Fairytales reveal what happens when you don’t behave yourself. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no different.
In Tim Burton’s 2005 film / reboot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket asks something we’ve probably all wondered: “Why would Augustus’s name already be in the Oompa Loompa song?”
The Oompa Loompas have songs ready for all the awful children, because their fates – and Charlie’s – are decided from the start. In fact, this is something the book makes clear all along.
According to the book’s first page, four of the children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are ‘monsters’. Augustus Gloop is greedy, Veruca Salt is a brat. Violet Beauregarde chews gum, and Mike Teavee is an obnoxious telly addict.
As if that weren’t shocking enough, some of these children are fat.
The winner of the first ticket, Augustus Gloop, is: “a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump.”
Yet while Gloop is badly behaved, his sin (craving chocolate) can’t be all that bad considering:
Later on, the book describes Violet Beauregarde as podgy, too:
“before Mr Wonka could stop her, she shot out a fat hand and grabbed the stuck of gum out of the little drawer …”
Ironically, this ends with Violet becoming even fatter and rounder.
Being fat in the Wonkaverse is short-hand for greed – for excess and craving – and all the brats have this particular sickness. Greed helps them win their golden tickets, but then is their downfall.
As the know-all grandparents predict, each child will come to a sticky and deserving end:
So the children are rogues – and that’s part of the fun of the book – but these are also cautionary tales that warn children to be good … or else!
Or, as Mr Wonka is fond of saying, it will “all come out in the wash”. In other words, by the end of the book they’re spotless – cleansed of their sins, because of their sins.
This isn’t surprising, really: the story is thick with religious (Christian, Biblical) parallels.
It’s not a big leap to see Wonka as God-like. He’s invisible for much of the book, while the others talk about him in hushed, reverent tones. He is a master magician and creator. His chocolate factory looks like paradise. He punishes sins and rewards goodness. And, one day, he makes a child for himself out of nothing.
Who say what now?
At the end of the book, Wonka confesses that he can’t go on for ever – and that he needs someone to take over the factory:
“I don’t want a grown-up person at all. A grown-up won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He will try to do things his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child.”
Not holding much truck with grown-ups of any gender, Wonka decides to cut out the middle woman (and the waiting) and just win a boy in a stacked lottery. And that would be Charlie.
Dahl tells us in the book’s preamble that Charlie Bucket is “The hero”. Very soon we also learn that he is also poor (the underdog is often crucial to redemptive fiction). More importantly, he is the deserving poor.
Charlie is saintly. He craves chocolate but gets only cabbage soup – and doesn’t grumble about it. He won’t take extra rations even when he’s starving. And when he finds some money in the street he wants to share it with his family.
Charlie is gentle and loving and almost without hope. Just like his grandparents, we want him to find a ticket. As it turns out, we don’t need to worry – because Charlie was always going to win a golden ticket (and the factory).
Last but not least, when Wonka crowns Charlie the winner, it’s exactly what he was expecting:
“‘You mean to tell me you’re the only one left?’ Mr Wonka said, pretending to be surprised.”
Indeed, there are no surprises here.
The book is, after all, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – it was never going to end any other way.
But what’s surprising is how far the other children must fall for Charlie to be crowned ‘Champion of the World’ (like Danny in another Dahl classic).
Not only are they shown the errors of their [parents’] ways, the Oompa Loompas delight in how miserable the children must be.
Augustus Gloop, for instance, is a useless pig; a boy who would “never give / Even the smallest bit of fun / Or happiness to anyone”, which is a pretty harsh judgement of a minor.
In the real world, few judges would say they’d like to chop a child up with knives and boil him with sugar and cream, yet all is fair game for the singing Oompas. This bloodlust is supposedly OK because it’s for the good of the child.
As for Mike Teavee:
“We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can’t – it serves him right.”
As with the Bible, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory contains easy lessons for those willing to learn. Be modest and moderate. Don’t spare the rod and spoil your child. And, above all else, read.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl (1964)
Quoted edition published by Penguin Random House UK, 2016.
Picture credit: Liliana Olivares