Second Star To The Right, and Straight On Till' Morning

Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up

The Victorian Era was the  beginning of modernisation. This era reflects the intellectual, social, moral and political metamorphosis taking place in Western society. Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the original text written by Sir James Matthew Barrie in 1911 is a testimony  to the patriarchal society which was the Victorian Era. All the literary  features of this novel form the basis of all children’s books. A simple plot for
example would be one repetitive feature of all children’s texts. The characterisation of the all the roles in this text also reflect traditional
children’s literature. However, Barrie has based the characterisation around real people and the societal values of the time. The style, setting and themes of the novel are perhaps the most differently represented out of all the contextual elements. The style, themes and setting portray Barrie’s genuine “story-teller” persona as his imagination has literally run wild with the fairies and pirates in which create the magic of the marvellous Neverland.
The plot style in which  J.M.Barrie has based his novel is a simple one however the events that occur  within the plot are always most invigorating. The responder is always informed of the events clearly as the narrator informs the responder with a humorous
adult tone towards the ignorance of the children. The plot is written in a normal narrative structure i.e. the exposition or introduction; the
rising action; the climax or the complication; the falling action and the resolution. Barrie’s version of the resolution is not, however, similar to that of a traditional narrative. The end of the novel is not completed as the final scene depicts Wendy succeeding her mother’s role. She must let her daughter, Jane, leave with Peter as Jane must do with her daughter Margaret. This is symbolising the main theme of the novel which is that all children must grow up. Peter Pan is only a metaphor for what children cannot be: eternally young, naive and ignorant. The ending is not completed as Peter Pan is a cycle, a process. Peter teaches the young women of what their true purposes are in society; to be a loyal wife and mother, and what not to be; a silly child who does not comply with reality. Overall, the structure of the plot reflects upon the context of its time as its never-ending framework is a symbol for the ‘coming of age’ responsibilities, which were highly regarded in a patriarchal society, especially for females.

The characters in Peter Pan are based upon the different people Barrie had intimate relationships with. They are also created around the societal values of the  time. For example, Mr Darling is a well-respected man and has a high paying job in a bank and all he seems to worry about is how could they possibly have a dog (Nana) for a nurse. Also, Mrs Darling is a stereotypical mother figure who is kind, loyal to her family, honest and, in all circumstances, mature. The wealthier social classes in the late Victorian era such as the Upper Class and Middle Class both believed in strict conformity in their children, to set them right from an early age. Even Lower and Working Classes believed that women should remain in the household while the men bring home the bacon. The Peter Pan character and its actions of 'kidnapping' the Darlings, opposes this idea of strict conformity in children. Barrie uses this metaphor of opposing adult rule and the symbolism of Mr and Mrs Darling neglecting the children for their party instead of 'protecting' them from extremist ideas (never growing up) to prove that societal morals and values were changing during the late Victorian era. Barrie’s characterisation of each  character reflects his relationship firstly with the children who inspired the Peter Pan adventures; the Llewelyn Davies family. These children gave the names of some of the main characters of the novel including, John, Michael, Peter and George. The enlightenment Barrie received from these children and their family revealed his imaginative and narrative side. Each character then resembles an individual, each unique with their own special characteristics.

There are, of course, protagonists, antagonists and minor and foil characters which all assist in moving the story along. Characters such as Tinker Bell and Mr Darling have been characterised unusually for the time period and the style of novel as they challenge firstly the normal narrative structure and characterisation and secondly they oppose the Victorian beliefs of how women and men should act. Tinker Bell, a bipolar ego-centric fairy, is characterised to be a minor yet also a foil character in the way that she is best friends with Peter Pan and assists him in many situations. However, in other situations she is jealous of Wendy, attempts to  kill her and also makes a deal with Captain Hook, the antagonist character. Tinker Bell could be seen as the concept of the 'femme fatale' or 'fatal female' as she is manipulative and full of negative emotions, which were not seen appropriate in a female in the late Victorian era. This is a similar case with Mr Darling; he is a loyal and hard-working husband who, in the context of the time, trains his children well in the ideas and values of his society through discipline and/or punishment. However he challenges his reckless kindness when he adopts the Lost Boys; this would have been as seen as a weakness as Mr Darling is supposed to be of high prestige.  In the end, all characters in the novel Peter Pan are based upon either the strict moralistic views of the late Victorian Era of children being well behaved, loyal and well educated before they mature or based upon the idea of challenging these common values by becoming the complete opposite of what was expected during the late Victorian era.

The last contextual elements needed to be  analysed are the themes, styles and settings of the novel Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. These are strange and not common for children’s literature for the time because the conventions of a child’s
imagination, in which Barrie pulls his strengths from, are so influential in these last three contextual elements. Firstly, the themes presented to the responder throughout the novel are simplistic at times, such as good should triumph over evil or that love is the most powerful weapon of all. However the main theme presented in this text is that all children must grow up. This theme is uncommon in most children’s texts because they focus on simplistic morals and values. In conjunction to the style of the novel, which is narrated and is presented in a humorous adult tone, the main theme of the novel is delivered well to the responder who soon understands the significance of the ‘Peter Pan cycle’. 

However, the setting of the novel begins in the late Victorian London; where it was expected that little girls were
to act as young ladies as to practise for when they become women, a wife and a mother or where young boys were encouraged, educated and favoured over their sisters. Then, the novel is mainly set on a fantasy island called “the Neverland” where children never grow up and they can play make-believe games for as long as they please. It is also where children forget about their parents and the responsibilities they have of being loyal and obedient children. The setting of the novel at the beginning reflects the era in which the novel was written whereas the main setting of the novel is the absolute opposite as it is the imaginative narrative side which had consumed Barrie. All in all, the themes and
style of the novel reflect the author’s views on the world however he has used the morals and values of his society in the setting of the novel to assist with carrying his message across to the responder; that all children must grow up or reality will simply bite them in the bottom.