simpleone-dimensional representations of children seen in literature predating theseshifts in attitudes. While we enjoy the warmth and comfort of revisitingmemories from our childhood it is also often accompanied with a somewhat hollowand sombre emotion due to the reality that we cannot return to this period ofour lives. This sentiment had seldom been explored in children’s literature.However, that was to all change in 1902 with the debut of perhaps the mostculturally significant boy in the history of children’s literature, Peter Pan.
The creation of JamesMatthew Barrie, Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s 1902 adult novel The Little White Bird. In this novel Peter is depicted as a seven-dayold baby who flies from his nursery to Kensington Gardens. Evidently this is afar cry from the character known around the world today. The widely recognisedadaptation of Peter first appeared after Barrie decided to return to thecharacter with his 1904 stage play Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The unprecedented success of this playsparked Barrie into publishing a novel adaptation entitled Peter and Wendy which was released in 1911 by U.K publishersHodder and Stoughton.
It is this novel adaptation that will be the focal pointfor my exploration of nostalgia. As the aforementioned title of the playconnotes, Peter is a boy who does not grow up neither mentally or physically,he is forever in a stasis of childhood. This is reflected in the traits ofPeter himself. Throughout the novel Peter is portrayed as largely carefree andunable to assume any sense of responsibility. An example of this blasé attitudetowards responsibility can be seen as Peter whisks the Darling children awayfrom their London home to Neverland. With the Darling children stillexperiencing flying for the first time, Peter feels no obligation to escortthem throughout the journey.
Peter flies off into the far distance and leavesthe Darling children behind to “Have some adventure in which they had noshare.”1(Ch.4) Upon his return from these solo adventures Wendy is convinced that Peter isgoing to forget about her and her siblings even noting how “she saw recognitioncome into his eyes as he was about to pass them…and go on.” (Ch. 4) Thisbehaviour, whilst irresponsible, is endearing to the reader.
Rather than beingshocked by Peters actions the child readers will be engrossed in the whimsicalaspect of flying. The adult readers on the other hand may have a nostalgic viewon Peters sense of adventure. The only time in our lives where we are trulydevoid of all responsibility and utterly carefree is our childhood. The readeris reminded of a time where they themselves could act as Peter does, perhapswandering off into the woods to seek their own adventure when they themselveswere a child. Nostalgia is not simply just remembering these times fondly, itis also a strong desire to recapture a certain essence and spirit we experienceat that time. Barrie has created an embodiment of this childhood spirit throughPeter which is why the character is not only endearing (despite multiplemisdeeds) but relatable. I believe this is why Peter and the novel itself hasstood the test of time throughout multiple generations, nostalgia is a timelessexperience.While Peter is theembodiment of childhood spirit, it is my belief that his arch nemesis andcounterpart Captain Hook is used by Barrie to symbolise the very world Peter istrying so desperately to avoid, adulthood.
The literal battle in which the twocharacters are locked into encompasses the internal battle Peter has againstgrowing up. On the other hand, it is my belief that Hook is in fact alsosuffering internally when he battles with Peter. Hooks resentment towards Peteris more than simply due to the loss of his hand. To a certain extent I believeHook is envious of Peters eternal youth and yearns to be a child once more. Thefact that Peter can fly and Hook cannot is the perfect metaphor for the loss ofchildhood belief “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be ableto do it” (Ch. 14).
Theprocess of growing up has corrupted Hook and stripped him of the ability tobelieve in such fantastical things as flight, thus not allowing him to do sowhich in turn gives Peter the upper hand in battle. Hooks obsessive pursuit ofPeter embodies his desire to return to childhood just as Peters pursuit of Hookepitomizes his desire to never leave. This leads me to believe that captainHook feels a certain degree of nostalgia towards Peter and his desire to killhim stems from the bittersweet nature of nostalgia itself. We long to go backbut we simply cannot do so, Hook manifests this by wanting to destroy Peterthus ending his frivolous desires to believe again and return to childhood. Wendy as a charactervaries dramatically to Peter in her attitudes towards growing up. At the age oftwo years old she had her first insight into the concept of leaving childhoodbehind. After delivering a flower to her mother that she picked from thegarden, a teary Mrs Darling exclaims “Oh, why can’t you remain like thisforever!”(Ch. 1) It is from this moment onwards that “Wendy knew she must growup”.
Having a patriarchal figure to teach her these concepts gives Wendy theone thing that Peter lacks, parents to guide him into adulthood. Peter does infact desire a motherly figure, this is highlighted when Wendy is primarilyrecruited with the idea that she will take up the motherly role to himself andthe lost boys. However, due to having no parents to raise him Peter sees amother as nothing more than somebody to carry out domestic chores. A role Wendyis more than happy to fulfil as she interprets this is being grown up afterwitnessing her own mother’s role in the family. Somewhat ironically, by assumingthis gender specific role Wendy has become more grown up in Neverland than shewas at home. This domestic role continues long after Wendy returns home, shevisits Peter once a year to clean his house. As each year passes and Wendygrows ever older, Peter stays the same age. Due to this, the pair eventuallydrift apart until it reaches a point in which Peter can no longer evencomprehend what Wendy is saying.
Wendy yearns for Peter to see her somethingmore than a “Mother” but due to his everlasting youth he is unable to do so.This is perhaps the most clear symbolism of nostalgia present in the novel.Peter has become the physical embodiment of the childhood memories that Wendymust leave behind as she matures. Much like the memories of our own childhood,Peter will occasionally return to Wendy, but the feelings she once felt whenshe was in Neverland as a child can never truly be recaptured.The exploration ofchildhood memories within literature is particularly prevalent throughout thepoetry genre, few poets present their childhood memories as vividly andhonestly as Irish poet Seamus Heaney. When discussing Heaney’s poetry in achildhood context it is imperative to have a grasp on the history of the manhimself. Described by Robert Lowell as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats”,Nobel prize winning Heaney was the first of ninechildren.
He was born on April 13th inside his family’s farmhouseMossbawn located in CountyLondonderry, Northern Ireland. Experiencing childhood in rural Northern Irelandundoubtedly shaped Heaney’s poetry, in particular his naturalism and work onparochial life. Heaney himself attributes his environment as a child as havingan influence on his ability “I learned that my local County Derryexperience, which I had considered archaic…was to be trusted.
They taught methat trust and helped me to articulate it.” Tragically, Heaney’s infantbrother Christopher was killed in a road accident aged just four years old in19532.Having a childhood filled with death and sorrow undoubted had a significantimpact on the shaping of his work.
Heaney recounts these early memories inperhaps one of his best-known works “Mid-term Break” found in his hugelysuccessful anthology “Death of a Naturalist” which was published in 1966.When analysing a poem, the title itself can usuallygive an insight into the contents of the piece. Heaney plays on this ironicallyas the title “Mid-term Break” has connotations of childhood memories relating toleaving school for a short break. Generally, these are jubilant times in any child’slife, however it is clear to the audience upon reading the poem that thememories of the midterm break Heaney is describing is far from jubilant. Thefirst thing to note in the initial stanza is the fact that Heaney is writing ina first-person narrative “Isat all morning in the college sick bay”3. Generally speaking the use of the first personsingular “I” does not always mean the poem is of an autobiographical naturehowever it is apparent in this case that Heaney is in fact presenting theevents of his brother’s funeral from his perspective.
This in turn gives thepoem a heightened sense of poignancy as we are seeing Heaney recall the tragicday through the eyes of himself, a young boy. Heaney is extremely effective atinstilling a sense of dread into the reader with only his second line.”Counting bells knelling classes to a close” The foreboding nature of this linecomes with the use of the present participle verb “Knelling.” Whilstunbeknownst to Heaney within the poem, the reader is made aware that somethingis evidently wrong due to the connotations relating to funerals and death thatknelling implies. The mundane act of counting bells also draws attention tojust how slowly time is passing for Heaney. Moreover, the events leading up toand including the funeral are also presented in a rather mundane andunderstated manner. This reflects the sombre tone as moments of such heartachedo not require complex or redundant language. While this understated tone is rather typical of Heaney’swork I believe it is used to great effect here to enhance the poignancy of thesituation he is presented with.
Heaney is simply a boy who is being forced togrow up and experience the trauma that a family members death brings with it.It is evident through his observations that he cannot fully comprehend thesituation he is being thrust into. One of these observations can be seen in thefinal stanza of the poem. Upon seeing his brother laid in wake he notes how heis “wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple.” The imagery of the poppy hasclear connotations to remembrance and is extremely powerful at reminding thereader that as a child himself, Heaney could not understand how such aseemingly small and innocuous bruise can cause such pain and anguish.
Anotheraspect of the stanza to note is the changing of the rhyme scheme. Throughout,Heaney has written with no distinguishable rhyme apart from occasional half rhymeas evidenced with “sigh, arrived.” The final line two lines of the poem “Nogaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear, a four-foot box, a foot for everyyear” contain the only use of a full rhyming scheme in the entire poem. Thishelps to bring a finality to the poem perfectly mirroring the gut wrenchingfinality of death.
The fact that Heaney penned Mid-Term Break thirteen yearsafter the passing of his brother is extremely telling on how our childhoodmemories, especially traumatic ones, stay with us long into adulthood. Peterand Wendy and Mid-Term Break differ drastically in their representationsof childhood and nostalgia. Peter and Wendy tackles themes of wishing to never leave the innocence and carefreenature of childhood behind. Juxtaposed to this Mid-Term Break explores how a tragic event can force achild to grow up and face the harsh realities of life long before they shouldbe expected to do so.
Both texts highlight the way in which our childhoodmemories stay with us for the entirety of our lives, whether they invokepositive feelings of nostalgia or painful memories of sorrow and loss. Many ofus hold a nostalgic view of our childhood and as Peter and Wendy highlights, it is simply something we mustleave behind whether we want to or not. The true feeling we want to recapturefrom our childhood is a life without cruelty, suffering, betrayal or loss. Aswe grow into adulthood and see how the world works we lose these ideals that weexperienced as a child.
Given the choice, many of us would not literally wantto return to our childhood years after experiencing adulthood, but ratherrecapture the essence of what it was like to be oblivious to the trials andtribulations of adult life. 1 Barrie, Peter andWendy 2 The Estate of Seamus Heaney 2010 3 Heaney,1966