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Dream Work in Literature- Peter Pan- Part 2- Peter's Shadow

Dream Interpretation, Shadow of Self, Peter Pan

Wendy Darling has just been awakened by a boy’s cries. She curiously sits up in bed and then notices the boy, Peter Pan, sitting on the floor very distraught because he cannot figure out how to reattach his shadow. Wendy jumps up from bed, grabs her sewing kit and announces, “It must be sewn on.” She also warns, “I daresay it will hurt a little.”

“But why,” might we ask, “does the glue not stick, the hammer not meld? Why is a needle, thread and a hidden kis… oops I meant a thimble the only tools that will work when reattaching a shadow? To answer this question, we must first examine the shadow itself and where it comes from.

Jeremy Taylor in his book Dream Work wrote, “The Shadow always carries with it the very thing which is lacking from consciousness- the very thing that has been ‘missing’ and is required for further growth and development.” (p.68) Taylor goes on to write, “One of the reasons why Shadow figures are so persistent and inexorable is that they all have gifts to give and they cannot be freed from their negative shapes and forms until the gifts are delivered."

Peter finds himself losing his Shadow after a visit to hear stories from outside the Darling children’s nursery window. The stories Mrs. Darling and Wendy tell draw Peter in through the window. There is something about these stories that he longs for. His Shadow senses this and lingers a little too long. The instinctive nature of Nana, the Darling’s pet nurse, notices the Shadow and captures it. Mrs. Darling retrieves the Shadow and decides to roll it up and place it in the back of the drawer- the same drawer where, surprisingly, Mr. Darling is described as hiding his dreams. “It gets harder and harder for him to close that drawer.” (Barrie, J. p.20)

Prior to this, Mrs. Darling is also described as “tidying up her children’s minds.” Barrie goes on to say, “ It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. It is quite like tidying up drawers. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on” (p. 6)

Peter’s Shadow is trapped in the back of a drawer or perhaps at the bottom of a mind. But whose mind? Everyone’s. Barrie has written Peter Pan’s story to reflect on the Shadow in all of us. The dark repressed desires, needs, drives that we as a collective have stuffed in the bottom corner of our unconscious. Peter unconsciously desires a mother figure and a sense of belonging. He wants to be loved.

Peter himself could be seen as his creator’s Shadow. It has been reported that when James Barrie was six-years-old, he suffered a waking life tragedy. His older brother was killed in a skating accident. Following the accident, James’ mother suffered from severe depression. She would lock herself in her bedroom ignoring the physical and emotional needs of her other children for months at a time. James was said to have started wearing his dead brother’s clothes as well as taking on some of his brother’s mannerism to gain attention from his mother. It was also reported that he developed psychosomatic dwarfism and never grew above 4’10” tall.

Peter visits the nursery again to try and find his Shadow. Without it, he feels incomplete. It is only with the help of light, Tinker Bell, that he is able to finally find his Shadow- find his way. The light in the darkness seeks the Shadow out. It desires to set the Shadow free. Once free, the Shadow will be able to deliver its gift to Peter- to us all.

Now we are back where we started.

Peter has found his Shadow but is upset because he cannot figure out how to attach himself to it- how to own it. Barrie shows us through Peter, that we can’t attack our Shadows angrily with a hammer and expect it to stick around. He shows us that it is naïve to think a little smudge of sticky soap will do the trick either. In order for Peter…I mean ourselves to own our Shadows, we must explore the Shadow. We must become intimate with it. The sticking on of sticky soap only creates a mess. It just creates another layer on top that in time will just wash away. The hammer only distorts our Shadow, never allowing us the opportunity to see it for who it really is.

We must seek out our Shadow and connect with it. We must allow, even if it hurts a little, the needle and thread to move in and out of us. Whipping and stitching together those inner most desires, needs and drives. Creating a tapestry rich in complex meaning. The thimble… oops! I meant the hidden kiss, always near, to protect from little pricks. To love what it holds deep inside. To keep us on the right path.

Once we have become one with our Shadow, we begin to see things differently. We begin to believe in impossible things. We begin to fly. One day we might just find the courage to fly out the window like Peter Pan and begin a new adventure in Neverland.

Works Cited

Barrie, James. (2006). Peter Pan. J.W. Edwards, Inc.

Campbell, Joseph (1993). Myths to Live By. New York, New York: The Penguin Group.

Campbell, Joseph & Moyer, Bill. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books.

Taylor, Jeremy. (1983). Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press

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