Peter Pan

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Themes and Colors
Children and Heartlessness Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
The Fantastic and the Commonplace  Theme Icon
Fairness and Good Form  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Peter Pan, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Motherhood Theme Icon

Peter Pan is the novel’s hero, a boy so charming and brave that even his enemies find it difficult not to love him. Yet it is Mrs. Darling whom the narrator loves best. And it seems as though everyone but Mrs. Darling is fixated on mothers: Wendy, who wants to become one, Peter, who wants not to need one, the lost boys, who want simply to know one, and even the pirates, who admit with a dash of longing that a mother is like a Never bird who would die to save her eggs. And all but Peter agree that a mother is a person miraculously gifted at measureless, selfless love. They know that motherhood’s dullest chores are all tuned to some sort of white magic, and that magic inspires in them a confused awe.

Mothers and children are bound by a painful symmetry, at once a likeness and a fierce deadlock. The sublime extreme of a mother’s love is an inversion of the sublime extreme of children’s indifference, children who are “ever ready, when novelty knocks, to desert their dearest ones.” The magic of motherly love is commensurate to children’s “heartless” magic, a likeness that creates deep sympathy between them. But the mother’s magic quietly transforms the child: a mother longs to change a creature incapable of love into a person who can return love, a person no longer “gay, innocent, and heartless,” a person who can no longer fly. Motherly magic envelops children’s magic and slowly, lovingly wears it away.

Peter distrusts mothers because he believes that his own mother betrayed him, but he dislikes them because they turn children into adults. “Keep back, lady,” he yells at Mrs. Darling: “no one is going to catch me and make me a man.” This an odd remark: one would assume time to be the primary culprit, along with schools and workdays. But Peter is wiser than he may seem, and less innocent. Peter dislikes mothers because he knows that, in loving his magic, they would eventually take it away. Mothers know this too, and it is this awful knowledge that makes us love them.

Motherhood ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Motherhood appears in each chapter of Peter Pan. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Motherhood Quotes in Peter Pan

Below you will find the important quotes in Peter Pan related to the theme of Motherhood.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He got all of her, except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying for the kiss.

Related Characters: Mrs. Darling , Mr. Darling
Related Symbols: The Kiss
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we get a sense of J.M. Barrie's whimsy and inventiveness. We're told that Mrs. Darling (the mother of the book's main characters) has a "kiss" on her face. This kiss isn't exactly like the word readers are familiar with--instead, a "kiss" is a kind of dimple symbolizing childlike wonder and freedom. There's no way to explain a kiss--if there were, then anybody could have one, including boring adults like Mr. Darling (who tries, but cannot access, his wife's "kiss"). Instead, the kiss is a symbol of youth and its fleetingness, of unadulterated freedom.

As the passage makes clear, Mrs. Darling is still in touch with her childlike side. Some children feel closer with their mothers than with their fathers--they feel that their mothers understand their needs and desires better. By portraying Mrs. Darling as a close ally to her children, Barrie shows that he's a keen observer of human nature and family dynamics.


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It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day.

Related Characters: Mrs. Darling
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Barrie portrays Mrs. Darling as a kind, loving mother. Like all good mothers, we're told, her duty is to make sure that her children are happy and contented as often as possible--even after they go to bed. Barrie chooses an interesting and inventive metaphor for this idea: he describes Mrs. Darling "sorting" through her children's minds and feelings.

It's interesting to note that Barrie begins his novel about a rebellious child by describing a happy, peaceful household. The children are loved and well cared for, and there are no traces of cruelty or poverty. In short, the children in the novel have no concrete problems-- as we'll see, their only "problem" is a vague desire (one that all children know) to get away from the house and have adventures.

She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him before in the faces of many women who have no children.

Related Characters: Peter Pan , Mrs. Darling
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Darling is an adult, but she's also a kind, loving mother to her three children. As a result, she can vaguely remember Peter Pan. Peter Pan is a friend to all children: when children go to sleep, they go to Neverland and play with Peter Pan, the leader of children in Neverland. As they grow up, children forget about Neverland, and therefore about Peter Pan. It's a sign of Mrs. Darling's close connection to her children (and her still-present "kiss")  that she can remember Peter, however vaguely.

The passage is interesting because it suggests that "women who have no children" have some kind of connection to Peter Pan. It may be that adult women choose to have children because they want to reunite with Peter Pan (or what he represents), and they want to introduce their offspring to the marvels of Neverland, which they encountered when they were little children themselves. Or perhaps the passage is meant to suggest that adults without children tend to be selfish and to relish their freedom--just like Peter Pan, we'll learn.

Chapter 6 Quotes

'That doesn't matter,' said Peter, as if he were the only person present who knew all about it, though he was really the one who knew least. 'What we need is just a nice motherly person.'
'Oh dear!' Wendy said, 'you see I feel that is exactly what I am.'

Related Characters: Peter Pan (speaker), Wendy (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the boys of Neverland have built Wendy a house. Peter and the children discuss the possibility of treating Wendy like a mother.

There are a couple things worth mentioning here. First, notice that Peter clearly fancies himself the leader of the group, even when he's talking about things like mothers, which he clearly doesn't understand at all. Peter isn't as heroic or admirable a character as Wendy had hoped--he's a little irritable. Furthermore, it's interesting to note that the children clearly want a mother-figure in their lives. The boys of Neverland who have been separated from their mothers for some time might want to return to their mothers--pretending that Wendy is their mother is a kind of coping mechanism. The lost boys relish their freedom and lack of responsibility, but they also want a "nice motherly person"--basically to have it both ways. It's also interesting that Wendy seems to embrace adulthood (and already looks forward to being a mother), yet she is given access to Neverland, and becomes friends with Peter. It's as if even Peter himself wants a mother sometimes.

Chapter 10 Quotes

'You are so queer,' he said, frankly puzzled, 'and Tiger Lily is just the same. There is something she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother.'

Related Characters: Peter Pan (speaker), Wendy , Princess Tiger Lily
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Peter deals with his own emotional immaturity. Peter senses that the women in his life (Wendy, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, etc.) want to be "something" to him. But because Peter has almost no experience interacting with the opposite sex, he has no way of conceiving what this "something" might be.

As we can deduce, Barrie is talking about love and attraction--the girls in the book have crushes on Peter. But Peter, perpetually immature, can't reciprocate the girls' feelings--he's so youthful (and so obsessed with himself) that he can never summon the maturity or desire to love someone in return. Barrie suggests that maturity consists largely of being able to love someone else--young people like Peter are so narcissistic (even if in an innocent way) that romantic love never occurs to them.

Chapter 11 Quotes

"See, dear brothers," says Wendy, pointing upwards, '"there is the window still standing open. Ah, now we are rewarded for our sublime faith in a mother's love."

Related Characters: Wendy (speaker), Mrs. Darling , John , Michael
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Wendy tells the children of Neverland a story. In the story, a group of children fly away from home, only to find that, years later, their parents continue to love them and have left a window open for their return.

The story is interesting for a couple reasons. First, the very fact that Wendy is telling the children a story suggests that she's maturing, playing the part of a leader and a guide to the other children. Wendy's new authority among the children is also reflected in the content of her story--Wendy associates herself with motherhood by celebrating mothers in her story. Wendy is still very much a child, of course (she's still in Neverland, after all), but she's clearly starting to pine for her home--hence her story's ending.

Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time; and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be embraced instead of smacked.

Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Peter has just finished listening to Wendy's story about loving mothers. Peter is angry with Wendy for telling "lies," and insists that mothers are cruel, and ignore their children when they fly away to Neverland. When Wendy insists that she and her siblings must return to their home right away, Peter is hurt, but he pretends not to care. In short, Barrie says, Peter is being "heartless"--he's a purely selfish creature, who just wants Wendy to spend time with him. Peter is such a child that he expects Wendy and the other boys to pay attention to him forever.

Barrie is remarkably cynical about children and what children are capable of. While he clearly adores and related to children, he also acknowledges that kids are basically selfish--like Peter, they just want other people to pay attention to them. Peter is particularly selfish because he's a "pure" child--he's given up on growing up altogether.

Thus children are ever ready, when novelty knocks, to desert their dearest ones.

Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising scene, Wendy prepares to leave Neverland with her siblings, John and Michael. As Barrie describes the scene, he makes a note about children: in spite of their innocence and morality, they can be surprisingly callous and cruel. Indeed, children are often perfectly willing to lose the people they hold "dearest." Many children have such short attention spans that they can abandon a loved one when something better comes along, and only regret their actions later, if at all.

Barrie's description of childhood might sound harsh or cynical, and yet the passage has a positive point: Barrie suggests that growing into an adult isn't so bad after all. Most children are frightened of growing into adults, because adulthood seems like "a drag." Barrie suggests that adults, in spite of their many flaws, are capable of greater acts of goodness and kindness than children. Children are naturally good, and yet they're also selfish and quick to abandon their loved ones. Adults, by contrast, can be incredibly loyal to their loved ones. (Mrs. Darling is a great example.)

Chapter 16 Quotes

If she was too fond of her rubbishy children she couldn't help it. Look at her in her chair, where she has fallen asleep. The corner of her mouth, where one looks first, is almost withered up. Her hand moves restlessly on her breast as if she had a pain there. Some like Peter best and some like Wendy best, but I like her best.

Related Characters: Peter Pan , Wendy , Mrs. Darling
Related Symbols: The Kiss
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Barrie describes Mrs. Darling, a woman who feels an unqualified, complete love for her children, no matter who they are or what they do. Barrie's description is Mrs. Darling is poignant because it emphasizes her tenuous connection to the world of children: her "kiss" (the dimple on her mouth) is almost gone--i.e., her connection to the gentle world of youth is dangling by a thread. Furthermore, the passage emphasizes Mrs. Darling's mortality--note the descrption of the "pain in her breast" (some have suggested that Barrie based Mrs. Darling on a beloved friend who was dying of tuberculosis).

The passage is important because, in claiming that he likes Mrs. Darlin best, Barrie is ultimately throwing his sympathies to the world of kind, empathetic adults, not the world of children. Barrie loves children, and understands them deeply. And yet in the end, he believes that children should not resist growing up to be adults--kind, fun, and gentle adults, with responsibility to other people (above all, to their own children).

Chapter 17 Quotes

He took Mrs. Darling's kiss with him. The kiss that had been for no one else Peter took quite easily. Funny. But she seemed satisfied.

Related Characters: Peter Pan , Mrs. Darling
Related Symbols: The Kiss
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Peter leaves Wendy and the Darlings for a year: he's flying back to Neverland alone. But Peter takes one memento of his time with the Darlings: the "kiss" hidden in Mrs. Darling's face.

The meaning of Mrs. Darling's "kiss" is so ambiguous that it's difficult to tell exactly what Barrie is trying to say in this passage. Peter has been craving a mother-figure in his life, though he's always denied it. Now, Peter is flying back to Neverland with a tiny sign that he does have a mother--Mrs. Darling. Mrs. Darling may not be his literal mother, but she gives him love and affection, a reminder that Peter is still a little boy, and needs a mother. Peter continues to live in Neverland, but Barrie suggests that he's finally gotten some of the parental love he's always been denied--and in the process, learned to respect the world of adults (or at least be a little confused in his dislike of it).