Out Of the Minds of Children

>> Thursday, May 22, 2008

It has come to my attention that I did not post this paper, and since I want to critique Children's Literature for the rest of my life, I figure I ought to post it, for feedback, and to see if perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree. I don't think I am, and love Children's Literature, I find really good texts under this category appeal to both the child and the adult, for different reasons.

Out of the Minds of Children

The subject of Children’s Literature is to appeal to the child’s mind. When this is done, certain parts in the text will describe how the child thinks. In J.M. Barrie’s story “Peter and Wendy” in the text Peter Pan, the author uses the island as a metaphor for the child’s mind. Neverland is specific to each child that visits it and shows that different aspects of Neverland are what appeal to the child reader. The fantasy island called Neverland is open to interpretation and imagination about what the child notably desires and is afraid of by what is included and what is utterly out of place in J.M Barrie's story "Peter and Wendy".

The text is open to interpretation as we see throughout the book that Neverland is something a child plays at. The Child is the author of the adventures of his/her own individual Neverland, this is seen “When you play at it by day with the chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very nearly real”(Barrie 9). Neverland as the author writes is real to the child, it is available to the child who can alternatively manipulate his/her own island to contain those aspects which they face. In the text it is most evident in the selection which reads:

I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctor's sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, threepence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still(Barrie 9).

The individuality is a very peculiar aspect of Barrie’s Neverland, it lets the child choose whether it chooses to dwell on the first day of school or when one gets pudding In Neverland the child is allowed to use syncretism with their mind and the social world around them . This ability makes Neverland’s appeal to the child audience dramatically bigger. We then as readers, are allowed an infinite realm to interpret the text as the creator of Neverland does not have to be a specific race, gender or from a specific time.

In Barrie’s own interpretation of Neverland we are given a place that is "the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another but nicely crammed”(Barrie 9). Among these adventures are the inhabitants who are the lost boys, the pirates, the mermaids, Peter Pan, and the Indians. The inhabitants appeal to each child differently, for instance in the text, Wendy is fascinated by the mermaids and her brothers are fascinated by the Indians. It is by appealing so ambiguously to such a large range of children, that we find Neverland has something for every child.

The child of Barrie’s Neverland is a small boy. This boy has no desire to grow up, and needs stories to continue with his adventures. When Wendy is brought to the island, it is only for the stories that she tells. The stories begin to have a double edge near the end of the book as she tells the stories of her own family. It is after one of these stories that Peter Pans says:

"Certainly he did not want a change, but he looked at her uncomfortably, blinking, you know, like the one not sure whether he was awake or asleep." ....
"I was just thinking," he said, a little scared. "It is only make-believe, isn't it; that I am their father?"...
"You see," he continued apologetically, "it would make me seem so old to be their real father."
"But they are ours, Peter, yours and mine."
"But not really, Wendy?" he asked anxiously.
"Not if you don't wish it," she replied; and she distinctly heard his sigh of relief. (Barrie 92)

Peter Pan is very content with who he is now, with no resolve to change or let the world around him change. He is not ready to undergo growing up as in Barrie’s definition for the boy child that will mean introducing romantic relationships with girls that will lead to having a real family with real children.

Wendy, who Peter brought to the island, is the biggest threat to the island. She, the story bearer has the power to tell the stories she wants the lost boys to hear, and thus she is allowed to influence what she thinks matters the most. We then have an issue of similarity among the islands as, the story teller tells the same stories to those in the family; it is quite practical that while each child maintains there own individuality, there are similarities among them. This is illustrated when the narrator says:

Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together. John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents. But on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance, and if they stood still in a row you could say of them that they have each other's nose, and so forth. (Barrie 9)

The variances in the islands are of most interest as John has a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it, Michael’s has a flamingo with lagoons flying over is. The switch is very interesting as perhaps Michael has not yet realized that a lagoon is land and is stationary, while a flamingo is not stationary and can fly over a lagoon. Their houses seem gender based as Wendy has sewn her leaf house together. The desires seen by who has friends and if so what kind is peculiar as John chooses to face his adventures by himself, Michael only has friends at night and Wendy only has one friend who is an orphaned wolf. Then we are given the similarities that the siblings maintain as the stories they were told were told to all of them by their mother, the story teller.

We then see how imagination is open to different forms of interpretation as the story teller chooses what to include in their story. The stories form the child’s unique Neverland’s but maintain a resemblance to the original story the ideas came from. The length at which the child retains the original is freely up to the child’s mind as at different points in time different things will attract the child’s mind. Barrie gave us his interpretation of the child’s mind, but left so many open areas for the child to personalize and maintain their own individuality. That is why the child is free to express itself on this island called Neverland.


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