James and the Giant Peach

by

Roald Dahl

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James and the Giant Peach Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Roald Dahl

Dahl was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1916 to Norwegian immigrant parents. When Dahl was still very young, his sister and father died within weeks of each other. Rather than return to Norway to live near family, Dahl’s mother remained in Wales so that her children could be educated in English schools. However, Dahl’s school days were unpleasant for him—he hated the hazing rituals and prevalence of corporal punishment. Following school, Dahl worked for Shell Oil until World War II, during which he served as a fighter pilot. In 1940, Dahl was seriously injured in a crash landing that temporarily robbed him of his sight. He flew again and served briefly as a flight instructor after his recovery, but he then became a diplomat in Washington, D.C. During his time in the U.S., Dahl published his first story, anecdotes about his time as a pilot. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Dahl published a number of short stories for adults as well as The Gremlins, his first book for children. James and the Giant Peach, however, catapulted him to fame and became the first of his many successful children’s novels. Dahl was married twice, first to actress Patricia Neal and then to Felicity Dahl. He had five children with Neal. In his lifetime, Dahl was a fierce advocate for immunization—his daughter died of measles in 1962—and posthumously, Felicity Dahl created Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity to support sick children. His novels have sold millions of copies and remain immensely popular. Dahl is often considered one of the most influential British authors of the late 20th century.
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Historical Context of James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach is a children’s novel that focuses on the experience of its seven-year-old protagonist and pays little attention to the world of adults, but it’s nevertheless possible to see the influence of the Cold War on the novel. Following World War II, the United States doubled down on its policy of “containment,” or making sure that the communist U.S.S.R. didn’t spread communism elsewhere in the world. In the 1950s, this resulted in an arms race as the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. created and tested atomic weapons. In 1950s and 1960s, when Dahl was writing, fear of nuclear devastation loomed large. This fear even infiltrated pop culture—for instance, the original Twilight Zone television series, which ran from 1959 to 1964, often portrayed nuclear war and the catastrophic effects thereof in its episodes. In James and the Giant Peach, this fear is reflected in the way that English and American adults alike see the peach in the air and believe it must be a bomb sent by a foreign country. It’s likely, too, that this intense, emotionally charged political atmosphere is actually what encouraged Dahl to lean into fun and frivolity in his novels. Dahl’s focus on nonsense and children’s experiences and inner lives is perhaps a reaction against the tense, serious Cold War climate in which he was writing.

Other Books Related to James and the Giant Peach

Like James and the Giant Peach, many of Roald Dahl’s other children’s novels feature magic and nonsense, adult characters who are evil and cruel, and bright children as protagonists. Though James and the Giant Peach is immensely popular, Dahl is perhaps better known for his later children’s novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. While writing his children’s books, Dahl drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Published about a century before James and the Giant Peach, the Alice novels popularized the genre of nonsense literature—and, importantly, they were some of the first to present stories for children that weren’t simple morality tales. He also grew up listening to his mother, a Norwegian immigrant, tell him Norwegian folk and fairy tales, which influenced a number of his novels. In turn, Dahl has influenced a number of writers, actors, and directors—indeed, it’s possible to see James and the Giant Peach’s Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker as possible influences on J. K. Rowling in the creation of her characters Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia. Though Dahl is best known for his children’s literature, he also wrote a number of short stories for adults that share some of the same odd, macabre elements.
Key Facts about James and the Giant Peach
  • Full Title: James and the Giant Peach
  • When Written: 1960–1961
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1961
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Children’s Novel; Fantasy
  • Setting: England, New York City, and the sky above the Atlantic Ocean
  • Climax: The peach falls from the sky and gets skewered by the Empire State Building in New York City.
  • Antagonist: Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for James and the Giant Peach

What’s In a Name? Roald Dahl was named for Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian polar explorer. Amundsen was the first to lead a successful expedition to the South Pole in 1911.

Advice for Writers. A 2007 television special on Dahl, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rule Book, offered eight rules that Dahl followed when writing his children’s books. They state, for instance, that chocolate is necessary and food is fun, while also acknowledging that adults can be scary and bad things can happen in life.