James and the Giant Peach

by

Roald Dahl

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The Centipede Character Analysis

When James encounters the Centipede in the middle of the giant peach, he’s initially terrified—but the Centipede endears himself to James quickly with his sense of humor. Centipedes are common garden pests (insects that attack crops) but the novel’s Centipede is a proud “pest” in the other sense of the word, as he takes it upon himself to tease and annoy everyone, especially the Earthworm. He also delights in misleading people by insisting that he has 100 legs, though the Earthworm points out several times that centipedes only have 42 legs. On these legs the Centipede wears boots, which he does a poor job of tying and which take hours to take on and off. The Centipede’s pressing need to take off, put on, or polish his boots—often at inopportune moments—is one of the ways that Dahl infuses the novel with nonsensicality. In addition to adding levity and humor to every situation by teasing the Earthworm, the Centipede is also a skilled performer. He can come up with songs and poems on the spot and is happy to perform them. The subject matter of his recitations is often humorous but a bit rude, as when he makes fun of Aunt Sponge’s and Aunt Spiker’s weight. His rudeness eventually gets the group into trouble: the Centipede isn’t afraid of the Cloud-Men like he should be, so he heckles them and causes them to attack the peach. Once he settles in New York City, the Centipede becomes the vice president of a shoe and boot company.

The Centipede Quotes in James and the Giant Peach

The James and the Giant Peach quotes below are all either spoken by The Centipede or refer to The Centipede. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Puffin edition of James and the Giant Peach published in 2013.
Chapter 12 Quotes

There he goes again!” the Earthworm cried, speaking for the first time. “He simply cannot stop telling lies about his legs! He doesn’t have anything like a hundred of them! He’s only got forty-two! The trouble is that most people don’t bother to count them. They just take his word.”

Related Characters: The Earthworm (speaker), The Centipede, James Henry Trotter
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

James decided that he rather liked the Centipede. He was obviously a rascal, but what a change it was to hear somebody laughing once in a while. He had never heard Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker laughing aloud in all the time he had been with them.

Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

Already, he was beginning to like his new friends very much. They were not nearly as terrible as they looked. In fact, they weren’t really terrible at all. They seemed extremely kind and helpful in spite of all the shouting and arguing that went on between them.

Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

“But my dear friends!” cried the Old-Green-Grasshopper, trying to be cheerful, “we are there!”

“Where?” they asked. “Where? Where is there?”

“I don’t know, the Old-Green-Grasshopper said. “But I’ll bet it’s somewhere good.”

Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“None of us three girls can swim a single stroke.”

“But you won’t have to swim,” said James calmly. “We are floating beautifully. And sooner or later a ship is bound to come along and pick us up.”

They all stared at him in amazement.

“Are you quite sure that we are not sinking?” the Ladybug asked.

“Of course I’m sure,” answered James.

Related Characters: Miss Spider (speaker), James Henry Trotter (speaker), The Ladybug (speaker), The Old-Green-Grasshopper, The Centipede, The Earthworm
Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

“You must be crazy! You can’t eat the ship! It’s the only thing that is keeping us up!”

“We shall starve to death if we don’t!” said the Centipede.

“And we shall drown if we do!” cried the Earthworm.

[...]

“You can eat all you want,” James answered. It would take us weeks and weeks to make any sort of a dent in this enormous peach. Surely you can see that?”

“Good heavens, he’s right again!” cried the Old-Green-Grasshopper, clapping his hands.

Related Characters: The Earthworm (speaker), James Henry Trotter (speaker), The Centipede (speaker), The Old-Green-Grasshopper (speaker), Miss Spider, The Ladybug
Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

“For dinner on my birthday I shall tell you what I choose:
Hot noodles made from poodles on a slice of garden hose—
And a rather smelly jelly
Made of armadillo’s toes.
(The jelly is delicious, but you have to hold your nose.)”

Related Characters: The Centipede (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

“Is there nothing we can do?” asked the Ladybug, appealing to James. “Surely you can think of a way out of this.”

Suddenly they were all looking at James.

“Think!” begged Miss Spider. “Think, James, think!”

“Come on,” said the Centipede. “Come on, James. There must be something we can do.”

Their eyes waited upon him, tense, anxious, pathetically hopeful.

Related Characters: The Ladybug (speaker), Miss Spider (speaker), The Centipede (speaker), James Henry Trotter
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“Why, it’s absolutely brilliant!” cried the Old-Green-Grasshopper when James had explained his plan.

“The boy’s a genius!” the Centipede announced. “Now I can keep my boots on after all.”

“Oh, I shall be pecked to death!” wailed the poor Earthworm.

“Of course you won’t.”

“I will, I know I will! And I won’t even be able to see them coming at me because I have no eyes!”

James went over and put an arm gently around the Earthworm’s shoulders. “I won’t let them touch you,” he said. “I promise I won’t.”

Related Characters: The Old-Green-Grasshopper (speaker), The Centipede (speaker), The Earthworm (speaker), James Henry Trotter (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

“Action stations!” James shouted. “Jump to it! There’s not a moment to lose!” He was the captain now, and everyone knew it. They would do whatever he told them.

Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“You’re joking,” James said. “Nobody could possibly have his ears on his legs.”

“Why not?”

“Because...because it’s ridiculous, that’s why.”

“You know what I think is ridiculous?” the Centipede said, grinning away as usual. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I think it is ridiculous to have ears on the sides of one’s head. It certainly looks ridiculous. You ought to take a peek in the mirror some day and see for yourself.”

Related Characters: James Henry Trotter (speaker), The Old-Green-Grasshopper (speaker), The Centipede (speaker)
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

“Those are skyscrapers! So this must be America! And that, my friends, means that we have crossed the Atlantic Ocean overnight!”

“You don’t mean it!” they cried.

“It’s not possible!”

“It’s incredible! It’s unbelievable!”

“Oh, I’ve always dreamed of going to America!” cried the Centipede. “I had a friend once who—“

“Be quiet!” said the Earthworm. Who cares about your friend? The thing we’ve got to think about now is how on earth are we going to get down to earth?

“Ask James,” said the Ladybug.

Related Characters: James Henry Trotter (speaker), The Centipede (speaker), The Earthworm (speaker), The Ladybug (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Peach
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 37 Quotes

“Don’t be frightened of us, please!” James called out. “We are so glad to be here!”

“What about those others beside you?” shouted the Chief of Police. “Are any of them dangerous?”

“Of course they’re not dangerous!” James answered. “They’re the nicest creatures in the world! Allow me to introduce them to you one by one and then I’m sure you will believe me.”

Page Number: 133-134
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire James and the Giant Peach LitChart as a printable PDF.
James and the Giant Peach PDF

The Centipede Character Timeline in James and the Giant Peach

The timeline below shows where the character The Centipede appears in James and the Giant Peach. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...next to him, and a Ladybug on her own chair. On a sofa sits a Centipede and an Earthworm, while a thick white something—maybe a Silkworm—sleeps on the floor. Each creature... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
After a moment, the Spider asks James if he’s hungry. James says nothing and the Centipede remarks that James looks ready to faint. The Ladybug says that James must think they... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
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James is afraid to offend the bugs, so he sets to work untangling the Centipede’s shoelaces. He murmurs quietly that the Centipede has lots of boots, so the Centipede announces... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...ends when the Earthworm points out that he’s useful and beloved by gardeners, while the Centipede is a pest. The Centipede is proud to be a pest, so this doesn’t bother... (full context)
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
The Centipede explains that he was under the peach tree when a tiny green crystal wriggled past... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...and luxurious. The Old-Green-Grasshopper crawls in. Next, Miss Spider makes beds for the Ladybug, the Centipede, and the Earthworm. Then, she turns to James and asks how soft he’d like his... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
The Centipede says, “Lights out,” but nothing happens. He says it again, louder. James is confused. He... (full context)
Chapter 14
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...stem, which is starting to break. The Ladybug raises her voice and yells that the Centipede is up on top nibbling at the stem. She offers to take James under her... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
The Centipede says they could see anything on their journey. He sings that they could see the... (full context)
Chapter 17
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...the journey even worse, the Glow-worm’s light stopped working. Now, though, everything is quiet. The Centipede shouts for light, but the Glow-worm struggles to light her tail. Finally, her light comes... (full context)
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...he suggests they go up to the top of the peach and look around. The Centipede shrieks that he can’t go out in bare feet, so the Ladybug asks everyone to... (full context)
Chapter 18
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
As the group finishes their meal, the Centipede points to a “funny thin black thing” in the water. Miss Spider and the Ladybug... (full context)
Chapter 20
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...earthworm just happens to be on the peach. At this, the Earthworm becomes hysterical. The Centipede and Miss Spider say they’ll respect the Earthworm as a martyr for the rest of... (full context)
Chapter 21
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Once James details his plan, the Old-Green-Grasshopper and the Centipede affirm that it’s brilliant. The Earthworm, however, is distraught. James puts an arm around the... (full context)
Chapter 23
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...the top of the peach. The view is so magnificent that Miss Spider pulls the Centipede into a dance. Even the shy Glow-worm and the quiet Silkworm watch everyone else celebrate... (full context)
Chapter 24
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...this is a joke and insists that having ears on one’s legs is ridiculous. The Centipede says it’s actually ridiculous to have ears on the side of one’s head. He suggests... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
Not wanting the Centipede and the Earthworm to argue again, James asks the Earthworm if he makes music. The... (full context)
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The Centipede notes proudly that he’s a pest; nobody loves him. James asks Miss Spider whether people... (full context)
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The Centipede sings a song about how fat Aunt Sponge was. He sings that she decided to... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Having danced wildly during his songs, the Centipede now teeters and falls off the edge of the peach. James yells for the Silkworm... (full context)
Chapter 27
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...James shushes her—these must be Cloud-Men. Everyone is afraid the Cloud-Men will see them. The Centipede tells the Earthworm that the Cloud-Men would love to eat an earthworm like salami. (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...to Earth below. When James notes that they just witnessed the creation of hailstones, the Centipede deems that ridiculous—it’s summer. The Centipede refuses to listen to James’s explanations or requests that... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...peach, they drop their shovels and stare, dumbfounded. Everyone on the peach, save for the Centipede, sits still and terrified. The Centipede insists he’s not afraid and dances while making rude... (full context)
Chapter 28
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...clouds. The bugs wonder if it’s a bridge or a giant upside-down horseshoe. When the Centipede catches sight of Cloud-Men on the structure, he goes pale. There are millions of Cloud-Men.... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
Silently, James and his friends watch the Cloud-Men scramble over the arch. The Centipede runs down the peach’s tunnel, but the others on top of the peach observe that... (full context)
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
...the silk securing the seagulls. An angry Cloud-Man begins to climb down the string. The Centipede yells for the Cloud-Man to eat the Earthworm first, but James shouts for the Centipede... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Finally, the seagulls pull the peach out of the Cloud-Men’s reach. Everyone gathers around the Centipede. As the paint dries, he has to sit rigidly upright. All his legs stick straight... (full context)
Chapter 30
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...it stops. The Old-Green-Grasshopper and the Earthworm gasp at how wet they are, but the Centipede shouts with excitement—the water washed the paint off. He dances and sings a song about... (full context)
Chapter 32
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When the sun rises, everyone stands and stretches. Then, the Centipede notices that there’s land below them. Everyone celebrates and peers down at the vast city... (full context)
Chapter 34
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James tells the Centipede to cut through a string. This doesn’t do anything, but James points out that the... (full context)
Chapter 37
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...the peach. The Chief of Police shouts for the travelers to show themselves, so the Centipede sticks his head over the edge and grins. Policemen and firefighters believe the creature is... (full context)
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Fun, Nonsense, and Absurdity Theme Icon
...they see him, while others shout that he’s an Oinck or a Cockatrice. Neither the Centipede nor the Old-Green-Grasshopper know why the first responders are so upset. When Miss Spider joins... (full context)
Children vs. Adults Theme Icon
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Nature and Growing Up Theme Icon
...frightened. He says that his friends aren’t dangerous and, breaking into song, he introduces the Centipede, the Earthworm, the Old-Green-Grasshopper, the Glow-worm, Miss Spider, the Ladybug, and the Silkworm. As he... (full context)
Chapter 39
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...but he and his friends all become rich and successful in the United States. The Centipede becomes the vice president of a boot company, while the Earthworm works for a company... (full context)