The next morning, all the boys are dressed as pirates, with Peter as their captain. Peter talks and acts just like Hook, and some of the boys think he intends to become a pirate. Wendy makes him an outfit from Hook’s old clothes, and he holds his finger bent like a claw.
Peter’s feelings about Hook are morally neutral: he does not stumble over even the smallest trace of guilt when he becomes him. The battle between the boys and the pirates was not a battle of real good against real evil, or complicated person against complicated person. For Peter, it was a game.
Now the narrator jumps to Wendy and her brother’s old home. The narrator considers telling the Darlings in advance about the children’s return, but he imagines that Mrs. Darling would not want him to spoil the children’s surprise. She has kept the children’s room ready for them all this time, though perhaps they do not deserve it.
Like Wendy, Mrs. Darling seems permanently suspended on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. On the one hand there is the kiss that never quite disappears, and her utter sympathy with children; on the other hand, her endless love and patience.
Mr. Darling, on his end, has felt responsible for the children’s disappearance: he feels they left because he tied up Nana in the yard. Because he is quite a dramatic man, he has decided to live in Nana’s kennel until the children return. Nana now lives in the house. Though Mr. Darling is proud and socially conscious, he refuses to leave the kennel; he even goes to work inside it. At first he is something of a laughingstock, but then the neighborhood becomes charmed with his “quixotic” gesture and he becomes famous and beloved.
In the beginning of the story, when the children were still at home, Mr. Darling seemed preoccupied with finances, respectability, and ties. He was focused on surviving and appearing to be adult, and was generally a little tone-deaf when it came to the subtleties of children’s feelings. The children’s absence seems to have sharpened whatever adulthood had dulled.
Mrs. Darling misses the children very much and always seems sad. The mysterious kiss in the corner of her mouth “is almost withered up.” The narrator meant to scold her, but he confesses that he loves her best of all the characters in the story. She is sleeping lightly in the nursery, and she dreams that the children are coming back.
If the children’s absence has made Mr. Darling more childlike, it seems to have ‘withered’ the child in Mrs. Darling. Peter Pan can be seen “in the faces of women who have no children,” but there is a different sort of child in Mrs. Darling’s face, and it comes of having had children.
Mr. Darling comes home. He asks Mrs. Darling to play a song on the piano and to close the window, but she insists that the window must always stay open. He falls asleep, but she continues to play in a little room adjoining the nursery. Just then, Peter and Tinker Bell fly in. Peter has come to shut the nursery window, so that Wendy might feel forgotten and return to Neverland. But when he sees Mrs. Darling cry quietly to herself, he feels uncomfortably as though he can feel her “knocking” inside him, and he opens the window back up.
This moment is parallel in many ways to the moment when Hook descends to the boys’ house and watches Peter sleeping. Peter catches Mrs. Darling unawares, just as Hook catches Peter; Peter is almost unwillingly moved by the music and the tears, just as Hook is moved by Peter’s pearly teeth. But in Peter, that feeling affects him morally and he does not go through with his plan to make it seem to Wendy and her brothers that their parents have forgotten them.
In a little while the children themselves fly in, slowly remembering their old home. They are surprised to see their father in Nana’s kennel. They wonder about Mrs. Darling, but just then she begins to play the piano again, and they sigh with relief. Wendy decides that they should all climb into their beds, so that when she comes in again, everything will look just as it used to.
Peter’s callous indifference to Wendy’s feelings in the previous scene are the inverse of Wendy’s sensitive attention to her mother’s feelings. She wants her mother to feel the greatest possible joy at their return (her own joy does not detract from the gesture’s thoughtfulness).
When Mrs. Darling comes into the nursery and sees the children in their beds, she thinks she is only dreaming. The children are frightened and call out, but still she thinks she is imagining them. Only when they all run up and hug her does she finally celebrate their homecoming. It is a very happy scene. Peter watches sadly from the windowsill: it is “the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.”
We might think that first that Peter is “barred” from this sort of happy familial scene simply because he has no family. But it is not the circumstances that are barred to him, in the quote – it is the joy itself. One must love a person immensely to experience it, and Peter as a selfish, pure child can never feel that kind of love.