Peter Pan | Study Guide

J.M. Barrie

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Peter Pan | Plot Summary

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Summary

Chapters 1–3: Happily Before, Not After

The Darling family of London, England is wealthy enough to hire a maid and live in a three-story townhouse. Mrs. Darling adores each of their three children. However, Mr. Darling is so fearful of poverty that he tallies the cost of raising each child. To save money, he even uses the family dog, a Newfoundland named Nana, as the nanny.

Despite the father's obsessive preoccupation with cost, the family is happy. That is, until one night Peter Pan and his fairy companion, Tinker Bell, blow in through the nursery window from Neverland. Nana attacks Peter and manages to tear off his shadow before he escapes out the window. Mrs. Darling puts the shadow in a dresser drawer and decides not to tell her husband about it.

A week later the parents are getting ready to head out to dinner, but not before Mr. Darling accidently sedates the dog with his medicine and chains her up outside, so there is no one in the nursery to guard the children when Peter Pan and Tinker Bell return to retrieve his shadow. Once he finds it, Wendy sews it back on for him.

Although there is some jealousy between Wendy and Tinker Bell, Peter's interest in neither girl is romantic. He wants a mother to take care of him and the lost boys in Neverland. He convinces Wendy to come with him. Then he blows fairy dust on her and her brothers, John and Michael, so they all can fly away before Nana can break her chains and stop them.

Chapter 4: Second to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning

The journey to Neverland takes "many moons." At first the children are entranced by their newfound ability to fly, but soon the novelty wears thin. They are starving and exhausted. Wendy starts to wonder whether Peter can be trusted.

Finally they reach Neverland, but their joy upon arrival soon turns to fear. Peter spots his archrival, the dreaded pirate Captain Hook, below with his crew. Even worse, the pirates spot Tinker Bell's fairy light, giving them all away. Wendy tries to hide Tinker Bell beneath a hat.

When the pirates fire their cannon at the group, the five of them are unharmed but are blown away from each other by the blast. Wendy and the jealous Tinker Bell end up together, and the fairy takes advantage of this situation, hatching a plan to lure Wendy to her doom.

Chapters 5–9: Living in the Land of Make-Believe

Neverland magically awakens upon Peter's return. Beside Captain Hook and the pirates, the inhabitants include wild animals and a native princess named Tiger Lily and her warrior tribe. There are also a crocodile with a clock ticking in her stomach and the six lost boys. The pirates pursue the lost boys, but Hook stops them. He wants Peter Pan more than he wants the boys, because Peter is the one who cut off Hook's right hand and fed it to the crocodile.

Thinking they are safe, the boys come out of hiding and encounter a bird who repeatedly cries the word "Wendy." In fact, it is Wendy, who is crying because Tinker Bell keeps pinching her. In a ruthless act of betrayal, Tinker Bell tells the boys Peter wants them to shoot "the Wendy bird." Wanting to please Peter at all costs, a boy named Tootles takes aim and brings Wendy down with a single arrow to the chest.

Tootles is horrified at his action. When Peter learns the girl he brought to Neverland to be their mother has been killed, he pulls the arrow out of Wendy's chest and tries unsuccessfully to kill Tootles with it. When he learns of Tinker Bell's role in the conflict, he tells her they are no longer friends and banishes her forever.

Wendy, miraculously alive, asks Peter to forgive Tinker Bell, and he reduces her banishment to one week. Meanwhile Wendy is so weak that the boys build a little house around her where she lies. Thus she becomes their mother figure. The lost boys and her brothers are the children, and Peter is the father of this makeshift family. Although Wendy enjoys her role, she worries that she and her brothers are beginning to forget their parents. Life in Neverland goes on merrily for some time. However Tinker Bell keeps trying to get rid of Wendy.

One long, lazy summer day, two of the pirates, Smee and Starkey, capture, bind, and gag the native princess Tiger Lily. The children overhear them saying they plan to maroon her on the rock and leave her to drown slowly as the tide rises to cover it. This is her punishment for sneaking onto Hook's ship with a knife to kill him. In hiding Peter mimics Hook's voice and commands the pirates to set Tiger Lily free. As soon as they untie her, Tiger Lily swims away—just before the real Captain Hook arrives. Captain Hook has learned about Wendy and is envious that Peter has a mother. He cheers up when Smee suggests kidnapping Wendy.

Peter provokes Captain Hook into battle, and he has a chance to kill Hook and make everyone safe once and for all. But out of a sense of fairness, he refuses to take advantage of Hook's momentary weakness. Hook does not return the courtesy. Hook bites him, and it is only the timely arrival of the crocodile that saves Peter's life.

Peter is so badly wounded that he can neither swim nor fly. Wendy is also too exhausted to flee, so Peter insists that she fly away using Michael's kite, leaving him behind to die as the tide inexorably rises. It is only when he is alone that Peter experiences a moment of fear. Then he shakes it off, resolving to embrace his death. "To die will be an awfully big adventure," he says. Peter is rescued from this final adventure when the Never bird gives him her nest to use as a raft.

Chapters 10–15: The Dream Becomes a Nightmare

When he saved Tiger Lily's life, Peter won the allegiance of her entire tribe. She and her people now guard Peter and Wendy and the lost boys every night, for they all know that eventually the pirates will attack.

Wendy is hurt when Peter reveals that his feelings for her are purely filial. To him, girls are mothers, nothing more. Wendy asks Peter to make arrangements for her and John and Michael to return to London. The only person who is happy about this request is the jealous Tinker Bell.

But before they can leave, the long-awaited pirate attack begins. It is a massacre that the pirates win. Soon all the boys and Wendy are captured. Hook finds Peter asleep and poisons the bottle of pretend medicine Wendy gives Peter each night. Then he takes all the captives with him to his ship.

When Peter awakens, Tinker Bell tells him what has happened to Wendy and the boys. He stops to take his medicine before rescuing them, but Tink knows it is poisoned. She drinks it herself before Peter can do it. Peter saves her life by appealing to dreaming children everywhere.

Back on the Jolly Roger, Captain Hook believes he has finally killed Peter. Now it is time to force the boys to walk the plank and kill them, too, while Wendy watches. Peter boards the ship and starts killing pirates, one by one, right under Hook's nose. Peter unlocks the boys' chains and cuts Wendy free. He and the boys attack, killing some pirates and causing others to jump overboard.

Hook fights tirelessly, and finally Peter orders the boys to put away their swords so he can face Hook alone. Both are excellent swordsmen, but eventually Peter is able to overwhelm Hook. Peter refuses to administer the killing blow while Hook is unarmed, so he gestures to Hook to pick up his fallen weapon. The fight resumes, but Hook knows he has lost. Finally he jumps overboard, meeting death in the jaws of the crocodile.

Chapters 16–17: All Children, Except One, Grow Up

Peter assumes command of the Jolly Roger, and he honors Wendy's request to be taken home. The scene shifts to London, where Mrs. Darling keeps a nightly vigil in the nursery, hoping her children will return. Peter and Tinker Bell arrive and unlock the window, allowing Wendy and her brothers to return home.

Mr. and Mrs. Darling agree to adopt the six lost boys. They extend this offer to Peter, too, but when Mrs. Darling says he would have to go to school and grow up and get a job, he refuses. The boys grow up, forgetting they ever lived in Neverland. Although Wendy goes back to Neverland on two occasions, Peter forgets everything, too—even Tinker Bell, who dies of fairy old age the year after Wendy leaves.

Although Wendy never forgets Neverland, her feelings for Peter fade as she grows up and gets married and eventually has a daughter of her own, named Jane. Then one night Peter flies back through her window again, not a day older than when Wendy had first met him. However, when Peter sees the aged Wendy, he starts to cry. Jane awakens, and the moment Peter hears her childish voice, Wendy ceases to exist for him. Peter wants is to take Jane to Neverland to be his mother.

With an ache of melancholy in her heart for the girlhood she cannot get back, Wendy allows Jane to go. But when she grows up Jane, too, just like her mother before her, forgets how to fly. By then Jane has a daughter named Margaret, who goes to Neverland, and so it shall ever be. There will always be a new daughter to become Peter's mother, "so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless."

Peter Pan Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Peter Pan lures Wendy and her brothers to Neverland.

Rising Action

2 Wendy survives an arrow to care for Peter's lost boys.

3 Peter saves Tiger Lily and faces death at the lagoon.

4 Wendy is upset when Peter says he thinks of her as a mother.

5 Hook and the pirates kidnap Wendy and the lost boys.

6 Peter saves Tinker Bell after she drinks poison for him.

Climax

7 Hook dies; Peter rescues Wendy and the boys from the ship.

Falling Action

8 The Darlings adopt the lost boys and the children grow up.

Resolution

9 Peter returns to take Wendy's daughter Jane to Neverland.

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