The story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the best known stories for children written by Roald Dahl. The book was published in 1964 in the USA and in 1967 in the UK by Allen & Unwin. The story of poor little Charlie Bucket and excentric owner of the chocolate factory Mr Willy Wonka is considered to be “Dahl’s most popular and most controversial children’s story” (Hatch 1: 439). It is often condemned for its poor philosophy of life and censured by critics for “its alleged stereotyping and inhumanity” (Hatch 1: 439). The main idea of the story was made up during Dahl’s school years when studying at Repton where “every now and again, a plain grey cardboard box was dished out to each boy” from “the great chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury” (Dahl 159). Each student of the boarding school was asked to taste and estimate new chocolate bars invented in the chocolate factory. This experience became a basis for writing the story of little Charlie Bucket and the owner of the chocolate factory Mr Willy Wonka. As Dahl claims himself: “When I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Dahl 161).
At the beginning of the story Roald Dahl introduces the poor Buckets family which is depicted as one of the poorest in an unnamed town. According to critic Eleanor Cameron it is a “phony presentation of poverty” which is used as “a device to make more excruciatingly tantalizing the heavenly vision of being able to live eternally fed upon chocolate” (qtd. in Rees 144). In accordance to Cameron’s attitude towards the presentation of poverty in the story it could be considered as bitterly ridiculous there. Moreover, the bitter ridiculousness of the financial situation of the family is tinged by the fact that Charlie’s father, Mr Bucket, worked in a toothpaste factory where “he sat all day long at a bench and screwed the little caps on the tubes of toothpaste after the tubes had been filled” (Dahl 15). The further explanation of Mr Bucket’s working position makes the situation even more bitter and more macabre in its principal sense because “however hard he worked, and however fast he screwed on the caps, he was never able to make enough to buy one half of the things that so large a family needed” (Dahl 15) and that is the reason why they usually “went about from morning till night with a horrible empty feeling in their tummies” (Dahl 16). Later on the empty feeling in the tummies and the poverty get even worse when Dahl decides to close down the toothpaste factory where Charlie’s father works in the tenth chapter of the story. The situation of the family which is almost unbearable has an impact on the main character. He does not act as someone who is in need but from the reader’s point of view (who must clearly have feelings of sympathy for Charlie) it is obvious that there is a kind of torture addressed towards the main child character. The boy does not show explicit signs of being tortured but Dahl hides the tantalization into the bitter poverty of the family which young Charlie is adjusted to because he lives in it all his life. This implicit hiding of the morbid torture of the main character is a typical feature of Dahl’s writings, especially those for children (as it was described in the analysis of the main child character of the story The Witches) which are usually classified as violent and insensitive. Moreover, as it is stated in Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature Dahl’s stories are “offensive and inappropriate for children” (Hacht 1: 439). Thus, when a reader is aware of Dahl’s other stories for children, he is able to recognise a kind of torturing of the main character of the story in the description of the poverty of Buckets. This observation draws on the early life of Dahl attending English boarding schools and on further personal tragedies. The argument is supported by Caryn Liles who claims that “there was a great deal of tragedy that occurred in Dahl's family while he was growing up, and while he was a parent as well” and that is the reason why a reader can find “many patterns...in Dahl's life and works, which include tragedy in the family” (Liles).
Furthermore, the tantalization mentioned by Eleanor Cameron, which subjoins the story a morbid character, goes on when the reader is acquainted with the fact that Charlie is a great lover of chocolate which he can afford only once a year on his birthday. Dahl makes his main character long for chocolate which he simply can neither buy nor taste. The author himself admits that it “was pure torture” when Charlie “walking to school in the mornings could see great slabs of chocolate piled up high in the shop windows” and “he would see other children taking bars of creamy chocolate out of their pockets and munching them greedily” (Dahl 16). Dahl adds that there was
one awful thing that tortured little Charlie, the lover of chocolate, more than
anything else….It was the most terrible torturing thing you could imagine, and
it was this: In the town itself, actually within sight of the house in which Charlie
lived, there was an enormous chocolate factory! (Dahl 17)
In this phase of narrating the story perturbs a reader by its unpleasant insensibility addressed to the main character of the story. According to David Gooderham this part of the story “raises strong passion of delight, affection and distaste…”(113) towards the factory but also towards the author himself who is fiendish enough to let Charlie live in need and does not allow him to have loved chocolate. Furthermore, when the presence of the enormous chocolate factory in the town is perceived as the simple fact it could be considered incredibly exciting but when this fact is involved into the context of morbid torturing it is cruel playing with the main character who at the beginning of the story can only admire the enormousness of the factory producing unreachable chocolate. Moreover, Dahl makes Charlie “walk right past the gates of the factory” twice a day, “on his way to and from school” (Dahl 18).
Once in the evening Charlie’s father arrives home with a newspaper which announces the decision of Mr Wonka to allow five children to enter his chocolate factory if they find one of the Five Golden Tickets which “have been printed on golden paper, and have been hidden underneath the ordinary wrapping paper of five ordinary bars of chocolate” (Dahl 34). After that the four first finders whose characteristics and personal traits are depicted critically enough to let a reader to deduce that Dahl do not accept inappropriate behaviour and physical appearance in the world are introduced. So in the description of those four winners Dahl provides the reader with his own vision of the world which is divided into two parts. First, there are good characters (like Charlie in the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an anonymous boy in The Witches). Second, there are antagonists who are constructed by Dahl himself to torture good characters (like witches in the story of The Witches) or just to be in the story to warn children from being like they are (the example are four finders of the Golden Tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate factory). They are usually described in a morbid way and punished at the end of the story. That is why David Rees claims that Dahl perceives the world as “black and white – two-dimensional and unreal” (144). The unreality mentioned by Rees is obvious in Dahl’s perception of his characters in the story of Charlie and the Chocolate factory as well. They usually evoke one of nasty characteristic traits which should be slain and cured at all costs. Then Dahl chose the strategy of morbid torturing of those naughty and unpleasant creatures to eliminate their traits and suggest rehabilitation. These suggestions which are often turned into the acts of punishing of those characters should lead them to the creation of moral people from those according to Dahl amoral nasty children. Accordingly to this observation Rees adds that Dahl “had a habit of elevating personal prejudices, ordinary likes and dislikes, into matters of morality” (144). That is the reason why all four finders of the Golden Tickets represent one of annoying characteristic traits which “are displayed as so deplorable that the children have to be cured by sadistic punishments” (Rees 145) which are chosen very precisely to fit well to each of those children. Furthermore, the habit of elevating personal prejudices usually turns into morbid exaggeration which is the preferable writing strategy of Roald Dahl. It draws on external causes influencing Roald Dahl who began to bring into the writings for children his own experiences tinged by his imagination which often falls into exaggeration. Thus, he adds to his works an urgency needed for depiction of his unpleasant experiences which constitute the basis of the macabre pieces of literature by exaggerating them. He emphasises not only the experienced acts but also the characters. Dahl himself claims “that the only way to make [his] characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities” (“Roald Dahl”). Moreover, he adds that “if a person is nasty or bad or cruel you make them very nasty, very cruel. If they are ugly you make them extremely ugly” (“Roald Dahl”). According to him the exaggeration “is fun and makes an impact” (“Roald Dahl”). Bearing in mind Dahl’s indulgence in exaggeration it is not difficult to reveal nasty characteristic traits of people which are constantly presented in his writings for children. David Rees provides the reader of his article with an example from other Dahl’s writings. For instance “in The Twits facial hair is perceived almost as a moral defect: bearded people are dirty and are trying to hide their real appearance. These remarks do not apply just to Mr. Twits (one of the main characters in the story of The Twits) but to bearded men in general” (Rees 146). There is a number of such moral defects which are generally depicted in exaggerated form and usually mingle with the morbidly perceived pictures of them in Dahl’s writings. Generally speaking “Dahl … parades his own irritations – television addiction … overindulgence in sweets, gum-chewing, shooting foxes, beards, ugly faces, fat bodies, cranky old people, spoiled children – and presents them as moral objections” (Rees 149). This fact is one of those the most important in classification of Dahl’s stories as morbid and macabre because these irritations are usually over-exaggerated which evoke unpleasant personal feelings of a reader during reading or listening to the text.
Then all children characters introduced in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reflect exaggerated nasty characteristic traits which have to be punished and altered into relatively normal states. Therefore, the first naughty prototype is the very first finder of one of the Five Golden Tickets, Augustus Gloop, “a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump” because as the boy’s mother says “eating is his hobby. That’s all he’s interested in” (Dahl 36). The boy is also the very first one who is punished for being widemouthed and for “lying full length on the ground with his head far out over the river, lapping up the chocolate like a dog” (Dahl 97) in Wonka’s factory. In the end he is sucked into the pipe by which the chocolate is transferred to all other rooms of the factory. Other participants of the tour around the factory watch Augustus stuck in the pipe because it “was made of glass” and “Augustus Gloop could be clearly seen shooting up inside it, head first, like a torpedo” (Dahl 99). The macabre picture of Augustus is completed by the panic of his parents which is balanced by the morbid sarcasm of Mr Wonka who hurries one of his workers, Oompa-Loompas, because if Augustus is left “in the chocolate barrel too long, he’s liable to get poured out into the fudge boiler, and that really would be a disaster…the fudge would become quite uneatable!” (Dahl 103). The whole scene is an example of Dahl’s morbid thinking because of the penchant of watching the victim when suffering. This morbid observation could be derived again from the very first caning of Dahl in Llandaff Cathedral School where he himself witnessed four other canings of his friends. Moreover, according to Dahl’s writing strategy to eliminate and rehabilitate the nasty character readers are expected to condemn the boy. As David Rees suggests the readers are explicitly “being asked to dislike this child because he is fat” (Rees 145). Furthermore, a deprecation of fatness which is, according to Rees, “a symbol of nastiness” (Rees 145) in the other books written by Roald Dahl is obvious as well. For instance “there is Farmer Boggis in Fantastic Mr Fox, the punters at the casino in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach” (Rees 145) as well as there are a few fat characters as Violet Beauregarde, Mrs Salt and the shopkeeper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The second finder of the golden ticket is Veruca Salt who “would lie for hours on the floor, kicking and yelling in the most disturbing way” (Dahl 40) because of being spoiled by her parents. Veruca is labelled as “the little brute” (Dahl 147) and a cruel punishment is assigned to her and her parents as well. In this part of the story Dahl let the character of Veruca act as the little spoiled brat who enters the forbidden nut room to get the trained squirrel. She is attacked there by one hundred squirrels which pin her to the ground and one of them “(obviously the leader of them all) climbed up on to her shoulder and started tap-tap-tapping the wretched girl’s head with its knuckles” (Dahl 142). When the squirrels find out that Veruca is not a good nut because, as excentric Mr. Wonka remarks, “her head must have sounded quite hollow”, she is thrown “down the rubbish chute” which goes “to the incinerator” (Dahl 143). The morbid picture of the girl attacked by the squirrels supplemented by the macabre comments about having “chance that they’ve decided not to light [the rubbish] today” (Dahl 144) is again watched by other participants. The whole act of throwing down to the rubbish chute is completed when squirrels also push Mrs and Mr Salt down to the pipe. It is obvious that Dahl needs to get rid of all members of each family to show that not only the children but mainly the parents are responsible for their behaviour. After those two described punishments the reader could be perplexed by the morbidity by which those punishments are provided. In Rees’ point of view “it is difficult to avoid the feeling that Dahl … enjoys writing about violence, while at the same time condemning it” (qtd. in Hatch 1: 439). The idea of enjoying and at the same condemning is visible in all punishments of the children in the factory. They are violently as well as morbidly punished for their nastiness but it do not cause any harm to them. Dahl simply does not want to harm the children he would like to just warn them and their parents as well, that the fatness of Augustus Gloop, over-indulgence of Veruca Salt, repulsiveness of Violet Beauregarde and slothfulness of Mike Teavee should be avoided. However, mainly the parts of The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which children are punished are the most disturbing. It is discussed among critics that the book itself could harm child readers by its morbidity and to support this idea the critic Eleanor Cameron implied that “if I ask myself whether children are harmed by reading Charlie…I can only say I don’t know” (qtd. in Krull 566). Cameron’s reaction to the book was sharply attacked by Dahl himself when talking “about his young son Theo, who suffered several injuries after the accident, and to whom he dedicated Charlie” (qtd. in Krull). He claims that “the thought that I would write a book for him that might actually do him harm is too ghastly contemplate” (qtd. in Krull 566). On the other hand there is the discordance between what Dahl said and what is written in the book. It is true that children are punished but it is not obvious whether they are cured from their nastiness or not. In addition, the reader is familiar only with the fact that morbid punishments which were done to four children in the factory changed them physically. As Grandpa Joe remarked Augustus Gloop “used to be fat! Now he’s thin as a straw!” (Dahl 182) and Mike Teavee is “about ten feet tall and thin as a wire” because he was “overstretched on the gum-stretching machine” (Dahl 183). Furthermore, Violet Beauregarde was de-juiced but she is still “purple in the face” and there is nothing what can be done about that. Finally, Veruca Salt and her parents were all “simply covered with rubbish” (Dahl 183). However, it is not revealed whether moral defects are obviated or not. That is why the question whether those morbid and violent punishments are necessary arises.
Generally speaking, it is common that Dahl suggested the way of either alterations or absolute elimination of those (for Dahl) unpleasant characteristic traits and features of physiognomy. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory those suggestions of the author are contained in songs sang by Oompa-Loompas which are added after each of the child’s punishment in the factory. The songs usually start with disgusting and often also morbid description of the punished child and end with the suggestion what the child and its behaviour would look like.
To continue with the presentation of nasty golden-ticket finders, Violet Beauregarde is the third winner of Wonka’s day spent in the factory. She is “a gum chewer, normally” but she “gave up gum” for a while “and started on chocolate bars in the hope of striking lucky” (Dahl 47). The nastiness of that “silly gum-chewing girl” (Dahl 119) with “huge rubbery lips” (Dahl 122) is hidden in her boastfulness when she shows the piece of gum she has “been working on for over three months solid” (Dahl 48). In the factory, prideful as her parents she chews the chewing-gum and within a minute turns “into nothing less than an enormous round blue ball” (Dahl 126). Again she has to be punished for her despicablness. In comparison to the previous punishments of Augustus and Veruca, that Violet’s one is not morbid in its principal sense but the watchers in the factory and external readers are stunned by the fantastic transformation of Violet into “a gigantic blueberry” (Dahl 126). However, there is the morbid aspect in transferring her into the juicing room where they have “got to squeeze the juice out of her immediately” (Dahl 126) by rolling “her into the de-juicing machine” (Dahl 130). Finally, the fourth lucky finder is Mike Teavee whose name itself reveals a favourite hobby of this character. He is a nine-year-old boy who is a great TV fun starring all day at the screen. The punishment is again completed when the boy is “going to be the first person in the world to be sent by television” (Dahl 163). The morbid moment arises when Mr Teavee puts his screaming son, who became a midget, “into the breast pocket of his jacket and stuffed a handkerchief on top” (Dahl 168). Using this character Dahl criticises the modern-world invention of TV which according to him “rots the senses in the head! It kills imagination dead!” (Dahl 172). He expresses his main idea via the words of Mr Wonka when claiming that “I don’t like television myself. I suppose it’s all right in small doses, but children never seem to be able to take it in small doses. They want to sit there all day long staring and staring at the screen…” (Dahl 157).
Those nasty characteristic traits and physical features introduced in the part of the story where all visitors have a tour around Wonka’s factory could be considered by the reader as little defects as well as characteristic traits which are not acceptable in a society. It seems that the second attitude of non-acceptance is acknowledged by Dahl himself and he would like to eradicate those characteristic traits from the whole society because they evoke unpleasant feelings. In a successful attempt to underline the unpleasantness of the characters in the story they are depicted with a violent or rather morbid desire to get rid of them for ever. That is the reason why Casssandra Pierce in her essay perceives the character of all those lucky finders of the Five Golden Tickets in a morbid way when claiming that they
have rather mild vices. However their vices can be translated into some of the
Deadly Sins. Augustus Gloop is gluttonous; Veruca Salt is avaricious. Violet
Beauregarde is prideful because she displays a piece of gum to reporters which
she has been chewing for three months in an attempt for the world record and
global recognition. Mike Teavee is slothful. (Pierce)
Those children have vices because they can afford them. Dahl made them live the life of sufficiency. In comparison to those children the main character of the story does not have any of those vices mentioned above. According to Pierce, Charlie “displays a complete lack of any of these characteristics” (Pierce). However, she adds that he “has no tremendously positive traits, only an absence of negative ones” (Pierce). The reason is that he is not rich enough to afford to be avaricious, his family does not have enough money to provide him with redundant food to be gluttonous. Furthermore, he cannot be prideful because Roald Dahl assigns him neither a distinguish ability nor a material possession. Moreover in Townsend’s point of view Dahl emphasises “unpleasantness” and he “appealed to the less likable of childish characteristics” (676) which are obviously developed by the parents of each of the child.
In connection to the character of little Charlie Bucket there is a parallel in a morbid character of the boy’s situation with the classical story of “The Little Match-Seller” written by nineteenth-century story-teller Hans Christian Andersen. The main resemblance could be found at the beginning of Andersen’s story where the starving girl suffers from a freezing cold. Charlie himself undergoes freezing days when his father lost the job and the family starts to starve as well. Again, there is a morbid theme of torturing of a child when both of the characters are maltreated by the authors themselves when they let them live in freezing conditions without any chance to warm themselves and without enough food. Andersen’s stories as well as Dahl’s are classified as “traumatic for small children” (qtd. in Banerjee) by the French critic Isabelle Jan because of their unhappy character. Moreover there is a piece of evidence that Andersen’s fairytales are of a “folktale origin” (Banerjee) because of their morbid context (for example in “The Wild Swans”). However, to compare Andersen with Dahl or other classic collectors of the stories for children like the Grimm brothers it is obvious that Andersen’s stories usually depict the period of the nineteenth century where the death of children, hunger and poverty were common. So his writings are much more acceptable and reasonable because they describe the real situation of living conditions in that time. On the other hand, Dahl reproves contemporary society of the twentieth century in which generally speaking, people usually live in sufficiency or rather they are not force to struggle as they used to be in the past. When comparing those two authors, Andersen and Dahl, it is obvious that the morbidity is integrated into their stories but each on a different level. Andersen’s morbidity is derived from an everyday experience of ordinary people living in beggary. This level of morbidity is usually more acceptable because it is the whole fact of being. However, Dahl’s morbidity could be classified as factitious because of its unnatural character. Morbidity in Dahl’s writings is represented as a kind of annoyance with the unpleasant characteristic traits or physical appearance of people. The attitude that Andersen’s stories are less morbid and macabre in its principal sense is supported by Jacquelin Banerjee who claims that “despite dealing with plenty of episodes of individual suffering, [Andersen] generally avoided the crueller, more disturbing scenarios of folklore” which for example “the Grimms had set out to collect and preserve” (Banerjee).
To follow up with the classic fairy tales, Dahl is one of authors who derive the basis of their stories from original fairy tales which often display a morbid character in the plot itself. According to Dahl’s supporters “in Charlie, as in his other children’s books, Dahl follows the traditional fairy tale style, which includes extreme exaggeration and the swift and horrible destruction of evildoers” (Hacht 1: 439). That is one of the reasons why there is the theme of morbidity widely presented in Dahl’s stories for children. His supporters also add that “children are not harmed by this approach” (Hacht 1: 439) of Dahl’s story-telling because of its relationship with classic fairy tales the aim of which is to advice rather than to harm.
To sum up, the analysis of Dahl’s the most popular book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory critic Alasdair Campbell, writing in School Librarian, argues that “normal children are bound to take some interest in the darker side of human nature, and books for them should be judged not by picking out separate elements but rather on their basis of their overall balance and effect” (Hacht 1: 439). However, the feeling that there is something inappropriate in Dahl’s books for children remains. There is a big difference in the level of readership and in the way how the readers of different age categories perceive the texts. As Roald Dahl himself stated in New York Times Book Review the children who wrote him “invariably pick out the most gruesome events as the favorite parts of the books…They don’t relate it to life. They enjoy the fantasy” (qtd. in Hacht 1: 438). Although, when talking again about morbid aspects and sadism in Dahl’s writings the adult reader could agree with Eleanor Cameron who found that “Dahl caters to the streak of sadism in children which they don’t even realize is there because they are not fully self-aware and are not experienced enough to understand what sadism is” (qtd. in Hacht 1: 439).