The second half of Peter Pan and Wendy takes the theme of social constructions of gender to a whole new level. The lack of female characters in the work makes the few that do exist even more prominent. Barrie seems to believe that women are mainly one dimensional in the sense that they are subordinate to the eternal power and poise of men. This is fundamentally expressed through Mrs. Darling, a character that is reliant on her husband and subject to his will even with decisions as important as bearing a child. Additionally, Mrs. Darling is the only character whose true identity is never revealed. Mr. Darling’s name, George, is brought up while Mrs. Darling forever remains Mrs. Darling, the stressed, aging mother sitting in the nursery awaiting her children’s arrival.
Another interesting dynamic is the strong dichotomy the Barrie builds between Tinkerbell and Wendy. Both are described as “typical” women but they express two different constructs within this loose definition. Wendy is the eternal mother. Her character tucks the lost boys in to bed after reading them a bedtime story and then uses this new down time to sew. It is through this caring, nagging, kind creation that the reader sees Wendy as a true replication of her mother. Barrie’s purpose here is to construct an image of the domestic woman, one who cares for her husband (in this instance using Peter) and her children (the lost boys) to keep them happy. For young readers, this image and public expectation is mirrored constantly and creates a normative expectation of what a young girl should be thinking about: marriage and domestic capabilities.
Tinkerbell’s characterization is somewhat different than Wendy’s. Although she is described as having a lavish makeup room where she goes to change and conceal her body, Tinkerbell is epitomized as the rude, attitude-heavy girl. Her extreme jealousy of Wendy is seen right away in the book when she tries to kill her and is shown again when she puts Wendy on the leaf while she is sleeping. Although these are extreme examples, Barrie is reinforcing the dramatic, bitchy stereotype that follows teenage women. Additionally, Tinkerbell curses throughout her short passages in the novel. She is extremely upfront and bold and really only cares for herself and Peter. To a young reader, Tinkerbell is seen as hostile and stands for the polar opposite to Wendy’s caring personality.
Although times have changed significantly since this book was first written it is interesting to see how much of this dichotomous stereotyping exists for women today and think about how much of it will continue on into the future.