Hunter and gatherer, the most basic and antiquated gender roles, perfectly describe the characters of Peter and Wendy in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Peter, the eternally youthful boy, lives in constant pursuit of adventure and fun while Wendy is assigned the role of “mother”. Emotionally distant and concerned more with his own amusement than looking after the many lost boys in his command, Peter realizes that Wendy could fill the role of maternal caretaker.
Peter is the leader of Neverland’s lost boys, but his boyish tendencies make him an unfit father figure. His role is providing for Wendy and the boys. When Wendy first arrives at Neverland, Peter immediately feels the need to present her with shelter. He orders the boys to “build a house around her” (2.1.272). This shows Peter’s basic instinct to provide the basic needs to Wendy, but does not overtly express affection. He clearly cares for Wendy, seeing as he wants to give her a home. But, his affection can only be interpreted from his actions rather than a verbal or physical demonstration of his emotions.
When Peter tells Wendy that he does not have a mother, she tries to embrace him. He coldly withdraws, saying, “No one must ever touch me” (1.1.353). Not only unable to express his emotions, he acts confused by any physical or verbal means which would aim to do so. For instance, later in the play Wendy asks Peter about the nature of their relationship. Though Wendy thinks he understands that she is in love with him, he tells her that he is merely her son. Peter understands that Wendy wants more from him, because he knows “there is something or other she wants me to be, but she says it is not my mother” (4.1.124-126). Peter acts as a strong, but emotionally distant protagonist. For this, the lost boys look up to him but. So, even though the boys depend on him for many things, the one thing Peter cannot give them is the care and attention of a mother.
Peter first invites Wendy to Neverland, intending for her to be a mother to him and the lost boys. Peter tells her that the lost boys are orphaned, and that none of them know any stories. She immediately offers up her parenting services, telling Peter, “I know lots of stories. The stories I could tell to the boys!” (1.1.492-493). Wendy, being the only girl, always plays the mother when the children play house. While Peter is out “hunting game” to bring back for the family dinner, Wendy minds the lost boys at home. She becomes so attached to the role that she truly believes she is their real mother. Peter asks her to clarify if they are really just pretending to be the parents of the lost boys and Wendy admits it to be merely a game. But, she also adds that “they are ours, Peter, yours and mine” (4.1.114-115).
Peter, the provider, and Wendy, the homemaker, fall into predictable gender roles. The male protector of the house, Peter, gives orders to the lost boys while Wendy reads to them as to provide them with care and attention.
J.M. Barrie. Peter Pan. Modern Library, 2004.