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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

James Impregnates His Own Mother?!

Following on from my last post on Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, I decided to do a little research on what others have made of the food in the novel.   I came across a particularly interesting piece by Karlie E. Hendon titled 'Food and Power in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and Neil Gaiman's Coraline'.  Hendon's main argument regarding James and the Giant Peach is that "Dahl uses food as a vehicle for an exchange of social and sexual power in the novel" (16), focusing particularly on "the importance of eating in the development of children's social selves" (17).  Hendon claims that by refusing to allow James to join in at meal times, feeding him only scraps such as fish heads and crumbs, his aunts "refuse to grant him status and identify as a human" (18).   By tasting the peach, therefore, James is not only gaining vital nutrition necessary for his survival, but regaining a human identity and an individual self
Hendon links this tasting of the fruit and gain of human identity with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, who only become truly human through the knowledge that they gain after tasting the apple.   If a link is to be made between James eating the peach and Adam and Eve eating the apple, then it may also be argued that by eating the peach, James also gains knowledge.   Hendon claims that this knowledge that James gains is of himself, and allows him to gain confidence enough to make new friends, overcome his fears and, ultimately, to gain independence, living alone in New York. 

     Another socializing effect that Hendon claims food has in James and the Giant Peach is that of creating families.   Whilst James is living with his family, his cruel aunts, he is never allowed to eat with them and is almost starved.   The family dynamics are clearly broken as James aunts appear to detest the very sight of him and James is in turn terrified of them.   It is not until he finds his way into the peach and has a peach feast with his fellow travellers that James finds himself amongst a true family, strange as they may be.   By sharing the meal together an unbreakable bond is created between the unlikely friends and James finds himself in the protective arms of a new family dynamic.





      Hendon does not stop here in regards to the symbolism of the giant peach, but goes even further, claiming that the peach is indeed a mother to James.   She claims that from the outset of its very existence, the peach is "saturated...with imagery connecting it to birth and fertility" (24), having renewed the productiveness and growth of the barren fruit tree.   James is drawn by an invisible force towards the peach and finds himself reaching out and caressing it which, Hendon asserts, is a sign that James feels a deep affection towards it: "He is gentle with it, finding it soft and warm, like a baby and mother.  He even goes so far as to nuzzle the peach with his face, a gesture commonly seen between infants and mothers, as well as lovers." (24).   Hednon goes even further, suggesting that James entering the peach is a reversal of the birthing process.   James is returning to the protective comfort of the womb in attempt to rekindle the feeling of love and security supplied by his mother before she died.   Hendon claims that James could "be viewed as a sort of phallus, impregnating the peach and becoming the pregnancy at the same time" (24).    


It is interesting then that James and his new friends later go on to consume the entire peach.   On one level James is simply breaking out of the womb, no longer needing it's protection as he is able to stand on his own two feet at last.   However, by eating the peach, James is also consuming his own mother, destroying her.   James no longer needs to cling on to the peach that will eventually rot away and so decides it might as well be eaten, just as James realises there is no need to cling to his dead mother any longer, understanding that clinging to her memory so tightly will not bring her back and that he is at last able to live happily without her.

Hendon, Karlie. 'Food and Power in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and Neil Gaiman's Coraline'. <http://dl.uncw.edu/etd/2009-1/herndonk/karlieherndon.pdf> 11th February 2014.

8 comments:

  1. Extremely interesting! I can honestly say that I never looked at James and the giant peach that way before!

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    1. Hah, yes I know what you mean. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of children's literature! I'm glad you found it interesting. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Mia x

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  2. What an insightful take on a novel that I only saw as just a children's book! I particularly enjoyed the idea that James is creating a reversed birthing experience. Great post!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, thank you for taking the time to read take a take at my blog.Mia x

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  3. Very interesting. Great blog

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you have enjoyed it! x

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  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. x

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