This page intends to discuss the role of women and their sexuality in the Victorian Era in relation to the mermaid’s that lived in the Mermaid’s Lagoon. At the time of the original publication of Peter Pan, the Victorian Era was coming to a close and thus the roles and expectations of women were changing as well. The mermaid’s are a representation of a changing society, one in which women had more self-realization and awareness as sexual creatures. Wendy, on the other hand, represents the classic Victorian mother as a contrast to the approaching new era.
The Victorian Era was not a woman’s world. Women during the Victorian Era were supposed to have no sex drive whatsoever. The Victorian stereotype of women was that they had very little knowledge and even less interest in sex. Sex was exclusively a male desire and was supposed to be warded off by women. One of the central ideas surrounding women during this era was that they were not supposed to be without a husband. In fact, to even be considered for marriage, a woman was expected to be free of any thought of sexuality. For a woman, having a husband was essential to survival because she had no other way to support herself. Once a woman was married, however, she essentially became her husband’s property.
The mermaids in the Mermaid’s Lagoon were polar opposites of the ideals for women during the time period. They were depicted as purely sexual creatures that only had interest in Peter Pan. Everything about them exuded sexuality, from their half naked bodies to their long hair and playfully flirty personalities. They displayed a vanity that was untoward for women in the Victorian Era.
“When she stole softly to the edge of the lagoon she might see them by the score, especially on Marooners’ Rock, where they loved to bask, combing out their hair in a lazy way that quite irritated her; or she might even swim, on tiptoe as it were, to within a yard of them, but then they saw her and dived, probably splashing her with their tails, not by accident, but intentionally. They treated all the boys in the same way, except of course Peter, who chatted with them on Marooners’ Rock by the hour, and sat on their tails when they got cheeky.”
In addition, the mermaids were slaves to no master – they flirted with Peter Pan as they pleased but did not bother with other men. Their obsession with Peter, however, was clear from their distaste for Wendy because she was competition for Peter’s attention.
Wendy, on the other hand, contrasted their sultry demeanor with one of wholesome motherliness:
“But she was a young mother and she did not know this; she thought you simply must stick to your rule about half an hour after the mid-day meal. So, though fear was upon her, and she longed to hear male voices, she would not waken them. Even when she heard the sound of muffled oars, though her heart was in her mouth, she did not waken them. She stood over them to let them have their sleep out. Was it not brave of Wendy?”
Wendy adopted the role of the “mother” of the lost boys and played the antithesis role of the mermaids. Wendy was what every woman during the Victorian Era was supposed to be: free of sexual desires and keen to the care of the children. She represents the era in which Barrie was raised. In conclusion, the mermaid’s play an important role in dating the novel. They are a symbol of the end of an era and the beginning of a new movement for women.
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950. Print.
“Historical Analysis: Women as the “the Sex” During the Victorian Era.”Historical Analysis: Women as the “the Sex” During the Victorian Era. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014. <http://webpage.pace.edu/nreagin/tempmotherhood/fall2003/3/HisPage.html>.
“Peter Pan | Feminist Fiction.” Feminist Fiction. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://feministfiction.com/2012/11/08/peter-pan/>.