Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Study Guide

Roald Dahl

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Themes


In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except for Charlie, each child in the book has a serious flaw, which he or she is specifically warned not to indulge. All but Charlie disobey and are punished for their behavior in ways that are comically unrealistic, evoking the poetic justice of traditional fairy tales, but with a twist.

Magic of Candy

For poor Charlie Bucket, chocolate is an almost unattainable luxury, something he gets to taste only once a year. He treats his annual birthday candy bar like rare treasure, storing it in a wooden box and making it last a month. The "gorgeous chocolatey smell" from Mr. Wonka's factory tortures him, but it also nourishes him. Whenever he passes the factory, he walks as slowly as possible with his nose high in the air, taking "long deep sniffs." No one deserves a Golden Ticket more than Charlie. Unlike the other four winners, Charlie has been so deprived all his life that everything about the chocolate factory thrills him.

Dahl's word choice relishes the way candy sounds: the candy bar that holds Charlie's Golden Ticket is called Wonka's Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight. Whipple may be a play on the words whipped and triple. He further rhapsodizes about the way candy looks: "the great chocolate river, the waterfall, the huge sucking pipes, the minty sugar meadows, the Oompa-Loompas, the beautiful pink boat." Hair Toffee on the stove is "thick gooey purplish treacle, boiling and bubbling." Colored steam shoots up through cracks in the floor; the ingredients in Wonka's magic gum are "all the colors of the rainbow (and many others as well)." Dahl never stoops to demonize candy as an unhealthy vice: he knows there's something magical about it—its ability to tap into the sensory experience of childhood.

Goodness Prevails

Scholar Hamida Bosmajian calls Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a "'Hansel and Gretel' displaced into industrial or post-industrial society." Like Hansel and Gretel's family, the Buckets are so poor they cannot feed the whole family, and, also like Hansel and Gretel, Charlie is rewarded for his goodness. Sweet, kind Charlie and his family are the only truly likable characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Everyone else is greedy, rude, thoughtless, or loud. Golden Tickets come easily to the four other children; Charlie can buy only one after he finds a dollar in the snow. But the other children are only temporarily lucky. Once they're inside the factory, their innate flaws bring them down. Charlie stays polite and attentive for the whole day. As a result, Mr. Wonka promises to teach him how to run the factory—and then to turn the whole business over to him.

Culture in Decline

For all its zany originality Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in some ways a very traditional book. This is reflected in the Oompa-Loompas' songs. Each of the songs mourns the decline of good manners and traditional virtues in contemporary society.

The last song in the book is perhaps the most critical of the 1960s and its counterculture movement. According to the Oompa-Loompas, corrupted children could return to healthy ways if only their parents would throw out the television. If children get a chance to read, "They'll grow so keen/They'll wonder what they'd ever seen/In that ridiculous machine."

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