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Pirates in Peter Pan: Examining the Categorization of Adults as the ‘Other’

Authors: © Copyright 2011, Rebecca Freedman and Denielle Jackson

Daniel O’Connor. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1907
Pirates in Peter Pan: Examining the Categorization of Adults as the ‘Other’

Curated by: Rebecca Freedman and Denielle Jackson

 “Literature entertains, stretches imagination, elicits a wealth of emotions, and develops compassion. It generates questions and new knowledge, affords vicarious experiences of other worlds, and provides encounters with different beliefs and values” (Pantaleo 221).

           J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan,is retold by Daniel O’Connor. In Daniel O’Connor’s, The Story of Peter Pan, illustrated by Alice Woodward, the reader’s thoughts are stimulated through the imaginary world of Neverland. In Neverland, we are introduced to the unforgettable characters of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and the pirates. Throughout the story, Peter Pan’s adventures are fearful, dangerous and exciting.  Peter Pan and his young friends are faced with many barriers that they overcome. The most important barrier to overcome is the battle with the pirates. The evil pirates represent the ‘other’ as they are opposite of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. The ideologies of childhood in the twentieth century are evident throughout the story. The focus of our exhibit is to examine the ideological values of childhood represented in Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan. Rebecca will explore the representations of pirates as adult, male figures, and the relationship between the pirates and the Lost Boys. Denielle will dive into the the social and cultural realities of 1907 in order to place this book at a particular moment in time.

The Relationship between Adults and Children in The Story of Peter Pan

In O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan, is it important to recognize the contradictory relationship between the adult and the child. Though the story mostly describes the adventures of the children, it is crucial to understand the relationship between the pirates and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. As O’Connor’s story is a retelling of J.M. Barrie’s play, similar ideologies of childhood are presented. These ideologies are the opposing relationship between the imaginative child and the realistic adult. “What Barrie is mapping in his Neverland are fluid relationships between the real world of the Edwardian adults – overinscribed with imperial, impositional determinations – and the barrier-less world of the imaginary” (Fox 255). The notion of childhood is known as imaginary and unrealistic. These notions oppose the view of adults as colonial and superior. In The Story of Peter Pan, the adults are portrayed as pirates and are seen as superior to the children. The pirates represent the ‘other’ as they oppose the view of the imaginary and joyful children. Thus, the contrasting relationship between the pirates and the children in O’Connor’s story reinforce the ideologies of childhood.

 The Representation of Pirates in The Story of Peter Pan

The pirate ship is depicted in black and white, which is not only stylistic, but also economical. Printing in colour was very expensive.

Pirates in The Story of Peter Pan are important characters. The representation of pirates serves of great purpose when examining the ideologies of childhood. Historically, pirates were conniving, male adults who participate in illegal acts such as stealing. In the text, the historical identities of pirates are expected and portrayed through their behaviour (Fox 262). In The Story of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, the antagonist, represents Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis. Through a coloured illustration, by Alice Woodward, Captain Hook’s features are evil and scary. His face is angular and boney, and is shadowed to accentuate his dreadful features. His long black hair also represents wickedness, immorality and darkness. The all male cast of pirates are corrupted and “simply act as pirates do” (Fox 262). The pirates are deceitful in The Story of Peter Pan as it is expected of them through historical identity. Furthermore, the pirates have captured innocent children, the Lost Boys. Consequently, the pirates represent adult figures who are over exaggeratedly opposite of the innocent Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. This emphasis on child-adult conflict in The Story of Peter Pan reinforces the notion of childhood.

Eternal Youth: Peter Pan and the Lost Boys

In order to judge the pirates as evil, we must compare them to other characters. In opposing the representation of pirates as the ‘other’, we can examine the representation of children in The Story of Peter Pan. Eternal youth is a main theme in the story and overpowers the strong pirates. The children in the text are innocent and joyful. Their innocence seems to be more powerful than the pirates’ evilness. The Lost Boys are five young boys who were captured by Captain Hook and his crew. The five young and innocent boys were chained as prisoners on their ship. Neverland puts an emphasis on eternal youth as the children do not want to grow up (Springer 97). Shockingly, in the text, childhood innocence overpowers adulthood realism. When battling the pirates, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys ultimately outsmart them. Even thought the pirates were armed with swords, daggers, and blunderbusses, “youth and the values it protects come out victorious” (Springer 97).

 Fate of the Pirates

The outcome of the pirates proves that the ideologies of childhood are misleading. Childhood innocence is deemed to be superior to the pirates’ wickedness. The Story of Peter Pan portrays a deserving fate for the pirates. During the battle on the pirate ship, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys defeates the pirates. Peter Pan pushes Captain Hook into the jaws of a crocodile. The rest of the pirates drown except for two particular pirates, Smee and Starkey. “Starkey never shed blood but was guilty of evil deeds” (O’Connor 58). Starkey was captured by the Redskins and was made a nurse. This was a bad outcome for him as it was a step down from pirating. Smee, on the other hand, was the least evil of the pirates. He was not as wicked as the rest and therefore became a reformed character and a sailor (O’Connor 58). The outcome for Smee and Starkey was not fatal as they portrayed glimpses of innocence and were not purely evil, like the rest. Therefore, it can be said that the pirates that portrayed characteristics of childhood received a better fate than those who resembled adulthood.

Peter Pan: a timeless classic or a product of its era?

This picture illustrates the moment of victory for Peter Pan where Captain Hook is about to be eaten by a crocodile.

       Fairy tales are often seen as being timeless and placeless, conveying universal truths. Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan is no exception to this commonly held belief. If we have a closer look, we can see that fairy tales are actually time and place specific. They express conditions, attitudes and values pertaining to specific socio-cultural moments.This story is one of many children’s books that are used to socialize children in helping them understand the culture of the time as it emphasizes the differing relationship between the adult and the child (Pantaleo 226). In order to better understand the context of The Story of Peter Pan, we need to take a closer look at the period in which the story was written. At the time of the writing of The Story of Peter Pan, Britain had transformed from the Victorian era to the Edwardian period.


The Victorian-era: Children as Superior Beings

During the Victorian period, there was a large amount of industrialization and urbanization. Childhood was idealized because it was seen as pure, closer to nature, and closer to God. Children were largely regarded as superior beings in some regards. In Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, she makes the argument that The Story of Peter Pan is not for or about children, but rather illustrates adults’ desire for the fantasy of childhood; innocence is not a distinctive quality of childhood, but rather adult desire (Rose 128). Victoria’s England was a child-dominated society, with one of every three of her subjects under the age of fifteen. For the first time, books were aimed at entertaining children instead of instructing them how to behave. This period was what many consider “The Golden Age” of children’s literature (White). In children’s fiction, it is common to put children in opposition with adults. This creates a binary that highlights the differences between adult and child. In Donna White’s, Child-Hating: Peter Pan in the Context of Victorian Hatred, she argues that “fantasy spaces of childhood almost always include beings that hate both the state of childhood and childhood itself” and that in Peter Pan, there is a “deliberately antagonistic relationship between adulthood and childhood…grounded in an irrational hatred” (White 44). Artists during the Victorian period portrayed children as innocent, simple and playful. Peter Pan is depicted as a complex character; he is full of joy, vitality and fearlessness but also selfish, cocky and ill-mannered. This can be attributed to the beginning of the Edwardian period. “The Victorian child is a symbol of innocence, the Edwardian child of hedonism. In fiction, the former is good, the latter has a good time” (White 122).

The Edwardian-era: the age of rebellion

The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the succession by her son Edward marked the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the Edwardian period. Edward, the Prince of Wales, had the reputation of being an irresponsible pleasure-seeking playboy. This, compounded with Victorian social and moral repression created an appetite for rebellion (Norris). Following the example of the fun-loving Prince of Wales sounded more appealing than growing up into the inadequate Victorian male. The Edwardian era is perceived as a romantic period with long endless summer afternoons. As Lyn Gardner said in her article Confronting Peter Pan’s ‘awfully big adventure’ in the Guardian, “it is easy to explain the appeal of Peter Pan to the Edwardians and post-WWI generation, who could see in the play an elegiac spectacle of endless summer days spent playing pirates and Indians”. The Story of Peter Pan continues to hold a place in our popular culture as a result of many ideas that the Edwardian period gave rise to. These include the rising importance of childhood, the influence of the imagined space, and the engagement of the hero archetype (Norris).

Alice B. Woodward: The Illustrator

This is a pivotal moment in the text and is the final battle between Peter Pan and the Lost Boys versus Captain Hook and the pirates


Alice Bolingbroke Woodward (1862-1951) was a famous English illustrator. She created 28 coloured plates for The Story of Peter Pan, and it has been continuously in print from 1907 to the present day (Springer). It is considered to be the most popular illustrated Peter Pan book of all time. Alice illustrates pivotal plot points and emotional moments, such as the battle between Peter and the pirates and the fate of the pirates when Peter pushes captain hook off of the ship. She also illustrates establishing pictures that place the reader in Neverland, such as the pirate ship.



Like many children’s books, the conflict in Peter Pan is derived from the pitting of child against adult, creating a binary opposite with the adult as ‘other’. By analyzing the representation of pirates in Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan, we are able to understand the significance of the relationship between the pirates and the Lost Boys as they represent adulthood and childhood. By delving into the historical moment in which the book was written, we are able to challenge the notion that children’s books are timeless and placeless and see that this is a book that could not have come out of any other time period.

“Torn between the opposing demands of innocence and experience, the author who resorts to the wishful magical thinking of the child nonetheless feels compelled, in varying degrees, to hold on to the grown-up’s circumscribed notions about reality. In the better works of fantasy of the [Victorian] period, this dramatic tension between the outlooks of adult and childhood selves becomes rich and elastic: conflict and harmony, friction and reconciliation, realism and wonder, are allowed to interpenetrate and co-exist.” (White 245)


Works Cited

Birkin, Andrew. J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.             Print.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children’s Literature. London:          George Allen & Unwin, 1985. Print.

Fox, Paul. “Other Maps Showing through: The Liminal Identities of Neverland.”                            Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 32.3 (2007): 252-68. ProQuest Research          Library. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

Gardner, Lyn. “Confronting Peter Pan’s ‘awfully big adventure.'” The Guardian. Dec.                  30 2002. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

Kavey, Allison. Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the popular imagination.                             New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Print.

Nodelman, Perry. The Hidden Adult: Defining Children’s Literature. Baltimore: JHU Press,           2008. Print.

Norris, Nanette. A Child’s View of Edwardian London. Academia. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

O’Connor, Daniel. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G. Bell

and Sons, 1907. Print.

Pantaleo, Sylvia. “Children’s Literature across the Curriculum: An Ontario Survey.”

       Canadian Journal of Education 27.2 (2002): 211-230. JSTOR. Web 10 Oct. 2011.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or, the Impossibility of Children’s

       Fiction. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Print.

Springer, Heather. “Barrie’s Peter Pan.” The Explicator 65.2 (2007): 96. ProQuest. Web

10 Oct. 2011.

Steedman, Carolyn, Cathy Urwin, and Valerie Walkerdine. Language, gender                               and childhood. London: Routledge, 1986. Print.

White, Donna. “Child Hating: Peter Pan in the Context of Victorian Hatred.” J.M.                            Barrie’s Peter Pan in and out of time. Lanham, MD. Scarecrow Press, 2006.                       Web. 1 Nov. 2011.