The Anxiety of Aging: The Case of Wendy Moira Angela Darling

In the fall of 2002, I took a graduate-level class in developmental psychology with Prof. Joe Reimer at Brandeis. For one assignment, we were asked to write a case study of a fictional character. I chose Wendy, from the Peter Pan stories. 

The Darling family lived in a tidy English townhouse at 14 Kensington Gardens at the turn of the century.  The family consisted of parents George and Mary, elder daughter Wendy, sons John and Michael, as well as a dog called Nana and a servant named Liza.  Mrs. Darling made it a daily habit to spend a moment each evening after tucking her children in their beds to recollect what she had learned from each of her children that day, a process she referred to as “tidying up her children’s minds” (Barrie, 12; ch. 1).  As Wendy neared the onset of puberty, Mrs. Darling noticed during her tidying of her daughter’s mind that Wendy devoted more and more of her energy towards enacting fantasy stories involving the character of Peter Pan, a boy who lived with the fairies and wouldn’t grow up.  Although Mrs. Darling took note of her daughter’s increasing focus on her fantasy world, for the time being she dismissed any fears with the assurance that fantasy is a healthy aspect of childhood play.

Not long after she first took notice of her daughter’s new play-pattern, Mrs. Darling noted an alarming change in the way Wendy spoke of Peter Pan.  Rather than merely telling stories of Peter’s adventures in the “Neverland” of her dreams, Wendy began insisting that Peter periodically made nighttime visits to the nursery Wendy shared with her brothers.  Wendy’s alleged adventures followed the pattern Wendy had previously set in the bed-time stories she would tell her brothers.  The elements of Wendy’s stories were always the same:  meeting at night in the nursery, flight from the world of Wendy’s home, adventures involving childhood staple characters like mermaids and pirates, and Wendy assuming the role of mother to Peter and his “lost boys.”   Continue reading

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