Embracing the fruit of maturity: Understanding the process of growing up, transcending the orphans pain and finding an identity in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.
A magical Giant peach that serves as a ship for amazing adventures is the central symbol in Roald Dahl's 1961 children novel James and the Giant Peach. One day after having spilled magical crocodile tongues around an old peach tree , young James founds that a Giant Peach had grown from the old three. Dying out of curiosity 7 years old orphan James enters inside the huge peach and much to his surprise finds that 7 giant insects were waiting for him to embark into amazing adventures across the Atlantic over to New York City from his native land England.
English writer Roald Dahl(1916-1990) rose in the 1940´s with works for both children and adults that were characterized by dark humor and unexpected endings. Dahl was a pilot for the British air force during world war II, a poet, screenwriter and short story writer. Dahl first became recognized for his work in 1942 with his first work C.S foster, a work that that told the story about his wartime adventures. Later on, he decided to continue with books for children with his first book being The Gremlins(1943) based on creatures that the British air force told in joke to be the ones that caused damages in their airplanes when these were not working well. Moreover, he then started to focus on fantasy books for children characterized for orphans and their hero's quest with works such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(1964), Matilda(1988) and James and the Giant Peach(1961). Many of his works were turn into film scripts such as Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory(film, 1971), You only live twice(film,1967) and Matilda(film,1996). After some years in his career he became known as one of the most important authors of children books in British literature and in 2008 The Times placed Dahl in the list of the "50 greatest writers since 1935".
James and the Giant Peach, published in 1961 tells the story of 10 years old James Henry Trotter. James becomes an orphan when he is 4 due to a magical rhino eating his parents. As a result, he is forced to move to live with her two evil aunts, aunt spiker and aunt sponge9Anima witches according to Freud) in an isolated hill far away from society. One day, out of need to find a refuge of his immense boredom and loneliness of living in the hill and the pain that his wicked aunts bring him, young James decides to explore what is beyond the fence of the house. Suddenly, a mysterious odd looking old man appears and tells James that he has something for him, something that will change his life for good. And so the old man gives James magical green talismans that he calls "crocodile tongues" and then dissapears. Enthusiastically James takes the talismans and runs to his aunts house, but when in the process he felts near an old dying peach three. The next day what young orphan James founds is and amazingly huge peach!. And so, dying out of curiosity he explores the peach and finds out there is a n opening the get inside under it. Much to his surprise, he then finds 7 giant insects that where waiting for him to embark into amazing adventures in the ship (as the insects call the peach).
James and the Giant Peach contains very archetypal symbols resembling how children start their process into becoming a mature(fruition and a ready to eat Peach could symbolize this) and finding his own identity. An interesting way to look at children and adolescent stories is to see how they serve as an educational medium to help children and adolescents understand complex but natural phases in life. As we can see in Freud's work on the developmental stages on children,the Phallic stage between the third and six year of child resemble how children start connecting with their sexuality an instincts and how they fear they would damage their relationship with their parents, specially with the parent of the same sex.Therefore, the Rhino(Phallic symbol) that eats James parents can see as an unconscious fear that divides ,in the mind of a child the relation ship with his parents leaving the child as an orphan. More else, the peach as a ship or womb like symbol in the story resembles an Edipo complex of trying to hide under the love of a mother.
What's more, Pearson's ,version of 6 archetypes (As seen in The Hero Whitin) depicts in a very fantasy like form the development of a child in maturity and at the same time of a wanderer into finding himself, and of an orphan to become self sufficient. Consequently ,Joseph Compels has to be included due to the orderly fashion that represents the mono-myth showing a pattern of growth in to apotheosis, or becoming a god or a creator that is self sufficient in the world. What´s more, several books that include this approach to developmental psychology do not have to limit themselves to children, that is because adults can find in the stories patterns of development of situations in their life's and so children books and movies like The nightmare before chrismas (1993), Spirited Away(2001) and Shrek(2001) are some examples of works that have become very popular among both children and adults.
James character on the novel is clearly an orphan archetype according to Pearson archetypical system but when he becomes tired of being alone and mistreated by his aunts, he then also assumes the role of a wanderer.As Campell´s Archetypical system explains wanderers are born out of orphans ,who pushed by the Burton of loneliness and pain start looking for themselves in order to become self sufficient, which again fits with development psychology as one becomes self sufficient as an adult. He becomes an orphan when a rhino that escaped eats his parents.He then moves with his evil aunts who treat him like a slave. More else, James does not even attend to school as he is too buy working for her wicked aunts on an isolated house somewhere on a hill on England. And so he is desperate for company "I feel so bored and alone, couldn't we just go to the beach just once auntie?"(pg 45) and for a need of an identity outside the one of an slave orphan that his wicked aunts give him.
Under Campell´s view, James fits perfectly under the pattern of the "hero´s Journey " into a "quest" in the mono myth (see The hero with a thousand faces). James hears the call for adventures, crosses several thresh holds including the limit to explore around the hill that her aunts order him to obey and the fresh hole of "going under the rabbit hole" in order to enter the giant peach, faces tests and trials and finally returns to his real home as more mature individual,who has find an identify and is more independent.
As a orphan who saw his aunts as his only parental figure and after being punished and denied permission to explore and have friends,James then assumes the role of a wanderer. Most wanderers are born out of orphans as is the case of James who not being able to tolerate being alone and abused the suddenly seeks adventures and starts to explore the outer parts of the hills in order to find something he does not know, perhaps an identify. While being at the hill James constantly reminds himself of what her aunts said to him about not going away as he tries to re assert himself to what to do in a situation where he can choose between declare independence and explore, or obey and remain orphan. Clearly he is loosing his innocence in order to grow up, loosing the innocence and the same time naivety of not being self sufficient when he can already be it.
James and The Giant peach fit perfectly in Campells Mono myth structure or Heroes quest (As in Campelss, Here with a thousand faces). James is pushed into adventure by his own desire to find himself and explore whats outside,and so he hears "the call for adventure" as he crosses the boundaries established by her aunts that are physically invisible but completely based on his fear orphan and ignorance about the power of his own autonomy.He then embarks into adventures with tests and surprises that he never thought could happen to later return home more stringer ,confident and mature, this time having found his own value and having explored and transcended most of the pain of being an orphan to become more mature and independent.
At an archetypical orphan, James resembles a very innocent one(the previews archetype in the list according to Campell), who seems to accept life as it is and never questions anything but just accepts life as it comes with all the orders of his wicked aunts. As the novel goes on, one realizes that James is in a great pain that he perhaps does not understand as he has already adapted to the isolated and abusive environment. What marks a the break of his innocence into a more rebellious James, is when the denial of his aunts (quote) for him to explore and be a child create to much pain in James hearth,(considering he is entering his teen years and needs to feel a child for a last time). As a result like a lesson every orphan must learn , he starts his journey into becoming self sufficed by revealing to his by then accepted reality of loneliness, abuse and grief. After unconsciously reveling to his aunts orders to not wander around the hill(by crossing the hill limit he is crossing the threshold of innocence), because the common feeling of an orphan to live in limbo (belly of the whale under the pattern of Campell´s Monomyth) James then seeks excitement.
In the process of growing up and transcending being an orphan, the individual has to accept the loss of innocence and become self sufficient. As we can see in the book , James looses his innocence and starts looking for excitement to later find the Giant peach. Surprisingly, when James decides to enter the peach in awe, he finds 7 insects (The sword masters who reflect James identity and teach him aspects of themselves, 7 years of age and seven insects resembling the wisdom acquired) that had also growth big due to the magic talisman the old man gave to James and that he accidental thrown near the peach three. The 7 insects represent what James is missing, both in the positive and negative way. Dahl at the start of the novels gives a pretty blank description of James as just an innocent boy who obeys her aunts orders, but as soon as he enters the peach (A threshold)and meets the insects he begins a metamorphosis where he little by little starts to take them as friends and role models . And as chapter by chapter James becomes closer to the insects ,he becomes more interesting and full of surprises, it seems that the insects give James the reflection needed to create or find his own identify.
It is interesting to note that a peach that contains psychological elements (the insects) can be symbolized as James mind, and aspects of his personality that have or are developing. And the "crocodile tongues"(The Talismans according to Campell´s monomyth) that pushed the growth of the peach or"mind" of James could clearly resemble hormones and a natural need to grow up. In several cultures crocodiles resemble instincts,even brain anatomy looks at the reptilian brain or amygdala as the part that controls emotions and instincts. What´s more the "tongues" are a symbol of speech and communication, and the color green of a yes or pass signal just like in traffic lights. So the talismans could be seen as the passing signal that instincts via the hormones are communication James psychology and body to "Grow Up".
And so , James adventures with his new friends starts when the peach starts to roll down the hill into the sea and to cross over to New York. The sea also resembles in Jungian psychology the subconsciousness mind, so as we can see the story shows us how we are going more deeply into James mind in order to find answers and integrate psychological aspects in order to become an independent person and finally "grow up" in maturity level. Once in the sea according to Campell´s mono myth, the set of trials start.The first trial is that once in the sea James must calm the insects out of their fear of never making it alive to firm terrain. He is then force to take the role of a hero role model to the insects who praise him for his wisdom and are very nervous to the events unfolding. And so the insects with fear of having nothing to eat or drink are scared of dying out of hunger and dehydration.The next test, resembling again the need for nurture of an orphan symbolized by Freud as the need for food ,unfolds.Because of the insects are scared to die out of hunger and dehydration, James realizes that they can eat the peach itself that would fullfill all their needs. And so, James symbolically starts to be able to self fulfill that empty space of the need of an orphan for care with emotion which is symbolized under Freudian psychology resemble as food and liquid also symbolizes emotion.
Deep into the see we can see that James as perhaps Jung and Freud would describe water and sea, is going further in the layers of his subconsciousness to find what is holding him back out of his next natural step of maturity and self realization,and so the next trial arises. When a group of angered sharks see the insects and James over the peach they decide to eat the peach in order to sunk it and eat the members. Therefore, with 7 insects that see James as clever smart person,he is pushed to take the role of a warrior. Consequently ,James creates a plan to safe himself and the insects from the sharks, and aims at the sky. He decides to make the silkworm and Miss spider give him their silk to catch seagulls that are attracted to the centipede as balloons o lift off. He then proofs to the insects and himself that he is a string warrior that can solve critical situations. The sharks can symbolize fear to be eat out or taken over by life which is the reason he accepted being abused by his aunts in the first place. Therefore,James transcends this fear by finally taking the role of a independent creator of his life or someone who thinks for himself.
The Sea gulls represent the freedom he is catching with the tools he gets from his new acquired /developed psychological aspects(Rescue from with out/ Magic Flight, Campell´s Monomyth). He gets a freedom from his fears (sharks) and flies to see a larger perspective of himself. Following, James and the insects find the "cloud men" who manipulate weather from above, and the centipede (aspect of being preponderant) insults them, angered the cloud men trow a big hail of storm to them and the peach gets damaged leaking juice and breaking a bit in pieces. As we can see there is a limit in freedom (flying) and James must respect nature and his own limits (sky is the limit, white cloud man) or else he will get hurt because he asked for it (centipede).
Following, the the next day at down the severely damaged "ship" and its members find themselves in the middle of a city with skyscrapers!. Then they end up passing by empire state, the "the highest building in the world" by the time, and seeing the whole city with astonishment. Sky scrappers, a symbol of power and something firm and powerful are what James wanted to see since he was a little boy when his parents told him about New York and highest building in the world. So by being in the top of the world James had finally find himself as someone powerful and with a firm personality he now had a higher perspective about life and was completely changed. Also the firefly fought to the torch of the statue of liberty and lighted with its light, clearly symbolizing freedom, the freedom James had acquired out of the pain and dependence of an orphan,and the inability to realize his own powerful self as a wanderer.
Finally , the peach lands in the middle of central park where James lives with his friends the insects and makes the peach a museum, were he mainly resides and meets a lot of children and is happy ,marking his return into "home"(Campell's Monomyth end). As for the insects they are still James friends but they become good at they want to, some of them become famous artists, others make a lot of money and all are happy. At the end James makes a museum out of the peach becuase he now understands his mind ,himself and is proud of it!. More else he is not afraid to share what he is with others and so he makes a lot of friends. An lives happily in the middle of a city, (crazy powerful world) but in the park and in the peach (himself, with conviction,being independent and knowing his own power) . All and all, James and the Giant Peach resembles the psychological development of children into finding an identity and becoming independent. With the separation of his parents, the initiation into his own power, and his return to being happy, we see the pattern of development of children and how James became self sufficient ,transcending the orphans pain, and found himself as an strong and valuable individual and so also transcending the wanderer confusion and quest for an identity.
Dahl, Roadl. James and the Giant Peach. United Kingdom: Alfred A. Knopf, In. ,1961.
Dahl, Roald. www.roalddahl.com , website. May,7,2012
Freud Sigmund . en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud ,Wikipedia article, development phases. May,2,2012
Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to help us Find Ourselves and Transform the World. New York: Harper One. 1991.
Pearson, Carol. The Hero Within: Six Archetypes we Live By. 3rd Edition. New York: Harper One, 1986.
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Jung, Carl, Wikipedia article