Many stories that we read have a clear pattern of gender roles. In J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the author continues this distinction of gender stereotypes to tell his story.
We meet Wendy Darling at the beginning of the story as a young girl. She has curiosity, kindness and maternal qualities, all traits given to female protagonists. We first learn of her inquisitive nature when a young boy named Peter arrives unannounced in her room. Instead of being “alarmed to see a stranger…she was only pleasantly interested” (21). When she sees him crying she “[gets] out of bed and [runs] to him,” intending to comfort him (22). This scene begins to show the maternal side of Wendy that we will soon see very often. She learns that Peter was there to put his shadow back on, and she takes great pride in knowing how to do this task and not him. She announces “I shall sew it on for you,” hinting that she feels she must take care of him as a type of mother figure (22). After this job is complete she worries she “should have ironed it,” yet again showing her motherly feelings (23). Peter lures Wendy to his home of Neverland by telling her that she “could tuck [them] in at night,” referring to the Lost Boys he lives with in Neverland (28). Wendy gets very excited at this prospect of acting as a mother to the boys and doing things they do: fixing their clothes, making meals and telling them to take their medicine. When she arrives in Neverland she makes sure the boys go to bed on time and, “nobly anxious to do her duty,” she teaches the boys about parents so that they do not forget theirs (68).
Peter Pan displays all the qualities of a male protagonist: he shows courage, authority and a desire to always appear strong. Upon first meeting Wendy he does not want to look like he was crying, “already of the opinion that he had never cried in his life” (23). He also is shown as a contrast to Wendy’s thoughts of his shadow, as he is “indifferent to appearances” (23). These traits show a very clear stereotype of boys. Peter also enjoys showing off his skills, saving people at the last minute in clever or brave ways. He symbolizes a male authority figure, as all of the boys respect him and wonder “What would Peter do?” in situations (53). Peter proves to be a heroic person, indifferent to his safety and always loving adventure. He never seems to be afraid and instead thinks ‘“to die will be an awfully big adventure”’ (85). He showcases his bravery and cockiness by doing unnecessary things to put himself in danger just for the entertainment and frequently saves the lives of others. These heroic traits are conventional of male protagonists.
The motherly Wendy and the heroic Peter adhere to these gender stereotypes throughout the entire story, creating an adventurous and exciting tale.
J.M. Barrie. Peter Pan. Modern Library, 2004. 9780812972979.