- Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Author: Roald Dahl
- Publisher: Puffin Books
- Year Published: 1964
- Setting: Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and the surrounding town
- Point of View (POV): Mixed, but mostly third person omniscient
- Themes: Family, Greed, Rules, Poverty, Fantasy
- My Rating: 10/10
- Favourite Quotes:
- “I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children – just five, mind you, and no more – to visit my factory this year” (Dahl 19).
- “‘The taste would be terrible,’ said Mr. Wonka. ‘Just imagine it! Augustus-flavoured chocolate-coated Gloop! No one would buy it” (Dahl 76).
- “Dear friends, we surely all agree / There’s almost nothing worse to see / Than some repulsive little bum / Who’s always chewing chewing gum” (Dahl 99).
*WARNING! THIS REVIEW – LIKE ALL OF MY REVIEWS – CONTAINS SPOILERS!*
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a middle-grade (otherwise known as children’s) fiction novel. It tells the story of Willy Wonka, a famous chocolatier, who creates a contest where five children can come and tour his chocolate factory for a day, but only if they find one of the five Golden Tickets that he has hidden inside of the wrappers of his millions of chocolate bars. The five children who win the contest are: “Augustus Gloop, a greedy boy. Veruca Salt, a girl who is spoiled by her parents. Violet Beauregarde, a girl who chews gum all day long. Mike Teavee, a boy who does nothing but watch television. And Charlie Bucket, the hero” (Dahl Introduction). While the first four children are all spoiled and entitled, Charlie comes from a life of poverty. His four grandparents all sleep in the same bed and the family barely has enough to eat, so Charlie is extremely lucky to have found a Golden Ticket. The children can each bring one or two of their guardians to tour the factory and Charlie chooses to bring his Grandpa Joe, who is definitely still a child at heart.
The plot is complicated once the children and their guardians have entered the factory. One by one the spoiled children get greedy and disobey Mr. Wonka, causing the children to have to leave the tour. Each time a child is escorted out, they are accompanied by the Oompa-Loompas (Mr. Wonka’s unique workers), who sing about the children and how their actions have led to whatever misfortune has befallen them. One song explains gleefully that “Veruca Salt, the little brute / Has just gone down the garbage chute,” (Dahl 116) and another about Mike Teavee, about whom they “shall simply have to wait and see / If we can get him back his height. / But if we can’t – it serves him right” (Dahl 141). Finally, when only kind and humble Charlie is the last child left, Willy Wonka reveals the true reason behind his Golden Tickets: to find a child that he “liked best” (Dahl 151). Mr. Wonka would then teach him or her everything he knows, so one day the child can take over the factory for him. In this way, Charlie goes from a poor boy living in a shack to the heir to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory.
Going into this adorable little book, I had a pre-existing bias that I was going to love it, because I was already familiar with both movie adaptations. I was also already familiar with Roald Dahl, having previously read Matilda. Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gave me such nostalgia for all of the books I used to read in elementary school. I admit that my emotional attachment to this story has a lot to do with these kinds of feelings, rather than being due to the story itself. Even so, I did develop an attachment to Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe. They are the two most genuine, kind-hearted characters in the novel, especially when compared to the other children and their parents. Every time Charlie was able to get his hands on a chocolate bar, I held my breath, waiting to see which of his chocolate bars would be the one containing the Golden Ticket. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a nice change from the other novels I have been reading lately, for in this novel everything falls into place: the bad people get what they deserve, the good people get rewarded, and they all live happily ever after. The more mature books I have been reading lately are much more complicated than that, and a happily ever after is certainly not a guarantee. Reading this novel amidst all of my university assigned readings has taught me that sometimes simplicity is exactly what a reader needs sometimes, and that is exactly what a middle-grade novel can offer.
Roald Dahl’s writing style is immediately recognizable and is completely unique. For the most part, this book is written in third person omniscient, but it also has moments where it uses second person and even first person. The narrator typically sees all and knows all, even Charlie’s inner thoughts and feelings. Yet, briefly, the narrator speaks directly to the audience, saying, “This is Charlie. How d’you do? . . . He is pleased to meet you” (Dahl 3). To further complicate the narration styles, the narrator then begins using ‘I’, saying, “But I haven’t told you about the one awful thing that tortured little Charlie, the lover of chocolate, more than anything else” (Dahl 7). These alternating points of view are just another way Dahl chooses to be creative in his writing. To me, Willy Wonka is a representation of Dahl’s writing style: creative genius, a little all over the place, and a lot wacky. Wonka speaks in stream-of-consciousness – which was hilarious to read – and when speaking to the other four children and their parents, he combines an obvious air of condescension with a childlike cheerfulness, making those receiving his masked insults unsure if they are really being insulted or not.
The novel’s pacing was very quick, which is typical for a middle-grade novel because authors of this age category are aware of the shorter attention spans of their audience. A factor that certainly helps to keep that attention is the setting of the novel: a fantastical chocolate factory. Dahl encourages his young readers to use their imaginations and to push themselves into being as creative as possible in their visualizations of such a fantastical setting.
For the first time, I am reviewing a middle-grade novel and I have to keep reminding myself that the expectations for this age category are different from the expectations of young adult novels. In middle-grade, the characters are more flat, stereotyped, and are less likely to analyze their own actions or the actions of others, while in YA, the audience expects more depth from the characters they are reading about. Despite this being a common occurrence in middle-grade, the “stereotyping of characters is the form of criticism that has been most heard about,” for it could present problems of racialization and sexism (White 5). Although these particular, more serious issues are not very prominent the stereotype of how rich and privileged people behave is definitely witnessed in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
There are also more restrictions placed upon the content of middle-grade novels, and that is another way in which this novel has been criticized. Eleanor Cameron “objected to its ‘phony presentation of poverty and its phony humour, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism’” (White 4). In response, I would argue that the presentation of poverty is not meant to be accurate. Dahl wishes to get the image of poverty across, while keeping the tone of the novel light and fun. Even in moments where readers are made to feel pity for the Bucket family, there is always an underlying sense of ridiculousness – like that which is created by the image of the four grandparents all in the same bed. As far as the ‘humour based on punishment and sadism,’ I contend that this is definitely an overstatement. Dahl is teaching his age eight to twelve audience that the kind of behaviours that the four children were displaying: selfishness, greed, and presumptuousness, are qualities that will not lead to anything beneficial, for it is none of these children that receive Wonka’s reward in the end. Instead it is Charlie, who possesses none of these qualities.
Of course I would recommend this novel! To anyone and everyone! My advice for someone who thinks that they are too old to read a children’s book would be to just give it a chance! It felt so good to fly through a novel, to not have to think too much about the meaning behind the words. The ending was a happy one and it left me feeling fulfilled, and there were no loose ends that needed to be tied up that weren’t. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory deserves my 10 out of 10 rating due to the nostalgia that I – and many other readers – associate with it, and due to its complete uniqueness, for there is no other book in the world like it. Reading a middle-grade book for the first time in years made me want to read more, so I am definitely planning on adding more novels from this age category to my to-be-read list.
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Puffin Books, 1964.
Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, theeditorsblog.net/2011/06/07/checklist-for-editors. Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.
White, Mary Lou. “Censorship – Threat over Children’s Books.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 75, no. 1, 1974, pp. 2-10.