Using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory I wish to explore Peter Pan and his inability to return home and take his place in the world. Neverland in this case represents a child’s fantasy and imagination; a place where they can forget about growing up. I will show through Freud’s theory how it is the lack of love and parental presence that keeps Peter in his childlike state, never to return home. Through the analysis of Peter’s character, I will explore the harmful effects the fantasy can bring when the child returns to their home without the assurance of their mother’s love. Therefore, a mother’s love becomes the key ingredient to a successful and purposeful flight from childhood to adulthood.
In Jon C. Stott’s article, “Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fantasy and Self-Realization in Children’s Fiction”, he explains the two types of structural patterns of a journey that the child hero in literature experiences. Stott suggests that fantasy worlds are created not merely as an escape from real life, but a way to cope with real life issues. Although fantasy worlds stray away from reality they serve an important purpose of inner growth and supply a clearer understanding of life. Instead of escaping from the problems of the real world, it in fact forces the hero to undergo growth and find solutions to their problems. Stott states that without recognition and resolution of the hero’s struggles they will be confined to the fantasy world forever. The hero is put to the test mentally and emotionally and will not be able to return to the real world until they have won their inner battles. He claims that the hero must return home to the real world or else the fantasy world no longer is a place to grow, it then becomes a place of terror. A good example of this is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, in which Peter permanently remains in the fantasy world. He does not mature throughout the story and does not long to become an adult. Because he does not make the realization that every child will grow up eventually and have to find a career he remains in Neverland where he has no concept of time or death. He is offered a home by the Darlings and even though the Lost Boys leave Neverland to grow up with a family, Peter still turns down their offer and refuses to live in the real world.
In R.S. Peter’s article “Freud’s Theory” he identifies Freud’s primary process under the control of the pleasure principle as a place of “no consciousness of time, of contradiction, or relation to the real world” (Peters 5). In Peter Pan this place can be represented as Neverland. Peter cannot understand growth, because he has no concept of how much time has passed when he is in Neverland and the change that comes along with growing-up becomes extremely upsetting to Peter. In Neverland, Peter can repress his desires from wanting a mother that loves him. “Repression…prevents what has been repressed from being put to conscious use by the ego in motility” (Peters 7). Neverland can allow Peter to not have to deal with any of these emotions because it eliminates his desires and past anxieties by Peter staying in a place of permanence as opposed to constant growth. Neverland also can represent the part of Peter’s mind of isolation where “the ego defends itself by isolating an idea or hiving it off from its emotional significance” (Peters 7). Neverland is isolated from the outside world and there Peter can remove all emotional ties to his childhood. Also the mechanism of regression is present in Neverland for Peter. Reality is not comfortable to the child that has been rejected by it, and even replaced with another child. It seems as if Peter had the confidence that his mother would be waiting for his return, because he does attempt to go back but is shocked that the windows are “barred”. The word “barred” highlights Peter’s rejection of his mother and the real world. Therefore, Peter regresses “in dealing with frustration by returning to an earlier period of life when satisfaction was obtained” (Peters 8). Peter remains a permanent boy in Neverland where he no longer needs to feel rejected by the real world.
Unfortunately for Peter he is not welcome after he has been to Neverland for quite some time, and although the narrator questions whether it is true or not, Peter’s memory of his mother’s rejection stays with him and greatly affects the way he views adults, specifically mothers. “I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me; so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed” (Barrie 130). The love becomes vitally important. Without the love the fantasy world cannot function as a place of realization and a place to reenact certain repressed desires of imaginative adventures. Perhaps Peter did grow when he first left to Neverland and finally was ready to return home to reality and his mother, but since the love for his mother was not given to him he is forced to go back to Neverland. The love gives the child the safety of traveling between both worlds and Peter cannot travel back for more than a night because he no longer yearns for a mother’s love. Instead he chooses to isolate his emotions, repress his desires of love, and regress in a permanent state of childhood.
In Sarah Gilead’s article, “Magic Abjured: Closure in Children’s Fantasy Fiction”, she suggests that “a return-to-reality closure” often happens in children’s fantasy literature, “reestablishing the fictional reality of the opening” of the story (Gilead 277). Although all the Darling children and the Lost Boys are able to return to family and reality, Gilead states that, “the return does not bring stability but, rather, generates further losses and returns” (Gilead 287). The children must grow up and have their own careers, which means they will lose their childhood imagination and energy, people will pass away with age, and Peter will forever be trapped in Neverland. “Peter, forgetting the past, is entrapped in an eternal present without emotional or cognitive meaning” (Gilead 287). In this case Gilead is claiming the return becomes tragic to all the characters, not just Peter’s. Gilead states, “Forever young, (Peter) embodies the adult obsession with time and death. Peter is at once the idealized child and the regressive, impotent adult who is compelled to kidnap the very concept of childhood to alleviate the intolerable burden of adult existence” (Gilead 285). Even though the adult may want to escape their lives and be young forever that does not mean that the adult wishes for that desire to manifest into reality, even in the literature. Receiving a mother’s unconditional love at a young age allows the child like Wendy to grow up and move on from their imagination and fantasies. In Michael Payne’s article “What Difference has Theory Made? From Freud to Adam Phillips” Adam Phillip suggests that as children become adults they inevitably become antagonists of their own pleasures (Payne 8). Perhaps that is why Peter Pan remains in Neverland because he does not want to go against all his childhood pleasures.
Barrie is able to instill the fear of desiring eternal childhood with Peter’s inability to grow mentally or physically, and his inability to return to reality and even his own memory. “And then one night came the tragedy” (Barrie 202). Peter’s situation of permanence, to remain a child forever indicates suffering to the child when they are faced with the reality of growth and change. The return of the child is guaranteed through the love he receives from his mother. Without the love there can be no successful return or any assurance of self-growth during their journey into the fantastic. Applying this to Freud’s theory, the child will not be able to grow from their childhood imagination into adulthood without the love and care of their parents. In Freud’s phallic stage Peter is not able to repress his desires for his mother because he does not receive the love from her that he expects and therefore is not able to take his place in the world and identify with his father. Instead he can regress, isolate and repress his desired emotions and never take his place in the world.
David Morgan states in his article “The Father’s Shadow/Father’s Body” that a son must bond with his father’s body in order to develop his own creative life. If the son as a poor connection with his father than he tries to make a connection through his father’s shadow instead. This can result in a “state of passive creative frustration” (Morgan 219). In Peter’s case there is no mention of a father figure therefore it can be assumed that he did not bond with his father’s body before he left for Neverland. He goes on to say that no son can become an adult male unless they become more than their father’s son. If Peter was never able to bond with his father how can he break free from his father? Peter remaining forever in Neverland indicates a fear to move on and grow up to become whole. Morgan states that “all fathers have a shadow” and that this shadow is usually placed on others. These shadow characteristics are those a person detests to see in others, but “which are to be found lurking near the entrance to the dark cave of his own unconscious” (Morgan 223). The oedipal complex therefore is not resolved by either parent, because Peter cannot properly repress his desires from his mom and take his place in the world and identify with a father figure. In the beginning of Peter Pan, he is brought into the real world because he is looking for his shadow. Wendy finds it and is able to sew it back on for him. His shadow in Morgan’s case could be his unconscious luring him back to where he can grow and accept the world. His unconscious wants him to grow up and face his anxieties, but his conscious mind is able to hold back his inner emotions and continue his life in Neverland.
Michael Payne, in his article, explores the world of children through theory. He states, “To be a child is to learn how to make mistakes, how to become disillusioned. But being realistic, too, has its pleasures, including the satisfaction of having done the right thing” (Payne 7). In Peter’s case, he is not able to recognize what a mistake may be because he does not learn or grow from any experiences he has in Neverland. He almost does not fall under the category in Payne’s description of childhood through Freud and Phillips theories. Peters suggests that we must also assume that childhood greatly effects and influences a person’s life as they grow up, and that the mechanisms a child embrace’s to solve problems becomes impressionable to a person’s character. In Peter Pan’s situation unfortunately, he has chosen mechanisms such as repression, isolation, and regression in order to avoid feelings of pain and growth. Peter remains in Neverland never to remember any significance to life and his emotions.
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Morgan, David. "The Father's Shadow/Father's Body." Journal of Religion and Health 34.3 (1995): 219-32. JSTOR. Web. 10 Mar. 2010.
Payne, Michael. "What Difference Has Theory Made? From Freud to Adam Phillips." College Literature 32.2 (2005): 1-15. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar. 2010.
Peters, R.S. "Freud's Theory." British Journal for the Philosphy of Science 7.25 (1956): 4-12. JSTOR. Web. 10 Mar. 2010.
Stott, Jon C. "Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fantasy and Self-Realization in Children’s
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