Peter Pan

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The Fantastic and the Commonplace Theme Analysis

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.
The Fantastic and the Commonplace  Theme Icon

An aerial view of the novel would show two distinct worlds: the ordinary, rule-bound adult world and the wild, magical child world, separated by several days’ flying. An aerial view of a person’s life might show a similar partitioning. But a closer look at the novel shows a different geography, and a different economy of magic. The adult and child worlds, the ordinary and the magical, are always in close contact. Sometimes they even exchange roles, like the lost boys and the indians, who sometimes “in the middle of a fight … would suddenly change sides.”

In the adult world there is Mrs. Darling, who rearranges her children’s minds at night; there are night-lights who “yawn” and sometimes fall asleep, and stars who shout things like: “Now, Peter!” There is a dog who behaves like a lady, and a man who sleeps in a kennel. Sometimes Neverland “comes too near” the adult world and strange boys break through. And in Neverland there are fairies who fix kitchenware, and pirates who worry about their outfits; there are times when the game of ordinary life is a more fantastic adventure than any of the wonders of imagination. The tragedy of growing up is qualified, minimized, by its partial but continual postponement. No one ever entirely grows up.

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The Fantastic and the Commonplace ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Peter Pan related to the theme of The Fantastic and the Commonplace .
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

The difference between [Peter] and the other boys at such a time was that they knew it was make-believe, while to him make-believe and true were exactly the same thing.

Related Characters: Peter Pan , Tootles , Nibs , Slightly , Curly , The Twins
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Peter has transported John, Wendy, and Michael to Neverland, he introduces them to his followers, the other boys of Neverland. In Neverland, we quickly learn, Peter is the leader of the other children. And yet Peter seems curiously weak and gullible at times. Here, for instance, he and the children pretend that they're talking to a doctor. Peter thinks that the doctor is real--he's so used to living in an imaginary place (and he himself is imaginary) that he can't distinguish between imaginary and real.

Barrie makes a surprisingly complicated point here. The boys are in Neverland, and yet their fantasies continue to be imaginary; when the children conjure up a doctor, they know they're just pretending. Peter, by contrast, believes in Neverland completely--it may even exist at all because of him. His innocence and belief in the fantastical is both inspiring and a little sad.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Sometimes, though not often, he had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from these dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence.

Related Characters: Peter Pan
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Barrie describes the dreams that Peter has on some nights. Surprisingly, Peter's dreams are fitful, nightmarish, and altogether unfit for a child.

Why are Peter's dreams so vivid and so frightening? Barrie suggests that Peter can't handle his own existence--a "riddle" that he's ill-equipped to solve. Peter has no mother or father, and in spite of what he claims, his lack of parents seems to cause him great torment and jealousy (even if his torment only comes out in his dreams). Being a child is a mess of contradictions: children are both arrogant and humble, selfish and generous. Most kids learn to figure out their own contradictions by spending time with their parents, spending time with their peers, and growing up. But Peter can never grow up--and so he's doomed to experience the same contradictions in his personality via his nightmares.

He regretted now that he had given the birds of the island such strange names that they are very wild and difficult of approach.

Related Characters: Peter Pan
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this funny passage, Peter considers the birds of Neverland, whom Peter himself has named. Peter's friends have just been abducted by Captain Hook and his gang of pirates, and Peter is trying to think of a way to rescue them. He regrets giving the birds such complicated names, since their names make them wild and frightening.

The passage could be interpreted as childish nonsense, but there's actually a complex point here. On some level, Peter knows that Neverland is imaginary (and he's imaginary, too)--but he refuses to admit it consciously. Peter has invented most of Neverland, so the names he gives to the creatures of Neverland determine what kind of creatures they are--thus, a bird with a wild name is wild. One could say that Peter is both a king and a slave to Neverland: he's the king of his own fictional universe, and yet he's unable to fully accept that the universe is fiction.

Chapter 14 Quotes

There was little sound, and none agreeable save the whir of the ship's sewing machine at which Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the commonplace, pathetic Smee.

Related Characters: Smee and the pirates
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

As the chapter begins, we're introduced to Captain Hook in more detail. Hook surveys his ship, the Jolly Roger, which is surprisingly calm and orderly. One would think that a pirate's ship would be overflowing with action and fighting--on the contrary, Hook's ship is pretty orderly.

Why such an orderly ship? Since Hook is a symbol of the antagonism of the adult world--basically everything Peter hates--it's only appropriate that his ship should be neat, boring, and "industrious." Peter Pan despises rules and orders of any kind--that's why he's living in Neverland in the first place. Hook's ship is a reminder of the sinister power of the adult world's rules and laws (at least as they might appear to a young child).

Chapter 15 Quotes

'Pan, who and what art thou?' he cried huskily.
'I'm youth, I'm joy,' Peter answered at a venture, 'I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg.'
This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form.

Related Characters: Peter Pan (speaker), Captain Jas. Hook (speaker)
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Peter Pan and Captain Hook have their climactic "showdown." As he stabs Hook in the ribs, Peter tells Hook that he is the embodiment of joy and youth.

Peter's claims seem nonsensical--after all, we've seen that Peter can be selfish and narcissistic to the extreme. And yet Peter possesses an innate goodness and innocence simply because he's a young child--without any effort, he is a "good person."

The passage reinforces Captain Hook's greatest fear. As the embodiment of the adult world, Hook is obsessed with the question of how to be good and proper. But no matter how hard Hook tries, he'll never manage to be intuitively "good," as Peter is. For all his vanity, Hook can never match Peter's natural innocence and instinctive morality.

The other boys were flying around him now, flouting, scornful; and as he staggered about the deck striking up at them impotently, his mind was no longer with them; it was slouching in the playing fields of long ago, or being sent up for good, or watching the wall-game from a famous wall. And his shoes were right, and his waistcoat was right, and his tie was right, and his socks were right.

Related Characters: Captain Jas. Hook
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In this poignant passage, Captain Hook--at this point wounded in the ribs, and sensing that he doesn't have long to live--imagines the days when he was only a child, long ago. Hook is surrounded by young boys who attack him, and furthermore, Hook seems unable to defend himself from the boys' attacks--Barrie notes that his sword is "impotent." As Hook draws closer and closer to death, he daydreams about his carefree youth.

To quote the movie The Wild Bunch, "We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Maybe the worst most of all." Hook, in spite of his fanatical devotion to adult rules and laws, secretly wants to be a child--or at least to return to the natural "good form" of childhood. The passage's mention of Hook's dignified clothes is a little ambiguous, then--it's possible that his association of childhood with such order and formality means that he never really got to enjoy his own childhood freedom, or it could mean that for Hook, childhood's "good form" means that one's clothes are naturally "right," without having to try so hard.

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).

He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.

Related Characters: Peter Pan
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter has allowed the Darling children to return to their home, and he watches sadly as John, Wendy, and Michael embrace their mother--the scene is brimming with joy and love. Peter is sad because, in spite of the joys of Neverland, he'll never be able to enjoy the pleasure of having a mother and father. Peter has left his family long ago--his disgust for adults everywhere (and his parents' supposed refusal to let him back through the window) has separated him from family forever.

Note that the passage specifies that Peter is barred from the joy of having a family, not the literal circumstances of having a family. There's a very subtle difference between family happiness and the mere fact of having a family: Peter claims that his parents have abandoned him (and maybe they have), but in part, Peter chooses not to have a family; he chooses not to feel the pleasures of loyalty, love, and responsibility. 

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).

It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.

Related Characters: Wendy (speaker)
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Barrie sums up his point: to be a child is joyful, exciting, but also incredibly selfish. Children, he's shown, are blessed with a natural sense of morality and innocence. But children are also selfish and fickle--they tend to care about themselves far more than they care about others. Only adults can truly care about other people in a lasting, responsible way.

Ultimately, Wendy grows up into a woman because she genuinely cares more about other people than she cares about being young and happy. Wendy is a surprisingly noble character--she loves Neverland, but loves other people more. She's a natural adult and a natural mother--not just to Peter, but to her own child, Jane.