Charlie is living with his family in poverty when he finds one of the five Golden Tickets that will gain him admittance to a day-long tour of Wonka's Chocolate Factory. His natural good manners and shy kindness mean that at the end of the day, he is the only child left of the five. As a result he will inherit the factory from Mr. Wonka. Like many fairy-tale heroes, Charlie has a fairly neutral personality that allows a wide variety of readers to identify with him. He has a sweet, gentle nature and bears great suffering without complaint. When his birthday chocolate bar turns out not to contain a Golden Ticket, Charlie's first instinct is not to complain but to share the candy with his relatives. When he finds a dollar in the snow, he allows himself to buy only two candy bars with it: the rest of the money will be for his family. When touring the factory, Charlie is innocently amazed by everything he sees.
Mr. Wonka has been running his business in the strictest secrecy for decades. He keeps the factory gates sealed and never lets anyone into or out of the building—including his workers. Because he's getting old, Mr. Wonka decides to allow five people a chance to visit the factory. He keeps secret the fact that one of those five will inherit the business. He's much older than his manic energy and wild creativity would suggest. He's also somewhat self-important and comically proud of his accomplishments. Modern readers may find Mr. Wonka has an old-fashioned, autocratic side toward his employees, though this is not presented as a flaw. Mr. Wonka has an amusingly cavalier attitude toward the four children who "fail" during their visit, breezily assuring their parents they'll be fine. He secretly prefers Charlie and is delighted Charlie will inherit the business.
Although Grandpa Joe is 96 years old and has been bedridden for 20 years, he has more energy than any of Charlie's grandparents. The moment he learns Charlie's found a Golden Ticket, he jumps out of bed, fully restored to vigor. He has a vast store of Wonka knowledge, which is the main reason he, and not one of Charlie's parents, accompanies his grandson to the chocolate factory. Grandpa Joe dearly loves Charlie, but the other four winners don't meet his standards. Still, he's kind enough to keep his criticisms to himself, though he does occasionally whisper them to Charlie.
Augustus finds a Golden Ticket because he is a "great big greedy nincompoop" who eats all the time. He makes no special effort to hunt for a ticket; the enormous amount of candy he consumes means the odds are excellent that a ticket will simply turn up. Augustus is the first child to be eliminated from the group. While greedily drinking from a chocolate river, he falls in and is sucked into a pipe. Augustus is massively fat, with "two small greedy curranty eyes," and all he cares about is food.
Veruca is a rich, petulant little girl whose parents give her everything she wants. She even has her own mink coat. Veruca's father buys hundreds of thousands of Wonka candy bars and has them shipped to his own factory, where he orders his workers to unwrap them. This is how Veruca obtains her Golden Ticket. On the factory tour she constantly badgers her parents to buy whatever Mr. Wonka is showing the group.
Violet is a brash, loud girl whose sole interest is chewing gum. Constant chewing has given her an enormous jaw and rubbery lips. When Violet isn't talking about gum, she's yelling at her mother. Because she's trying to win a gum-chewing contest, she has been chewing the same piece of gum for three months. When she wants to eat something else, she sticks the gum behind her ear.
Mike is the smartest of the four "bad" children. He is quick to point out inconsistencies in things Mr. Wonka says. But he cares only about television—preferably shows about gangsters—and his huge collection of toy pistols. Even when the press is interviewing him, he's prone to firing off one of his pistols from time to time. He is very fond of American slang, especially if it's TV related.