Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Study Guide

Roald Dahl

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Chapter 1 : Here Comes Charlie | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to the oldest members of Charlie Bucket's family—and they are old. Then the reader meets Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, Charlie's parents, and finally Charlie himself: "He is pleased to meet you."

Charlie and his family live in a two-room house "on the edge of a great town." It's a wretched existence. Charlie's grandparents occupy the family's one bed. His father's job screwing on toothpaste caps brings in less than half the money the family needs. They subsist on bread and margarine, potatoes, cabbage, and cabbage soup.

This is hard for the whole family, but especially for Charlie, who is still growing. Charlie loves chocolate above all else, but he gets to taste it only on his birthday. It's torture—"the most terrible torturing thing you could imagine"—that the world's largest and most famous chocolate factory is within sight of Charlie's house. The chocolate from Wonka's Factory scents the air for half a mile around. On his way to and from school Charlie walks by the factory gates, inhaling the chocolate fumes and yearning to see what's inside the building.

Analysis

The opening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory draws in the reader immediately. Not many children's books introduce the characters directly to the reader. The line "He is pleased to meet you" makes Charlie seem instantly like a real, likeable person.

Introductions established, Dahl switches to the past tense. From the first he makes Charlie's misery sound more like fairy-tale unhappiness than the genuine suffering of a very poor child. He accomplishes this by using slight exaggeration to soften what might otherwise seem too scary for a child reader.

  • Charlie's grandparents are more than just tired; they're so tired they never get out of bed.
  • Mr. Bucket's job sounds ridiculously insignificant. Even a young reader will suspect there's no such thing as a toothpaste cap-screwer.
  • Charlie wouldn't see children eating candy bars "many times a day." Maybe at lunch and recess, but not during school hours.

Exaggerations like these keep the tone from becoming dreary. Dahl also makes Charlie's annual birthday chocolate sound like a wonderful treat to be savored, not a symbol of deep poverty.

Dahl also uses the language of fantasy to lighten the tone. It really would be horrible for a starving boy to live near a chocolate factory. But this chocolate factory, the "largest and most famous in the whole world," makes "strange whizzing sounds" and is surrounded by a high wall. Since readers can be pretty sure Charlie will get inside that factory before long, his hunger and poverty are merely the prelude to what's clearly going to be a great adventure.

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