Peter Pan – A Reflection

Peter PanFirst, A Review

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie is rated 2 stars because I couldn’t get past the sexism and racism rampant throughout this story.

I’m still not sure how to rate this. If this hadn’t been a classic, I absolutely would have not finished this book. Not far into the story, there are several instances of sexism that is appalling. I fully acknowledge that the era in which this was written in was an era of explicit sexism, but even taking that into consideration, these instances were awful. Then the rest of the book is really a narrative about mothers and it is drenched in the sexism of the day. I read a short story in The Emerald Circus entitled, “Lost Girls,” before I read this original story and was confused as to why there was such a strong feminist statement in it. Now, I absolutely understand. I wanted to write a story like “Lost Girls” myself after reading this story.

There is also racism throughout the book, but in particular, near the end of this book, there is a long narration that is appalling racism. It stands out as particularly awful. I am fine with tolerating off-handed racist and sexist comments throughout a book that was written at a time when that was the norm, but I balk at the idea of finding enduring a story which is entirely based on a sexist and racist narrative. I find it particularly disturbing to see such things in a children’s story that is still being read to children today.

The story itself, even overlooking these issues, is not very good. Peter Pan is an annoying, spoiled boy who simply is too selfish. There is glorified violence. There is no character growth or much point to the story. It is a boys adventure story very reministent of its era. I looked for something to enjoy about it, but found it lacking. I do not understand why it is still considered a classic.

If you are interested in reading this classic, by all means do. There is probably something redeeming about this story that I missed. But please do not read it to children until you have read it and thought critically about it yourself.

Now, A Reflection

When do we chastise a book and/ or author for things like racism and sexism when the words were written at a time when such thoughts was the norm? When do we give a book and/ or author a pass and when do we say it is unacceptable? This is a hot button issue right now, as some of you may know. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the recent controversy, the American Library Association voted unanimously to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a book award for her racist depictions of Native Americans and blacks. I won’t weigh in on this controversy as I haven’t read the books and in this reflection, I’m more concerned about the actual book and not using an author’s name for an award. I personally really struggled over this while listening to Peter Pan. I wanted to read this classic children’s story and hear Jim Dale narrate it (I’ve yet to listen to one of his audiobooks), yet barely into the story, I was so angry by the sexism, I wanted to stop listening. I ended up going through the whole story hoping that it was just going to be occassional references to sexism and racism, but it wasn’t. I personally couldn’t enjoy the story because of this, but does it make sense to give the book a low rating? Should I have skipped rating it on Goodreads? How critical can I be of a book that was written at a time when sexism and racism was the norm?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Ultimately, I did rate the book as I truly felt about it, 2 stars, instead of an average rating or 3 stars which heavily took into account the era in which the book was written. But I don’t claim this is the ideal way to handle such situations. For me, the racism and sexism was too severe to ignore and I finally settled on the more accurate rating. However, in other instances, I have overlooked sexism or racism as indicative of the times and not hard it so heavily sway my opinion of the novel. I can’t say why exactly, but these instances were too much for me to overlook. I absolutely expect to be criticized for drawing the line here and not somewhere else. After all, I am currently reading Rebecca, which is a narrative around sexism and has one-off racism in it, and I don’t expect to be writing a scathing review of that book. But I am curious to know:

How to you rate books with racism, sexism, or the like in a classic book? Does it matter whether it’s aimed at children or adults? Does the degree of racism, sexism, etc. matter? Share your thoughts below!

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5 thoughts on “Peter Pan – A Reflection

  1. Hmmm I think Disney just loves the idea of not growing up and having an adventure… I think that is a universally pleasing trope to most people… hence its endurance. I’ve always been rather puzzled by classics because they are a reflection of their time. I actually don’t read them unless that is what I want to experience so racism and sexism in classics in particular don’t bother me (of course we don’t want to see that from a modern writer for shame!) … but for someone who just wants to read a story that is considered the best of all time… yeah I can see how this sets a torch to your desire to read classics for fear of what you may experience. And for sure I wouldn’t be reading this to a child…I may read a picture book version that has been sanitized but even then I don’t like the idea of promoting the idea that one shouldn’t grow up… in reality Peter Pan had a responsibility to the Lost Boys to protect them so he didn’t really escape anything he abandoned his life which is so, so sad. ❤ Loved this thanks Maygin!

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    • I hadn’t thought about how Disney likes the idea of never growing up. I agree with you on that. Classics are a reflection of their time and sometimes it’s just not relevant today. Classics that helped define or create a genre are ones I want to read as it’s interesting to learn how they influenced a genre. But classics that as just classics I have found strange to read. I read Wind in the Willows and am not sure why it’s still something we continue to read today. I sort of feel the same way about Peter Pan, but in the book, there is a sense of the importance of growing up and the selfishness of refusing to do so. It’s an interesting an odd moral, but one that I didn’t see come through in the Disney depictions of it and that’s too bad. I agree that we shouldn’t encourage children to never grow up as they will find life hard if they don’t. Great comment! Thank you for discussing it with me! 🙂

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