Peter Pan and the “Tragedy” of Growing Up

I recently finished reading J.M. Barrie’s novel “Peter Pan”. If you are any fan of classic Disney movies, you’ll know the basic plot, who the character “Peter Pan” is and why he’s called the boy who never grows up. If you aren’t, I’ll explain.

Peter Pan is a young boy who, after going off to Neverland, where people never grow up, due to a failure in time or something not directly mentioned in the book, becomes the self-acclaimed leader of other “lost boys” who have run away from home. One night the three Darling children, yes their last names are Darling, get a visit from a mysterious young boy, who still has his first teeth, a fact mentioned throughout the novel. Peter Pan takes these kids on an adventure of a lifetime fighting pirates, meeting mermaids, and saving a princess.

Now that my non-paid advertisement is over, let me get to the real discussion. (Obvious here, but still I must give a “Spoiler Alert!”) Throughout the novel Peter Pan proves his youth to both Wendy and the reader. He gets upset about childish things, plays pretend more often than he should, and has a mentality that, oftentimes, gets those he loves hurt.

One of the intriguing concepts that this story contains is the love story between Wendy Darling and Peter Pan. Wendy, being the oldest of the Darlings, starts to develop an attraction to Peter Pan. This attraction is cultivated as she continues to live with the lost boys. Her feelings for him only grow as the boys refer to her as “mother” and Peter as “Father”. The interesting thing about this relationship is its one-sidedness. While Wendy is clearly attracted to Peter, Peter only views Wendy as a parental figure, asking her to feed and play with him and his brothers and even referring to her as his mother. The scenes where this is mentioned are both heartbreaking and breathtaking as one is given insight into the character that is Peter Pan. (I’m bringing this around to the topic, I promise.)

Because of Wendy’s attraction to Peter, once she finally decides that she wants to go home, she asks Peter if he wanted to go back to the real world with them. He asks the questions “Would you send me to school? … And then to and office? … Soon I would be a man? … I don’t want to go to school … I don’t want to be a man” (Barrie, 333). He continues his argument when he says, “I want to always be a little boy and to have fun”.

Peter more readily welcomes death than he does the mere possibility of him growing up. Pitted against death, Peter says the famous line, “to die would be an awfully big adventure”, when, in reality, death is not the adventure, but rather, the adventure is life. Peter, so determined that growing up would be the gravest of tragedies, vows to, and succeeds in, staying young forever, even if it means leaving his friends. Peter is afraid of growing up and, in a sense, he is right in that fear, we should all be afraid, not of simply getting older though, that alone is not enough to strike fear into hearts, we should be afraid of loosing sight of the adventure that is life.

“Odd things happen to all of us on our way through life without our noticing for a time they have happened” (356). I have heard over and over again stories of elderly who tell me that, at the end of their lives, they wished they could’ve stopped and appreciated everything just a little more. One of my professors, while giving one of her last lectures, told us that, every time she drives to school, she rolls down the windows and looks at the flowers on the side of the road. She didn’t care if she would be late. She didn’t care if the people behind her were upset at her slow driving. She wanted to appreciate life in its entirety and life it out completely.

I fall victim to this as well, while being wrapped up in school, work, social situations, and so many other things that bide for my time. I don’t stop and appreciate what a beautiful day every day is. You see, there is a tragedy in growing up, but it isn’t the tragedy that Peter Pan saw. The real tragedy of growing up is not getting older, going to school, getting a job, and leaving childish ways, the real tragedy is allowing the beautiful moments within that time to slip away, to pass by you without you noticing them.

It is so easy to get caught up in the world and it’s increasingly harsh demands, but know that growing old is not a tragedy at all, not if you know how to live every moment and love every second.

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