Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Disney, where I over-analyse each animated Disney film over the course of a year.
â€œ…so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.â€ As is the last line of Peter Pan the novel. And throughout the novel Peter Pan embodies all three of these qualities. However it’s that last word that’s the most interesting. Does that make Peter Pan a Sociopath all up? Or is this just a misreading of the word ‘Heartless’. Well lets find out.
Firstly, let us analyse Neverland itself. I mentioned last week how Wonderland was just an extension of the Alice’s subconscious dream state. Well, Neverland is no different. Neverland is created by how the person perceiving it wants it to be created. Wendy wanted mermaids, so she got mermaids. John wanted pirates, so he gets pirates. Michael wanted Indians, so he got generic Indians. It’s not unlikely to imagine that if a young boy were to go to Neverland today it’s be full of superheroes and giant robots. Of course this interpretation is all but confirmed in the text, where it points out that sometimes Neverland isn’t even an island. So Neverland is very much influenced by what the other children bring with them. But what about the inhabitants of Neverland. What do they symbolize?
Well it’s no surprise that know the history of Peter Pan, but for those that don’t, Captain Hook is George Darling. It is a tradition for the two actors to play the same role, a tradition kept alive for the Disney version. The obvious symbolism is indeed very obvious, but what perhaps isn’t so immediately obvious is Smee. Now Smee is just too nice to be a villain, though note how he’s probably the most vile character of them all. Whilst the other pirates will slit your throat and know that they’re evil bilge rats, Smee will do it with an honest to God smile on his face and beg your pardon as he does it. He is affable and polite and hence quite a horrible person on the quiet. So clearly he’s a personification of their mother. Think about it: Hook always calls out for Smee, Smee is the only one to comfort him, Smee will always stay loyal to Hook and Hook has never killed Smee despite his incompetence. One could almost call it a loving homosexual relationship (minus the sexual part of course), but it does illustrate the theory that Smee is meant to be the Mrs Darling to Hook’s Mr Darling. So what about the tick tock crocodile? Why the crocodile symbolizes Nana, always on a constant lookout and making life difficult for Mr Darling. In fact out for revenge for being thrown outside into the cold. So just how the island is based on the kids perceptions of it, the natives are based likewise on the kids point of view.
But enough of that, let us get back to the matter at hand: Is Peter Pan a sociopath? Or as it’s clinically known as, does he suffer from Antisocial personality disorder? Well lets look at the criteria set out by the professionals (where someone must have at least 3 to qualify):
1)Callous unconcern for the feelings of others: Well there’s a scene in the book where John and Michael fall asleep when flying and threaten to fall to their deaths; and they’re only saved by Peter at the last moment because it makes him look more heroic in comparison. Likewise he often has ‘imaginary dinners’ and is more than happy to have them, despite how that makes the others feel. But most damning of all he is willing to kidnap children from their families and stop them from returning. His plan is to bar the windows and keep Wendy with him forever, and it’s only by a rare change of heart he doesn’t. But there are many times in the book where he just flat out doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Even the death of Tinkerbell is quickly forgotten by him when he visits Wendy again.
2)Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations: Peter needs Wendy to be his mother because he can’t cope otherwise without one. He often follows his own rules and kicks out (or even outright kills, it’s never made clear) Lost Boys that end up growing up. He never acts as a good leader, often leading the others into trouble or doing things that would endanger others. But the social norms is where this trips up, since Neverland has none. So let us move on.
3)Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them: â€œAll children, except one, grow up.â€ The opening line to the novel. Peter never manages to keep these relationships as eventually all kids leave him to go grow up. However Peter definitely gets people to follow him with little to no trouble. It only takes a little convincing to take the Darling children to Wonderland, who are immediately smitten with him. So that’s two properties he possesses.
4)Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence: He does get angry at the thought of Wendy leaving, very angry in fact. And very vindictive. But he is clearly violent since he loves getting into fights with the Indians and Pirates, regardless of who lives and who dies. However this isn’t immediately clear in the Disney version, so let us move on.
5)Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment: â€œNo one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest.â€ Peter never learns, but forever stays innocent and simple. Likewise he never feels bad about cutting Hook’s hand off, just having a good laugh about it. He very rarely feels bad about anything, except when Tinkerbell starts to die. So that’s three properties. What about the last one?
6)Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behaviour that has brought the person into conflict with society: As mentioned above, Peter very rarely accepts blame. In fact he’s far quicker to blame mothers as being terrible, horrible things than accept that he may be in the wrong. So he definitely has shades of this in his character.
So Peter Pan is some of this and some other characteristics (his impulsiveness and inability to plan ahead, his cockiness, his lack of empathy, his recklessness) definitely paint him as a sociopath. But there is one other category that needs mentioning: This only works so long as the person being diagnosed is over 18. Peter is of course forever a kid. So is it more realistic to say that Peter and all kids are sociopathic by nature? Well yes, to a limited extent. But does that make Peter Pan a ‘good’ person? Certainly not. He is, after all, almost as bad as a villain as Hook himself.
But back to the book (which you should read by the way, it is a pretty good book). One of Hook’s main motivations for what he does is ‘good form’. One should always try to have ‘good form’, which means being a proper gentleman. Hook often fails to show good form, since he often plays dirty and does underhanded tricks. But the reason he hates Pan so much is that Pan demonstrates ‘good form’ (aka charisma) without knowing he has it, the best form of all. Hence Hook’s motivation against the clearly horrible Peter does have some justification to it. In fact he dies a somewhat happy man because at the end Peter does show bad form. But Hook is very much the sympathetic character in this story, since he’s constantly suffering at the hands of the insufferable Peter Pan. So there’s that part of the text lost in the movie.
The other part (which couldn’t be translated into film anyway) is the amount of the time the fourth wall breaks. The narrator tells us that Hook will kill one of the pirates to show off Hook’s vicious nature. Sure enough Hook does. The narrator often talks to and around the characters. He offers to tell Ms Darling the children are coming home, but she rejects it since it would ruin the children’s delight. It’s quite unusual since it does give the appearance that they are acting in a play rather then characters in a novel. I struggle to convey it here, but I highly suggest you read the original text to better see what I’m trying to demonstrate here.
Also, for the record: It’s second to the right, not second star to the right. Disney added the ‘star’ bit not found in the novel. In fact that’s not even how you get to Neverland, Peter just says that to appear smart.
So there you have it. A look at Peter Pan and why he’s such an evil little git. If you disagree with anything or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.