James and the Giant Peach

by

Roald Dahl

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James and the Giant Peach: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On top of the peach, all the bugs and James look around and blink nervously. They’re in the middle of the sea and can barely see the shore. None of them understand how they got here, and the Old-Green-Grasshopper declares this a “rather awkward situation.” The Earthworm, meanwhile, insists they’re going to die. The bugs panic—the Centipede can’t swim with his boots on, while Miss Spider, the Ladybug, and the Glow-worm can’t swim at all. Calmly, James says that nobody has to swim: the peach is floating, and eventually, a boat can rescue them. The bugs stare at James, amazed, and ask if he’s sure they’re not sinking. With James’s prodding, they look over the edge at the water. He’s right.
When the bugs panic, it drives home how incompetent they are as adults. It’s beyond them to look around, take stock of the situation, and ascertain that things aren’t so bad. As James points out, the peach is floating, so the threat of drowning isn’t a pressing issue. When James is the one to point this out to his friends, it reiterates that children are often more mature and knowledgeable than adults think they are. As James steps into a more adult role, he also takes on more responsibility and starts to come of age.
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The Old-Green-Grasshopper says they must keep calm and believe everything will turn out fine. The Earthworm says this is nonsense, since nothing is ever fine in the end. The Ladybug whispers in James’s ear that the Earthworm makes everything into a disaster. He likes to be gloomy, though she can’t blame him—being an Earthworm would make lots of people gloomy. The Earthworm continues his tirade and insists they’re going to starve or die of thirst. The Centipede agrees, but James says the Earthworm is blind. The Earthworm takes offense to this, but James carefully says that the peach is big enough to feed them for weeks. The Old-Green-Grasshopper announces that they’re saved, but the Earthworm insists they’ll drown if they eat their peach ship.
The Earthworm eludes to the idea that everyone dies eventually—which is true, but that’s no reason to immediately believe that death is imminent. The Ladybug, however, helps James understand that it’s just in the Earthworm’s nature to see everything as a catastrophe. By telling James this, she helps James empathize with the Earthworm and how difficult and anxiety-inducing this situation might be for him. In addition, James continues to take on a more adult role as he reminds his friends that they’re not in immediate trouble.
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The Old-Green-Grasshopper agrees with the Earthworm and with the Centipede, who insists that they’ll either drown or starve. When Miss Spider asks if she can just eat a tiny bit of the peach, James notes that it would take weeks to eat enough of the peach to sink them. This fact is obvious to him. The Old-Green-Grasshopper agrees that James is right and suggests they eat out of the hole they crawled through, as to not eat holes all over the peach. The Earthworm, however, still looks concerned. When the Centipede asks what’s wrong, the Earthworm says the problem is that there isn’t a problem. Everyone laughs and digs into the delicious peach. They sit and eat happily.
The fact that all of this is obvious to James shows that he sees the world differently than his bug companions do. To him, the peach and the ocean around them seem to represent opportunity, not danger. As an optimistic child who’s just happy to be out in nature and free from the oppressive adults in his life, it’s unsurprising that James feels this way. The natural world offers him the tools he needs to practice being independent. The bugs, meanwhile, provide foils for James’s maturity and make him look even more grown-up by comparison.
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The Ladybug remarks that the peach is better than aphids, which is all she’s ever eaten. Miss Spider concurs; this is better than a fresh-caught fly. But the Centipede sings that he’s tasted all the finest foods in the world—like jellied gnats and minced doodlebugs—and the peach is better than any of them. He concludes his song by saying he’d give up every other food for a tiny bite of the giant peach.
The Centipede’s song makes it clear that James and the Giant Peach is meant to be silly and nonsensical. Throughout the novel, moments like these make the broader point that literature doesn't have to be stuffy, boring, and moralistic; like the Centipede’s silly song, it can be lighthearted and fun.
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