Everyone in James and the Giant Peach makes assumptions about others—something that the novel suggests is part of being human. However, this doesn’t make it a good thing, as preconceived ideas (especially about other people) can prevent a person from forming new relationships or learning new information. The novel shows that while making assumptions is normal, it’s far better to approach new people or situations with open-minded curiosity and a desire to understand.
A lack of curiosity, the novel shows, can have disastrous consequences—and in a worst-case scenario, can even lead to abuse. James’s Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge, who take James in after he’s orphaned, are extremely uninterested in him. They don’t give any thought to who James is or what he might like—instead, they put him to work performing backbreaking labor that would be strenuous for an adult, without any breaks or time to play. Through Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge, then, James and the Giant Peach links a lack of curiosity about others to selfishness. Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge put James to work, disregarding who he is or what he wants in order to support their own self-centered lifestyle. Their lack of curiosity, in this sense, the crosses the line into cruelty and neglect.
But even though the novel portrays Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge as the epitome of incurious, uncaring evil, this doesn’t mean that making assumptions isn’t a normal human impulse—or that it’s not possible to learn to do better. Indeed, James makes assumptions just like his aunts when, after crawling through a hole in the peach and winding up in a sitting room hidden within the peach’s pit, he comes face-to-face with a group of child-size garden bugs. He’s understandably terrified, especially of Miss Spider. It’s telling that even James, the novel’s protagonist, has such a quick reaction to coming across something new. This suggests that making assumptions (such as that a human-size spider will be unfriendly or dangerous) is something that everyone does—no matter how good or kind they might be otherwise. But as James gets to know his new companions, he gradually learns about how unhelpful it is to cling to his assumptions about bugs. For instance, he learns from the Old-Green-Grasshopper that grasshoppers don’t have ears on the sides of their head, like James assumed everyone did. Rather, their ears are on their abdomens—and it’s both silly and rude, the Old-Green-Grasshopper suggests, to assume anything about another person’s body.
Most importantly, the novel insists that children and adults alike can learn to engage with new people and information with curiosity and openness, rather than with fear and prejudice. When James lassos 502 seagulls that lift the peach high in the sky, almost all adults who see it are terrified of it—they think it’s a bomb that will destroy the world. This reflects the adults’ willingness to assume that other nations are out to destroy the U.S. or the U.K.—it seemingly doesn’t occur to them to so much as wonder what else the sphere floating through the sky might be. Once the peach gets skewered on the top of New York City’s Empire State Building, the various first responders who arrive to check out the supposed “bomb” are shocked to the point of fainting when they discover a huge peach, an assortment of human-size bugs, and a little boy. Once James manages to calm down the hysterical first responders and assure them that he and his friends mean no harm, James and his friends are heralded as heroes and are fully accepted into New York City’s fold. For that matter, the descriptions of what each bug does in New York suggests that their various skills and perspectives make the city—and, by extension, the world—a richer, better place. Miss Spider and the Silkworm, for instance, learn to spin nylon and create ropes for tightrope walkers, while the Old-Green-Grasshopper’s violin adds depth to the New York City Symphony Orchestra. With this, James and the Giant Peach acknowledges that it’s normal to make assumptions about unfamiliar people, animals, or situations upon first glance. But it’s far better if people endeavor to meet new situations or people with curiosity and compassion, as diversity and difference make the world a better and more interesting place.
Assumptions vs. Curiosity ThemeTracker
Assumptions vs. Curiosity Quotes in James and the Giant Peach
They were selfish and lazy and cruel, and right from the beginning they started beating poor James for almost no reason at all. They never called him by his real name, but always referred to him as “you disgusting little beast” or “you filthy nuisance” or “you miserable creature,” and they certainly never gave him any toys to play with or any picture books to look at. His room was as bare as a prison cell.
“Oh, Auntie Sponge!” James cried out. “And Auntie Spiker! Couldn’t we all—please—just for once—go down to the seaside on the bus? It isn’t very far—and I feel so hot and awful and lonely...”
“Why, you lazy good-for-nothing brute!” Aunt Spiker shouted.
“Beat him!” cried Aunt Sponge.
“I certainly will!” [...] “I shall beat you later on in the day when I don’t feel so hot,” she said.
“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.”
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.
They panicked. They both got in each other’s way. They began pushing and jostling, and each of them was thinking only about saving herself. Aunt Sponge, the fat one, tripped over a box that she’d brought along to keep the money in, and fell flat on her face. Aunt Spiker immediately tripped over Aunt Sponge and came down on top of her. They both lay on the ground, fighting and clawing and yelling and struggling frantically to get up again, but before they could do this, the mighty peach was upon them.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“That’s it!!” cried the Captain. “It’s a secret weapon! Holy cats! Send a message to the Queen at once! The country must be warned! And give me my telescope.”
“My dear young fellow,” the Old-Green-Grasshopper said gently, “there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours that you haven’t started wondering about yet. Where, for example, do you think that I keep my ears?”
“Your ears? Why, in your head, of course.”
Everyone burst out laughing.
“You’re joking,” James said. “Nobody could possibly have his ears on his legs.”
“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.”
“But what’s the point?”
“What do you mean, what’s the point?”
“Why do you do it?”
“We do it for the farmers. It makes the soil nice and light and crumbly so that things will grow well in it. If you really want to know, the farmers couldn’t do without us. We are essential. We are vital. So it is only natural that the farmer should love us.”
“But what about you, Miss Spider?” asked James. “Aren’t you also much loved in the world?”
“Alas, no,” Miss Spider answered, sighing long and loud. “I am not loved at all. And yet I do nothing but good. All day long I catch flies and mosquitos in my webs. I am a decent person.”
“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.
Far below them, in the City of New York, something like pandemonium was breaking out. A great round ball as big as a house had been sighted hovering high up in the sky over the very center of Manhattan, and the cry had gone up that it was an enormous bomb sent over by another country to blow the whole city to smithereens.
“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.”
And because so many of them were always begging him to tell and tell again the story of his adventures on the peach, he thought it would be nice if one day he sat down and wrote a book.
So he did.
And that is what you have just finished reading.