. In this comparison, since dogs are the Darling children’s protector, perhaps Peter has more responsibility than he realizes.
Chapter 9 - The Never Bird 1
"Peter, always sympathetic to the weaker side..." See in text (Chapter 9 - The Never Bird)
Rather than showing, Barrie states one of Peter's most defining character trait: Peter passionately cares, protects, and supports those who cannot take care for themselves.
Chapter 10 - The Happy Home 3
"Peter, you just spoil them, you know..." See in text (Chapter 10 - The Happy Home)
In Neverland, the lines between make believe and reality are blurred. Wendy is ready to accept the role of a mother to the Lost Boys, but Peter will only act as a father if it is part of a game. Although Wendy has difficulties with the concept of growing up, Peter has already decided that he could never do so. Peter’s unwillingness to grow up presents problems for him, such as poor memory and a childish understanding of love.
"loyal a housewife to listen to any complaints against father..." See in text (Chapter 10 - The Happy Home)
In this scene during Peter and Wendy’s role play as mother and father, Wendy’s submissiveness as a housewife contrasts the strong and courageous character she has demonstrated thus far. Although Barrie has promoted the idea motherhood so far, traditional and fixed gender roles have begun to appear during the second half of the story.
"It is only make-believe, isn't it, that I am their father?..." See in text (Chapter 10 - The Happy Home)
Peter wants to avoid growing up to avoid responsibility, thus he is only willing to act as a father if it is “only make-believe.” Wendy on the other hand is ready to accept the responsibility in a sort of Neverland reality, suggesting that women are more ready for responsibility than boys.
Chapter 11 - Wendy's Story 4
"I am not sure that this was true, but Peter thought it was true; and it scared them..." See in text (Chapter 11 - Wendy's Story)
This part of the story explains a lot about Peter’s character. It seems as though Peter feels hurt by his parents and that is why he has such a deep hatred for grown ups. In this instance, it doesn’t really matter if what he said is actually true, because what he believes is more important.
"every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible..." See in text (Chapter 11 - Wendy's Story)
This represents Peter’s immaturity and perhaps the disdain he has for feeling as though his parents replaced him. While the Darling children begin to learn about their parents love while they are apart, Peter is unable to grow emotionally because he refuses to change and mature.
"it will only mean having a few beds in the drawing-room..." See in text (Chapter 11 - Wendy's Story)
In chapter one, Mr. Darling scrupulously examined the Darling’s financial situation to assess the viability of having children. Wendy’s belief that adding just “a few beds in the drawing-room” to bring the Lost Boys and Peter home with them is symbolic of her young mind and inexperience with such matters.
"our heroine knew that the mother would always leave the window open for her children to fly back by..." See in text (Chapter 11 - Wendy's Story)
This speaks to Wendy’s intelligence and maturity. She is the only one who understands the depth of a parent’s love. In this scene, we notice that for the first time that being a grown up is not presented as the worst thing in the world, and perhaps this is why Peter hates Wendy’s story so much.
Chapter 12 - The Children Are Carried Off 1
"It was Peter's cockiness..." See in text (Chapter 12 - The Children Are Carried Off)
Peter’s immaturity and pride are central aspects to his character. A major part of his immaturity is his consistent and unwavering cockiness, or self-confidence. Protagonists typically have a fatal flaw, and it will be interesting to see if Peter’s cockiness is his.
Chapter 13 - Do You Believe In Fairies? 2
"Tink got between his lips and the draught, and drained it to the dregs..." See in text (Chapter 13 - Do You Believe In Fairies?)
In this scene, Tinker Bell shows her absolute love for Peter, and Peter continues to act childishly by not believing her warnings about the “medicine.” Tinker Bell's actions reveal the level of devotion she has to Peter even if his immaturity prevents him from understanding it.
"They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence..." See in text (Chapter 13 - Do You Believe In Fairies?)
Barrie doesn’t give readers access to most of Peter’s thoughts, but every once and awhile he gives little pieces of information that help us to justify Peter’s actions. In this line, we learn that it is not only growing up that Peter finds problematic, but also the uncertainties of human existence. If Peter has such a tough time with the concept of existence, we can justify his non-fear of death, as well as his desire to do nothing with his life but enjoy adventures and never look back.
Chapter 14 - The Pirate Ship 4
"Hide me!" he cried hoarsely..." See in text (Chapter 14 - The Pirate Ship)
Even though Hook is the captain of the ship, his immediate response upon hearing the ticking of the crocodile is to be hidden by his crew. His fear of the crocodile makes him a coward in this moment, because rather than carrying on with his decision to kill his captives, he hides behind his own crew.
"the eyes of all were on the plank: that last little walk they were about to take..." See in text (Chapter 14 - The Pirate Ship)
This exhibits the unwavering selfishness of the Lost Boys. Even as Wendy is about to be killed, they care for no one except themselves. This scene juxtaposes the selfish immaturity of the Lost Boys with the strength and resolve of Wendy.
"To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country in a blaze..." See in text (Chapter 14 - The Pirate Ship)
Keeping the true identity of Hook a secret builds an aire of suspenseful mystery around the antagonist. This also infers that perhaps somebody important and “real” in England (such as a politician or celebrity) dreams of being the evil Captain Hook when he sleeps.
"No little children to love me!..." See in text (Chapter 14 - The Pirate Ship)
Just as very little information is given concerning Peter Pan’s psyche, Barrie does not give many reasons for Hook’s evil motivations. In this line, we see a different side of Hook that perhaps provides insight into his behavior: he has never had any children that love him, and his actions represent that lack of love and his frustration.
Chapter 15 - Hook or Me This Time 3
"Proud and insolent youth..." See in text (Chapter 15 - Hook or Me This Time)
Barrie has shown "pride" to be characteristic of adults; however, pride has gotten the best of Peter previously in the story. Hook uses this word as an insult that he knows Peter will take personally.
"Wendy, of course, had stood by taking no part in the fight, though watching Peter with glistening eyes..." See in text (Chapter 15 - Hook or Me This Time)
This line perpetuates the gender roles that many people find problematic within the story. Wendy does not help in the battle, but instead stands by and watches admiringly rather than actively helping Peter defeat hook.
"I'm youth, I'm joy," Peter answered at a venture, "I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg..." See in text (Chapter 15 - Hook or Me This Time)
In this response, Peter makes a parallel between himself and the Never bird who wouldn’t leave her eggs. By saying he has “broken out of the egg,” he implies that perhaps he doesn’t need a mother of his own and can simply take care of himself.
Chapter 16 - The Return Home 3
"but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred..." See in text (Chapter 16 - The Return Home)
Peter left for Neverland as a child to avoid the responsibilities of growing up, and by doing this, he also missed the realities of living (and dying) as a normal human. In doing this, he lost his chance at familial love, the “one joy from which he must be for ever barred.”
"But the lady would not make the best of it, and he was unhappy..." See in text (Chapter 16 - The Return Home)
Mrs. Darling has lost her children once before and will not allow it to happen again. Recall how Peter’s desire for adventure and fear of growing up cuts off his memory. Although Peter is currently unhappy, he won't stay sad long due to his nature, making him much more likely to give in to Mrs. Darling's wishes.
"she will have to go back with me..." See in text (Chapter 16 - The Return Home)
Again Peter’s selfishness seems to be one of his most enduring character trait. Even though the Darling children have expressed interest in going home, Peter tries to ensure they come back with him to Neverland. Since Peter represents a desire for eternal childhood, it is expected that he doesn't develop as a character by the story's end.
Chapter 17 - When Wendy Grew Up 4
"But, alas, he forgot all about me..." See in text (Chapter 17 - When Wendy Grew Up)
Peter symbolizes eternal youth, so his ability to forget Wendy parallels her ability to forget her adventurous, young self. In Neverland, dreams become reality, but back home dreams vanish and reality takes hold. Once Wendy became fully immersed into the real world where she was to grow up, her imagination and memories of Peter fade.
"cried Wendy so longingly that Mrs. Darling tightened her grip..." See in text (Chapter 17 - When Wendy Grew Up)
Wendy is faced with a difficult decision here: to stay with her parents or to follow Peter back to Neverland. Ultimately she decides to stay with her parents, symbolizing her strength of character and making an important, independent decision rather than catering to Peter's needs.
"And then to an office?..." See in text (Chapter 17 - When Wendy Grew Up)
Peter asks these questions in a rhetorical manner, most likely knowing the answers are going to be things he does not desire. He does this, perhaps just to make sure, and also to try and make Mrs. Darling and Wendy understand that living with them is not the life for him.
"Then he burst into tears, and the truth came out..." See in text (Chapter 17 - When Wendy Grew Up)
Although Mr. Darling is not included as a major part of the story, in this last chapter his character sees tremendous amounts of emotional growth. In the first chapter, he is described as a financial man who concerns himself mainly with pride and money, but by the end “[bursts] into tears” and confesses that he fears being disliked.