Monday, February 17, 2020

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

2016, first published 1964

This is quite a quick and easy read and the text is peppered with Quentin Blake’s quirky illustrations. The story opens with the family living in utter poverty. Charlie and his parents live with both sets of grandparents. Only Mr Bucket works - in a factory that makes toothpaste. Food is scarce. “The only meals they could afford were bread and margarine for breakfast, boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch and cabbage soup for supper”(loc75). Charlie longs for chocolate. Charlie is poor though not necessarily unhappy.  The chocolate is a dream, yes, but his life is full of stories. After supper each night he goes into his grandparents’ room and listens to their stories. One day Charlie gets the grandparents to tell him about Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory and they talk it up big. This is the stuff of dreams. Grandpa Joe confirms this: “it makes my mouth water thinking about it” (loc150). Yet the chocolate factory is a place of mystery. Grandpa Joe informs Charlie that no one ever goes into the factory nor does anyone ever come out (loc76). It seems that Wonka has sacked normal workers because they were giving away his secrets and closed the factory. Then it reopened and he now has some sort of slave or artificial intelligence working for him (loc 199).”But most mysterious of all, Charlie, were the shadows in the window of the factory,” (loc 220) Grandpa Joe informs Charlie.
Wonka provides five golden tickets, wrapped up in ordinary chocolate bars and Charlie now looks for his golden ticket (loc 254). The children who win the tickets are already privileged and to some extent dysfunctional. Augustus Gloop is well fed and does not suffer the hunger that is part of Charlie’s everyday life (loc 273). “Eating is his hobby” (loc 278). Veruca Salt lives with her rich parents in a city far away (loc 295). Charlie has his one chocolate bar a year whilst Augustus eats several a day and Veruca’s father buys as many as he can (loc304). Violet Beauregarde is the third winner. Her mother has attempted to bring her up as a lady but has not succeeded (loc 374). Mike Teavee is the fourth. This is a young man obsessed with television (loc 399).
Grandpa Joe takes a gamble. He raids his secret hoard of cash and gives Charlie money for another chocolate bar (loc 424). But there is no golden ticket and then Charlie has to go even hungrier because the factory where his father works closes down. Charlie is third time lucky. He finds a fifty pence piece with which he buys chocolate and finds the final golden ticket - but only after he has spent his change on another bar rather than saving the money to buy food for the family. Does this bring him the joy he expected? No at first he feels dizzy and quite ill (loc 530). Charlie has to face the responsibility of being famous. Journalists pester the family (loc 612).
Wonka is an eccentric, oddly dressed character:
            He had a black top hat on his head.
            He wore a tail coat made of beautiful plum-coloured velvet.
            His trousers were bottle green
            And in one hand he carried a fine gold-topped walking cane (loc 655).
Is the factory other worldly? It does not seem like a factory for “Graceful trees and bushes were growing along the riverbanks - weeping willows and alders and tall clumps of rhododendrons with their pink and red and mauve blossoms. On the meadows there were thousands of buttercups” (loc 731). Chocolate is mixed by waterfall (loc 742). Then there are the Oompa-Loompas. The young people encounter otherness, though Wonka assures them that the Oompa-Loompas are real people (loc766). Wonka has an altruistic attitude to the Oompa-Loompas; he has rescued them form a terrible life in Loompaland (loc 770 - 73). The Oompa-Loompas are not slaves; they have wages, perhaps in cacao beans (loc 790).
There is a moral code in the book. The self-centred children get their comeuppance; greedy Augustus is carried away by the river of chocolate he tries to drink. Violet steals a piece of the new chewing-gum, the recipe of which hasn’t quite been perfected. It turns her blue and makes her swell up until she looks like a gigantic blueberry. Veruca wants everything she sees and demands it of her parents. She tries to steal one of the squirrels that is trained to remove whole walnuts form their cases and all the squirrels pounce on her. They are testing her to see if she is a bad nut. “’My goodness, she is a bad nut after all,’ said Mr Wonka” (loc 1301). Mike Teavee manages to get himself miniaturised and sent by TV (Chapter 27). A suggested rescue for Wonka seems gruesome; he can be stretched by the chewing-gum stretching machine.     
Wonka objectifies the children somewhat: “We’ll get her repaired if it’s the last thing we do” says Wonka (loc 1126).
The Oompa-Loompas bring us moral tales in their songs. In particular they criticise allowing children to watch too much TV and recommend books instead (loc 1592 -1640).   
There is sophistication of language. There are some demanding puns: the cream room contains all the normal confectionery cream and also hair cream. The bean room has such items as cacao beans but also has human beans. Wonka’s rhyme as they row along is somewhat sinister, ending in “And they’re certainly not showing any signs of slowing” (loc 962). Names are interesting: Oompa-Loompa, Prodnose, Slugworth and does Fickelgruber relate to Schickelgruber? There are intriguing concepts: hot ice creams for cold days, cows that give chocolate milk, and fizzy lifting drinks, square sweets that look round (loc 1202-15). The latter is another play on words. The sweets are indeed square and look square. However, they glance around when people come in the through door (loc 1239).  
There is some symbolism in the story even though the target reader isn’t yet ready for symbolisms. Charlie is the winner - the one child who had not fallen by the wayside - and Wonka takes him through the glass ceiling (loc 1682). Breaking through is worrying but the view is spectacular once they’re out there. They watch the other children go home; they have all changed because of their experiences at the chocolate factory (loc 1707).
Wonka sends a powerful message “’You mustn’t despair!’ cried Wonka. “Nothing is impossible! You watch!’” (loc 1739).   

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