The Legacy of Peter Pan and Wendy: Images of Lost Innocence and Social Consequences in Harriet the Spy
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The Legacy of Peter Pan and Wendy: Images of 'Lost Innocence and Social Consequences in Harriet the Spy "I don't want to go to school and learn solemn things," he told her passionately. "I don't want to be a man. 0 Wendy's mother, if I was to wake up and feel there was a beard!" "Peter!" said Wendy the comforter, "I should love you in a beard"; and Mrs. Darling stretched out her arms to him but he repulsed her. "Keep back, lady, no one is going to catch me and make me a man. (Barr i e 206) Peter Pan solemnly declared that he would never grow up and so he remains, even today, the epitome of childhood. Barrie, like many Victorians, built on the work of Wordsworth and the Romantics when setting out to depict children and childhood. Wordsworth, however, saw the child as innocent, happy, and close to God, as he wrote in "Ode: Intimations of Immortality": Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetful ness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! (lines 58-66) In this same vein, Barrie and others drew images of children who were innocent and happy, but also heartless tyrants. This image of innocent heart lessness is found in a number of books about children including Tom Sawyer. Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe^ and several of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In Louise Fitzhugh's book, Harriet the Spy. Harriet, in many ways, seems to share some of the innocent heartlessness that Barrie instilled in Peter Pan, but Fitzhugh goes beyond simply portraying childish thoughtlessness and examines both societal reaction to Harriet's innocence and the social consequences. In the book, Harriet is not allowed to keep the innocence that Peter so adamantly clings to, and Fitzhugh allows the reader to contemplate the interaction of individual and society and the effect this has on the loss of innocence. Peter Pan personifies Victorian innocence. Standing on the edge of a romantic involvement with Wendy, Peter chooses to withdraw while Wendy elects to grow up. Simply by adopting eternal childhood, Peter embraces eternal innocence. He is not innocent, however, in the same way that other characters might be 168 seen as being innocent. He does not have the naivete of Little Red Riding Hood, for example. She simply was not given the information she needed to make it safely through the woods. Peter, on the other hand, is very careful of himself, however thoughtless he might be of others. He delights in his own abilities—flying, killing pirates, playing games, crowing—and would rather risk his life to show off his talents than play it safe. In the final chapter of the book, when Wendy grows up, Barrie defines what it takes to remain a child. One requirement is the ability to forget. Peter not only forgets to come every year and take Wendy to Neverland for spring cleaning; he also forgets his nemesis Captain Hook: "Once I kill them, I forget them" (209), and his favorite fairy Tinkerbell: "'There are such a lot of them,' he said. ' I expect she is no more'" (209). Wendy is startled by his memory lapses, but when her daughter Jane asks her why she can no longer fly, Wendy knows that "'It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly'" (212). In growing up, Wendy has forgotten how to be gay and innocent and heartless, the traits which Peter clings to. What is more, Wendy experiences a series of losses. First she loses Peter's companionship, then she loses her ability to fly, and finally she loses her faith in childhood, and thus her desire to remain a child. Growing up and becoming a responsible adult is viewed as a series of losses, losses which affect innocence and imagination. When I teach Harriet the Spy in my Literature for Children...