Study Guide

The BFG Themes

  • Injustice

    Both people and giants in this book would be terrifying to know in real life. The man-eating giants for obvious reasons. Then there’s the matron of Sophie’s orphanage, who punishes the girls by locking them in a cellar with no food. Not to mention the humans that the BFG worries about, who would put him in a zoo (he thinks) if they caught him.

    Sophie and the BFG are up against almost impossible odds, which would make us root for them even if they weren’t amazing. Who doesn’t love an underdog? The odds are against them physically, too: the BFG is small compared to other giants, and Sophie is literally small. It seems almost impossible for them to overcome problems that are so big. Which makes it even more amazing when they do.

    Questions About Injustice

    1. Why do you think Roald Dahl doesn’t spend much time on Sophie’s backstory?
    2. If the BFG hadn’t kidnapped Sophie, do you think she would tell people she saw a giant? What do you think their reaction would be?
    3. Why do you think the author chose to make the other giants pick on the BFG?
    4. Do you agree with the BFG’s initial opinion of human beings?

    Chew on This

    The other giants get their just desserts when they are punished by being put in a hole and forced to eat snozzcumbers (a just, if disgusting, dessert indeed).

    Roald Dahl made Sophie an orphan to emphasize her powerlessness and to further tie her to the BFG.

  • Morality and Ethics

    The BFG could have given readers huge, terrifying giants and left it at that. But Dahl also goes a step further and makes a connection to the readers’ world. In the BFG’s conversations with Sophie, he reminds her that when you compare human-killing giants to human-killing humans, well, it’s pretty clear that humans don’t come off looking that much better. After all, humans are killing each other in greater numbers than giants are killing humans.

    Why so grim, author? Maybe Roald Dahl wants to make his readers question the things they’ve accepted about their world, the same way Sophie learns how to do in his book. Hey, as long as we get some of that Dahl-esque humor, we’ll take the moral questions.

    Questions About Morality and Ethics

    1. Why doesn’t the BFG believe in stealing? How does he justify stealing when he does it?
    2. Give three examples of rules humans make to, as the BFG puts it, “suit themselves.” (11.83)
    3. Do you think the fact that humans kill their own kind makes them worse than other species?
    4. Do you agree with the BFG’s and the Queen’s idea that two wrongs don’t make a right?

    Chew on This

    Sophie’s ideas of right and wrong are changed by the end of the novel.

    The Queen in The BFG is a fantasy character, because the real Queen of England would be in favor of capital punishment for child-eating giants.

  • Appearances

    You know that saying, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts?” It doesn’t apply to this book. Or at least, it’s not any different from what’s on the outside, because in The BFG, physical descriptions reflect the nature of the characters or places. The people-eating giants are horrifically ugly. Dream Country is full of mist. Even bad-tasting vegetables look like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

    The only character who looks different at different times is the BFG himself. In the beginning, when Sophie thinks he’s going to eat her, we read about his huge teeth. But later, when he reveals himself to be gentle, he has a weird, huge kind of beauty. It’s Sophie’s story, after all, so beauty is in the eye of Sophie.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. How does Sophie’s opinion of the BFG’s looks change over the course of the story?
    2. What does the description of Giant Country show us about giants? How does the description of Dream Country reflect dreams?
    3. How do you think the Queen thinks of the BFG when she first sees him?
    4. Describe how Sophie looks from the BFG’s point of view.

    Chew on This

    The narration in The BFG compares the giants’ mouths to food often in order to emphasize the danger of the creatures.

    Sophie’s change of clothes from her nightie to the princess’s dress and brooch represents her growth of power and status.

  • Language and Communication

    A whole snozzing lot of the humor in this book comes from the BFG’s language. He doesn’t talk nonsense exactly—it’s more that he mixes up words that sound alike or rhyme. Which makes for some great wordplay, to say the least. It also makes him seem more like a child—like he’s on Sophie’s level instead of some adult giant with the smarts and the know-how to teach her things like a real grown-up.

    The poor BFG is sensitive about his word mix-ups, because he never went to school. In the beginning, Sophie can’t seem to help herself from correcting him, but later in the book, she becomes his translator, and finally, his teacher—once he comes to terms with all the corrections. Now that’s a good friend. And a good teacher.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Why do the giants call human beings “human beans?”
    2. When does Sophie stop correcting the BFG’s language? What finally gets her to stop?
    3. How does Dahl use synonyms, rhymes, and suffixes to make the BFG’s language pop?
    4. Many of the BFG’s words are simply real words that are used incorrectly, but some are entirely made-up. How does Dahl clue readers into what the made-up words might mean?

    Chew on This

    The BFG’s sensitivity about his language skills also represents concerns about his social class. 

    The BFG’s language adds to his likeability for readers.

  • Friendship

    Sophie and the BFG have a rocky start, what with the BFG kidnapping Sophie and Sophie thinking he wants to eat her and all. But soon, they’re like a model for the perfect friendship. Sophie encourages the BFG when he’s feeling unsure, and the BFG cares for Sophie. They outsmart the Fleshlumpeater together, and then take their big journey to London. While in London, Sophie becomes protective of the BFG, explaining what he means and standing up for him. It’s as if she wants everyone to see him the way she does. Isn’t that what friendship’s all about?

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How does Sophie encourage the BFG?
    2. How does the BFG show Sophie that he cares about her?
    3. How do the BFG and Sophie’s early encounters with the Bloodbottler and the Fleshlumpeater prepare them for their final, army-leading encounter with the giants?
    4. How does Sophie help the BFG adapt to the human world?

    Chew on This

    Sophie and the BFG’s parting on the windowsill of the Queen’s bedroom shows readers what they mean to each other.

    Sophie and the BFG are models of how to communicate in a friendship.

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    Sophie and the BFG are much smaller and more powerless than all the other characters in the story, so the only way they can get anything done is by scheming. At first, it’s only the BFG racking up the wins. He can trick the other giants because he knows what they’re like. But Sophie comes up with the biggest idea: a plan for how to tell the Queen about the giants so that she’ll not only believe them, but also help put a stop to the giants’ murderous eating habits.

    Their clever plans are half the fun of the book. There’s also the fun fact of Dahl’s practicing what he preaches: showing that an adventure can be exciting, even without any violence. Take that lesson to heart, Shmoopers: a good scheme beats throwing punches any day.

    Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

    1. How does the BFG use his understanding of the other giants’ psychology to outsmart them?
    2. How does quick thinking help characters overcome obstacles in The BFG?
    3. What traits of the BFG convince the Queen that he is nobody’s fool (even if he may be a bit of a swishfiggler)?
    4. How does Sophie come up with her big plan?

    Chew on This

    It’s all about believing in yourself: Sophie’s certainty that she can accomplish anything is what allows her and the BFG to stop the other giants.

    The major difference between the BFG and the Heads of the Army and Navy is that the BFG is able to come up with creative solutions.

  • The Supernatural

    Giant Country is a mystery. We hear lots of interesting facts about it from the BFG’s conversations with Sophie, but they don’t add up to a full story. We never solve the mystery of how the Giant Country or Dream Country came to be, or why humans have never been able to find it.

    The point, though, is not to see a full magical world or understand its whole origin story. After all, the BFG keeps reminding Sophie that there’s a lot in the universe that we don’t know yet, or that is definitely there even if we don’t see it. It’s a fair point. Probably—we hope—there is no secret land that giants call home base for their human-hunting. But fun, whimsical details about blue rocks and frobscottle remind us of the beauty and mystery of our own world, and the importance of dreams to make it come alive.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. What is the difference between the ways that the BFG and Sophie experience music?
    2. What does the BFG learn about plants and animals from his extra-sensitive ears?
    3. In The BFG, dreams are alive. How do different types of dreams behave?
    4. Why do the Heads of the Army and Air Force react with fear to the fact that they are flying off the known atlas?

    Chew on This

    The magical elements of The BFG encourage readers to be open to exploring the unknown.

    The life cycle of giants make them more similar to elements of nature, like mountains and stars, than they are to humans.

  • Weakness

    You can’t have a story about giants without showing how tiny and weak humans are in comparison to them. This book takes it a step further by making the BFG a small giant and showing how weak he is compared to the other giants. It’s like a nesting doll with multiple layers of hugeness. It also allies Sophie with the BFG, because they’re both vulnerable when faced with the larger, hungrier giants.

    Tiny vs. huge is not a new kind of story. Ever heard of David and Goliath? These are stories of overcoming (literally) tremendous odds by using bravery and intelligence instead of size and strength. We may not face human giants in our own lives, but we need these stories to help remind us that we can face difficult things. Go us.

    Questions About Weakness

    1. If the BFG can lift Sophie in one hand, what else can he do with her (both positive and negative)? Why doesn’t he?
    2. What fairy tales do the scene where Sophie is in the Bloodbottler’s mouth remind you of? Why? What other fairy tales do parts of this novel evoke?
    3. Human bones appear in this story a few times. What’s with the focus on them?
    4. Why does Roald Dahl switch to Mr. Tibbs’ perspective in Chapter 20?

    Chew on This

    Sophie is the smallest character. So by having it be her who convince the BFG to help spread the word about and capture the giants, and getting the Queen in on it too, Roald Dahl is saying that little people can succeed in big deeds.

    The first few chapters of the book pretend to be a horror story by establishing the real danger Sophie is in, before bringing out the humor.