Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) circulates in the popular imagination as a happy tale for children that, through the adventures of Peter and the other children in Never Land, celebrates playfulness. As Mark Twain commented, "It is my belief that Peter Pan is a great and refining and uplifting benefaction to this sordid and money-mad age; and the next best play is a long way behind- (qtd. in Jack 158). Tellingly, Twain's comment that Peter Pan is uplifting seems to depend on ignoring the fact that each of the "lost- boys is a baby who has fallen out of his pram "when the nurse is looking the other way- and who, if not claimed within seven days, is "sent far away to the Never Land- (Barrie 101). The boys of Never Land are dead, and so Peter Pan, arriving at the window of the Darling family, is a ghost. As the stage direction before Peter's arrival indicates, "the nursery darkens [ ]. Something uncanny is going to happen, we expect, for a quiver has passed through the room, just sufficient to touch the night-lights- (97). As Freud suggests in his 1919 essay, the "uncanny- arouses an experience of "dread and horror,"" partially because the familiar (heimlich) evokes the unfamiliar (unheimlich), rendering the comfortable and "homey- uncomfortable and alien (224). The familiar, now both familiar and unfamiliar, generates anxiety.
Peter Pan, as a ghost whose first appearance is announced as "uncanny,"" is the sign of anxiety within the play. Beneath the familiarity of middle-class life, in the opening and closing scenes, and the culture of children's play evident in the adventures in Never Land is the anxiety aroused by the shifts in masculine identity in relation to modern life, including the new technologies of the workplace and the demise of Empire. Barrie's response is anxious and nostalgic, the desire to return to an imagined past of stability that, if it ever existed, is impossible to recuperate, a point marked by the setting of the play in "Never Land.