The Big Friendly Giant (BFG, for short) is the tall guy who grabs Sophie from her bed in an orphanage and runs her off to Giant Country. He’s her protector from the other, people-eating giants, and he’s also a catcher of good dreams for human children. He’s bumbling, funny, smart, kind, and as loveable as he is tall. Which is very.
For every ounce of reason in Sophie’s body, there are one hundred ounces of passionate feeling inside the BFG. The Big Friendly Giant lives moment-to-moment.
Like, one moment, his disgust with Sophie for not understanding something is so strong that he tells her that her “head is full of squashed flies” (5.39). Ouch. The next moment, he’s forgotten that disgusted feeling and has moved onto something entirely different.
This takes Sophie some getting used to:
“Sophie watched with astonishment. What a strange and moody creature this is, she thought. One moment he is telling me my head is full of squashed flies and the next moment his heart is melting for me because Mrs. Clonkers locks us in the cellar.” (7.20)
But it’s not as simple as plain old moodiness: some feelings are stronger than others. When the BFG insults Sophie, it’s just a momentary feeling. There is no malice behind it. A stronger feeling, for him, is imagining Sophie being tormented.
In other words, the BFG’s a sensitive guy. He’s good at putting himself in people’s (much smaller) shoes. He feels bad for humans who are eaten, even though he’s never known a human before Sophie. And he wants to give them good dreams.
That’s some empathy, fo sho.
The BFG isn’t exactly what you’d call book-smart, but he would be. Sure, he would need more than one book to get there, but still. He taught himself to read using only Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens—who the BFG calls “Dahl’s Chickens.” (14.104) We’re willing to bet Roald Dahl got a kick out of this. As did his chickens, if he had any.
This is the explanation we’re given for why the BFG’s words are scrambled. Wouldn’t yours be, if you’d never had any formal education, not to mention Shmoop to help boost your mad language skillz? Plus, he never had a parent to teach him, since giants appear rather than being born.
The BFG is pretty embarrassed of the way he speaks, and when Sophie corrects him, he lets us know:
“‘[P]lease understand that I cannot be helping it if I sometimes is saying things a little squiggly. I is trying my very best all the time.’ The Big Friendly Giant looked suddenly so forlorn that Sophie got quite upset.” (8.18)
There’s your proof of the value of expressing yourself clearly. Sure, “saying things squiggly” is about as clear as it gets, but it’s not exactly going to be on your English quiz.
When he meets the Queen, the BFG bows very deeply and wants to impress her. He seems to want to be respectable, but doesn’t know how. And his goal is admirable—you can’t blame him for a lifetime surrounded by giants and whizzpops, after all.
We don’t know how long that lifetime has been, but it’s pretty obvious the BFG isn’t an adult. At least, not exactly. He may look like a grown-up, as far as you can tell that about giants, but his mood is changeable, like the moods of a kid, and his sense of fun is definitely childish. (Have we mentioned the scene about whizzpopping lately?)
He doesn’t seem to think too highly of adult humans, either. When Sophie wants to go to the human world to stop the other giants, the BFG says, “Grown up human beans is not famous for their kindnesses. They is all squifflerotters and grinksludgers.” (15.19) Boy, does that ever burn. He thinks they’ll put him in a zoo and return Sophie to the orphanage.
And let’s be real. If not for Sophie’s plan, he would probably be right. Some adult human beans really are squifflerotters. (Just make sure you don’t call your parents that.)
He also treats the adults he meets who are not the Queen—the Heads of the Army and Air Force—with disdain, saying things like, “Now listen to me carefully, you two bootbogglers.” (22.48) “Bootbogglers” does not sound like a compliment, even if it’s not quite as harsh as grinksludger.
It makes sense that the BFG gets along better with Sophie than with adults. He’s a creature who can hear plants and understand the language of music. He’s dreamlike, and children are less set in their ways, more easily able to believe in dreams.
Sure, he’s the most ginormous kid you’ve ever seen. But the parallel is there.