“One of the difficulties in writing fiction for young
readers is that adults generally have forgotten how children think, how they
can find even the most unlikely situations plausible, and how they can mix
frightening and funny images without seeing any conflict,” explained by Don D’Ammassa
(James and the Giant Peach). Roald
Dahl is one of the few modern, contemporary authors who could pull off writing
in this fashion. Mary Virginia Davis wrote, “Treglown theorizes that Dahl’s
success as a children’s writer may have been the result of his lack of
maturity, “‘Arguably, he never grew up. Much of his behavior seems like that of
someone who had been forced into a premature but permanent, and rather
unconvincing, show of adulthood”‘ (3). Dahl
is the creator behind many beloved children’s classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and Matilda.
Roald Dahl was not always an author. He was born in Wales,
to a moneyed family. He attended a public school in Repton, England. His
academic records from Repton weeded out the option of him attending a
university (Davis, 1). Instead he immediately went into the work force, and
picked up a job working for Shell Oil. Later on he joined the Royal Air Force
during World War II. Dahl’s first publication came out in 1942 (Davis, 1). It
was a story about a plane crash he was involved in (Davis, 1). Dahl first
started out by writing short stories for adults, but was never successful
because of his bizarre and unsettling plots. He eventually turned to writing
fiction for children (D’Ammassa, Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory). Don D’Ammassa states, “Dahl’s most famous
children’s book is Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory (1964) …” (James
and the Giant Peach).
Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory started out as a bed time story for Dahl’s five children
(Richter, 334). The writing and publication of the book was put on halt due to
family issues. His four month old son, Theo, was hit by a car as he rolled
across the street in a stroller, leaving him with life threatening injuries as
expected (British Writers, 222). As Theo’s condition was improving, the
family’s move to Great Britain only left Dahl with more devastation. His eldest
daughter, and child, Olivia caught the measles, which she passed away from. The
book was finished during Dahl’s grieving of the two consecutive tragedies
(British Writers, 222). The authors of British Writers inquire, “Perhaps Dahl’s
desire to offer help and consolation to his own suffering children in part
inspired his characterization of Wonka…” (222).
While children tend to love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s book became very
controversial because many adults believed his works portrayed violence against
children. Barbara Basbanes Richter explains in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “Children are murdered in a place that ostensibly ought to be a
dream come true. They are treated brutally and punished for poor behavior” (326).
Adults might have picked up on Dahl’s child violence theme, but no one saw the
worst of it until 2014, when a chapter, “Vanilla Fudge Room,” was released
(Richter, 328). It was originally cut out of the first publications due to
being “too wild and controversial” (Richter, 329). The violence against
children did not end with Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory, it happened to
be a reoccurring theme in most of Dahl’s children’s books. In The BFG, Sophie is kidnapped by the big
friendly giant, and taken back to a place where all the other giant feed off of
children. In Matilda, her parents
were abusive, as well as Miss Honey’s aunt.
There are several characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the two main characters are Mr.
Willy Wonka, and Charlie Bucket. Mr. Willy Wonka is the owner of the chocolate
factory. He is elderly, but it does not hold him back from having fun. He comes
across as rude and heartless, yet somehow he is still very charming. One
example of this is when Mr. Willy Wonka says,
Is she the only one at fault? For though she’s spoiled, and
dreadfully so, A girl can’t spoil herself, you know. Who spoiled her, then? Ah,
who indeed? Who pandered to her every need? Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that? Alas! You needn’t look so far To find out
who these sinners are Her loving parents, MUM and DAD. And that is why we’re
glad they fell Into the garbage chute as well (Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory, Ch. 24. Paragraph 67).
Charlie Bucket is a kid that comes
from a poor family. Both his paternal and maternal grandparents, his parents,
and he live in the same tiny house. He collects enough money to buy a chocolate
bar, in hopes of winning a golden ticket. This is a once in a life time
opportunity for Charlie. Charlie ends up finding the last golden ticket. But he
is different from the other four winners, he is humble and kind, while the other
four are nothing but entitled, spoiled brats.
Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory has a deeper meaning, other than just being a children’s
book full of vivid, and grotesque imagery. It is a representation of showy
America. Then there is the representation of poor England, through Charlie
Bucket’s character. Dahl portrays Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike as kids of
America, who get anything and everything they could ever want (British Writers,
203). Although in the movie adaptions the children were from different
countries, in the noel it never specified where the other four children were
from, so it can be assumed the other four winners were from America (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Augustus
Gloop is obese, and is too gluttonous for his own good. When it came to the
chocolate river, he fell in, and got sucked up into the fudge maker (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ch.
17). Violet Beauregarde is always to chewing gum, trying to break a record. When
Mr. Willy Wonka showed the visitors a new secret gum recipe, she just could not
hold off her greed, and she ended up becoming a huge, swollen blueberry (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ch.
21). Veruca Salt is a spoiled brat. She was thrown down the trash chutes with
the bad nuts, after her parents told her she could not have a pet squirrel (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ch.
24). Mike Teavee is so brainwashed by television he just could not contain
himself, when it came to the television room. He is shrunk and put in the
television, which was originally intended to send giant candy bars, so of
course Mike is sent into the unknown (Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory, Ch. 27). British Writers authors describe the
poor English boy as, “Charlie Bucket is humble and gracious … he is the empty
“bucket” his name evokes, and for such a formless, selfless creature the
possibilities of self-invention are endless” (203). Charlie Bucket is the only
child that does not give into the temptations of the factory’s treats, and for
that he is rewarded. Mr. Willy Wonka gives the unprivileged Charlie the
chocolate factory (Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory, Ch. 30). In the end, the whole point of Mr. Willy Wonka
opening the chocolate factory was to find a new owner to take it over since he
is elderly, or at least getting that way. Mr. Willy Wonka was actually testing
the children (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
Ch. 30). He did not want a spoiled brat running the factory; he wanted a down
to earth, humble child to take over the factory. He was looking for someone who
would listen and learn about all of the factory’s secrets (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ch. 30).
conclusion, Dahl was a brilliant and successful children’s author. He wrote
controversial stories, but the kids never seem to mind. As for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is
his bestselling book, and children in today’s world still thoroughly enjoy the
story of Mr. Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket, whether it be through the book or
the two movie adaptions.
RICHTER, BARBARA. “Roald Dahl and Danger in Children’s Literature.”
Sewanee Review, vol. 123, no. 2, Spring2015, pp. 325-334. EBSCOhost,
D’Ammassa, Don. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction, Second Edition,
Facts On File, 2013. Bloom’s Literature,
Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.
D’Ammassa, Don. “James and the Giant Peach.” Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction, Second Edition,
Facts On File, 2013. Bloom’s Literature,
Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.
Dahl, Roald. Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory. Puffin books,
Davis, Mary Virginia. “Roald Dahl.” Magill’s
Literary Annual 1995, edited by Frank N. Magill, Salem, 1995. Salem
Stade, George, and
Carol Howard. British writers: supplement IV. Scribners, 1997.