Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Peter Pan and street kids

I read today an interesting Q&A in about violent youth street culture. Here's a bit of it:

Street kids in families are very loyal to their leaders. Their leaders are identified as Mom and Dad. The youths identify each other as Brother and Sister. There are very strict codes of conduct, a highly developed hierarchal system. Like gangs, these kids have a very strong identity just to that particular group. And there are very savage punishments if you break their code.

There's been a discussion going on at the child-lit listserv about Peter Pan lately, mostly about the racist depiction of Indians. While one can certainly debate the sources and the implications of Barrie's depiction of the "redskins," however, what seems beyond debate to me at the moment is that the kids in Peter Pan sound precisely like the kids described in this piece: homeless, often from middle class families, living in an invented family structure, playing violent fantasy games, racist and sexist.

So these are the thoughts I posted to the listserv today:

I've often wondered about a connection between the children in Peter Pan and the child gangs in Oliver Twist. Was juvenile crime as big a topic when Barrie was writing as it was when Dickens was? Is it going too far out on a limb to suggest that Peter Pan romanticizes child violence and child crime? Is the phenomenon described in the Salon article really all that new?

(And is the Salon piece another example of how we objectify and demonize children when they don't conform to our expectations, or is it detailing a real problem?)


  1. interesting post... I'd never really thought about family simulation and street-group violence, but it makes a lot of sense. And it's really sad, too.

    can I sign up for that list serv, btw? not that I would ever comment, but I'd like to read what other people have to say!

  2. of course you can, Heather, just click the link for info.