Character Connection 25
Let me begin by admitting that it was probably a good thing I lost this post last "Friday the 13th." =P It wasn't one of my best.
My problem while writing it was that I knew what I thought of the mother I had decided to feature . . . and if I might say so, they were wonderful thoughts . . . but I didn't like the way they were turning out as I wrote them. That's why I'm actually grateful for this second chance to get it right. The following character analysis might still be far from perfect, but at least it manages to be better.
Mrs. Mary Darling
by J.M. Barrie
Of course [the Darlings] lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one. She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover, there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the righthand corner.
The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many gentlemen who had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her, and they all ran to her house to propose to her, except Mr. Darling, who took a cab and nipped in first, so he got her. He got all of her except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box and in time stopped trying for the kiss. Wendy thought Napoleon could have got it, but I can picture him trying, and then going off in a passion, slamming the door.
Whatever is a grown woman doing in a book about the one boy who shall never grow up?
Oh, we know what the grown man is doing there. It was likely Mr. Darling who kicked off that irreverent convention of children's storytelling which makes fathers look as ridiculous as possible--and boy, did he set a high bar! He represents everything children hate about adults: doubly so in the stage version, where we see him played by the same actor who portrays the villainous Captain Hook. If the choice were between stern paternal authority and "gay and innocent and heartless" Pan-daemonium, then every child would fly off to Neverland--where grown men may be killed for crocodile meat instead of unquestioningly obeyed--and never come home at all!
And yet most children do return home. At least the ones in this story do. (Oh, dear. Was that an awful spoiler?) For there is one advantage home will always have over Neverland--and we see this perfectly represented in the romantic figure of Mrs. Darling, whose "sweet mocking mouth" has a kiss in it that nobody can ever seem to get.
You're probably familiar with Wendy's trouble in getting Peter to give her a proper kiss--and later on, an actual commitment. (LOL!) But that was nothing compared to her frustrated attempts to get at her mother's elusive kiss. And it is clear which one Wendy would rather have.
There are many wistful thoughts about children who grow up, move away and have lives that their parents cannot always share . . . but not nearly as much about parents who were once young and whose lives were full even without their beloved children. There will always be one last box in our parents' characters that we will never be able to open--something that shall always be theirs alone. But if we are anything like Wendy, we always go back and keep trying. And then we become so thoroughly distracted that we don't catch ourselves growing up.
Well, yes, before the story ends, someone does manage to claim Mrs. Darling's kiss--and I'll bet you know who it is. Perhaps if it had mocked him as well and refused to be taken away, he wouldn't have flown back to Neverland so carelessly. He might even have come back to try for it again. And then he might have decided to stay for as long as it would take, never noticing the widow barred behind him this time, and grown up in spite of himself. But no . . . Mrs. Darling lets him take the kiss and "seems satisfied."
So what is a grown woman doing in a book about the one boy who never grows up--a boy who repulses her on sight, afraid she will only make a man out of him? She is saving the whole story: she is letting him stay young.
Image Source: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie