James is the main character of the story. Initially, he lives with his mother and father in a house by the sea, until they are killed by a rhinoceros that had escaped from the London Zoo. After the death of his parents, James moves in with his two aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, who are very cruel to him. They never allow him to leave the confines of their house and garden, and they subject him to regular physical and verbal abuse. James is incredibly lonely and wishes to spend time with children his own age.
Yet in a promising turn of events, James meets an Old Man who gives him magic green pellets and tells James that if he follows a special set of instructions, something wonderful will happen to him. Unfortunately, James trips when walking them back into the house, and the magical green objects are rapidly absorbed by the ground. Something wonderful starts happening to the old peach tree in the garden, however, and a giant peach grows and grows and grows.
One night, James sneaks out of the house to see the peach and notices a small entrance into the gigantic fruit. He climbs through this tunnel and meets an odd assortment of huge, talking, quarreling creatures: a Centipede, Earthworm, Spider, Grasshopper, Glow-worm, Ladybug, and Silkworm. With James in their company, these creatures free the peach from the tree and set it rolling through the English countryside, ending its journey in the Atlantic Ocean. In the adventures that follow, James repeatedly devises plans that save him and his companions from peril.
The peach and its crew eventually land safely in New York, peach intact, and James is received as a true hero. He lives the rest of his life in New York, interacting with children everyday and amassing a huge collection of friends - he never has to be lonely again! After frequently telling his story to everyone who visits him in his famous home (the pit of his peach, which has been set up in Central Park), James decides to write a book. The book that James wrote is the book that everyone has just read, James and the Giant Peach.
One of the main antagonists in James and the Giant Peach, Aunt Spiker is one of the cruel aunts whom James lives with in the south of England. She is lean and tall and bony, and she is a screeching voice with narrow lips. She spits whenever she speaks, and because of her selfish, greedy personality, she is always yelling at James and punishing him for the littlest things.
Aunt Spiker and her companion, Aunt Sponge, try to profit off of the enormous peach that grows in their backyard, and this leads to their demise. On the morning that the peach freed itself from the tree, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge were flattened and killed by the rolling peach after tripping over one another in an effort to escape the mammoth, destructive fruit.
Just as mean-natured as her companion Aunt Sponge, Aunt Sponge is one of the two cruel aunts whom James lives with in the south of England. But unlike Aunt Spiker, Aunt Sponge is enormously fat and very short, with small pig-like eyes and a sunken mouth. Like her fellow antagonist Aunt Spiker, she is always yelling at James and punishing him for every mistake that he made.
Driven by their greedy natures, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker decide to turn the giant peach into a tourist attraction (though Aunt Sponge, at first, wants to eat away at the enormous fruit). They also meet a common demise: both are flattened by the peach once it is cut away from its tree and begins rolling away to freedom.
The Old Man
The Old Man appears in the corner of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker's backyard when James is crying after a particularly upsetting altercation with his aunts. Dressed in green and sporting bristles all over his face, this odd fellow presents James with a small white paper bag of tiny, magical green objects; if James follows the Old Man's strict instructions, he will become a magical and happy boy thanks to the mysterious green items. The Old Man disappears after giving James the bag of magic and does not appear again for the rest of the novel.
Centipede is one of James' friends on the peach. James is initially scared of Centipede (and of all the peach's other inhabitants), but soon learns to like this gigantic, wisecracking creature. Centipede has 42 legs, is very particular about his boots, and is in the habit of telling stories through songs (which often are often reproduced at the end of Dahl's chapters). Despite the charming elements of his joking, outspoken personality, Centipede's outlandish personality sometimes gets him into trouble.
Along with the other creatures, Centipede is personified and anthropomorphized by Dahl, who gives everyone onboard the peach human characteristics. At the end of his journey, Centipede is even given a high-profile job in the human world. He lives happily ever after at the conclusion of the novel and is made Vice-President-in-Charge-of-Sales of a high-class firm of boot and shoe manufacturers.
The Miss Spider
Despite her scary appearance (and her status as an animal that many humans misunderstand), Miss Spider is incredibly kind and acts as a caring mother figure towards James. She is responsible for spinning the hammock-like beds for all of the passengers of the peach, and her skillful spinning is very useful later in the novel. In particular, Miss Spider's skills are essential in the peach's escape from danger; at sea, she spins the strands of rope that James needs for his daring seagull scheme.
However, Miss Spider has suffered a few family casualties. During the novel, Miss Spider explains that her father was killed by Aunt Sponge, who sent him down a bathtub drain to his death. Fortunately, Miss Spider lives happily ever after at the end of the novel. Together with her comrade Silkworm, she sets up a factory that manufactures ropes for tightrope walkers.
Long, blind, and very self-defensive, Earthworm is the most pessimistic of the peach passengers, and he frequently quarrels with the high-spirited Centipede. Earthworm repeatedly points out that the peach is doomed and that its passengers are surely soon to die. He is also critical of some of James's plans; in fact, he is used as "bait" for James's successful seagull scheme, though he has the fortune to emerge unscathed.
Despite his grim nature, Earthworm is proud of his species. After all, earthworms are essential in gardening, since they consume massive amounts of soil and make the ground more fertile in the process. Earthworm finds a different way to contribute to human culture after arriving in New York: he stars in commercials for a company that makes women's face creams. He was chosen because of his lovely pink skin.
Old-Green-Grasshopper is wise and cultured, and he serves as a moderating force amongst the peach passengers. Even when disputes erupt between Centipede and Earthworm, Old-Green-Grasshopper manages to remain levelheaded. Whenever James tries to solve the problems that the group faces, Old-Green-Grasshopper is a stable figure who proves willing to help James with whatever he needs.
This venerable "short-horned" grasshopper is also a talented musician who surprises James with his abilities; he is able to use his own body as an instrument, producing rich melodies that call to mind the sound of a violin. At the conclusion of Dahl's novel, the Old-Green-Grasshopper becomes a member of the New York Symphony Orchestra, where his playing earns great admiration.
Proud of her status and her nine spots (a number that makes her superior to two- and five-spotted ladybugs, at least in her own eyes), Ladybug is a kind and friendly female passenger. She often comforts James and encourages him, building his confidence and offering assistance whenever the group faces an obstacle. She is even a member of a species that is prized for its service to humans; ladybugs, as it turns out, eat crop-destroying pests and are thus welcomed by farmers and gardeners. At the end of the novel, she settles down and marries the Head of the Fire Department of New York City.
The female Silkworm is by no means the most outspoken passenger on the peach. For the most part, she remains sleepy and inactive, though she does have an incredibly important role in saving the peach from the attacking sharks: here, she spins as much silk as possible for James to wrap around the seagulls' necks. She saves the day in another instance as well, when she spins enough silk for James to jump off of the peach to save Centipede.
After accompanying the peach to New York City, Silkworm settles down and opens a factory with Miss Spider, where the two make ropes for tightrope walkers.
Glow-worm provides the light for the interior of the peach. (She is not in fact a worm, but a female firefly without wings, as Centipede explains.) While Glow-worm does not speak often in the novel, she does take on a very important job after arriving in New York City: she becomes the light inside the torch of the Statue of Liberty.
The Cloud-Men are wispy white phantasms that frequently appear in the latter chapters of the book as antagonists. They have an entire civilization of mothers, fathers, and children, and as the peach travels through this realm, James and his friends attract unwanted attention and anger from the Cloud-People.
During their clashes with James and his companions, the Cloud-Men throw hailstones and paint at the peach, and almost succeed in tangling the giant fruit in rainbow ropes and bringing it down. Within the fantasy world of James and the Giant Peach, these cloud-dwellers explain the creation of all weather activity that humans witness on earth.
James and the Giant Peach Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for James and the Giant Peach is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The peach got its magic (and its size) from the old man's beans. He told James, "Whoever they meet first, be it bug, insect, animal, or tree, that will be the one who gets the full power of their magic."