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Rewriting and Rereading the Myth of Childhood in Peter Pan

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2009, 22(1), pp.5-33
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Soim Kim 1

1건국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Since the first performance of Peter Pan in 1904, western popular culture has acclaimed it as the celebration and glorification of the eternal youth. The popular culture tends to disregard the other ambivalent elements in the play, focuses on the image of Peter Pan as an eternal boy and takes advantage of it for commercial purposes. However, the play is far more complex than that. To grasp the complicated layers of the ideas of childhood represented in the play, it is essential to understand the historical and cultural background of the play. During the Victorian and Edwardian ages, a Romantic cult of childhood was widespread. Childhood was regarded as a golden age and was associated with “hope, goodness, innocence and imagination, etc.” Especially adoring the preadolescent girl’s innocence, they also developed the cult of the little girl, and regretted her doom to grow old. Peter Pan plays with the popular myth of childhood and explores the various aspects of it--the eternal youth, a young girl becoming a mother, childhood in adulthood. Through Peter, the play discloses the limitations and dark aspects of the eternal youth. The play even implies that Peter is “a tragic boy” for whom growth itself is impossible, because he might be already dead. Peter’s Never Land is also far from the paradise but the very risky and uncertain place where death and pretension are key words. The eternal childhood, which is supposed to be free from the influences of the established adult world, does not seem to be attainable in this play. While Peter and the Neverland shed a new light upon the idealistic views toward the childhood, Wendy challenges the eternal girlhood. She chooses the idea of growing old in London rather than staying in the Never Land forever young. But the play does not allow old Wendy to go back to the Never Land. And in the end, old Wendy remains alone rather forlornly, cut off from the world of childhood eternally. On the other hand, Hook and Mr. Darling play with the idea of childhood in adulthood showing the boyhood freedom and quirk in their adulthood. But they are not the ideal alternatives to Peter's eternal youth, either. Peter Pan is the cultural text which comments upon the Victorian England. It also challenges the omnipresent obsession with the eternal youth while disclosing the dark shadow behind the eternal youth but at the same time indulging the fantasy of it.

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