Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the story of the impoverished eponymous hero who, against all odds, sets out to win the contest of an eccentric chocolate factory owner named Mr. Willy Wonka. Mr. Wonka raffles out five golden tickets by inserting them within his world-famous chocolate bars. The lucky children who find these tickets will get a chance to enter the mysterious factory where all the best chocolate bars are manufactured. How will Charlie trounce the other kids and turn his life around? What lessons can young readers learn from this book?
Had this book not been selected as one of our club’s book of the month, I wouldn’t have ventured to read it. This book is meant for children, although that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be reading children’s books. In fact, it is important for us to read this book however old we are primarily to know what children’s literature is made of. Personally, I found it important just so I know what I missed when I was young.
I was not a huge reader when I was kid, so whatever special feelings that early readers have for this book felt for me like cute nostalgia. I could only imagine the feeling but not quite because as an older reader, I have a different take on it. In fact, I found it very predictable. I realized the reason behind this; I was able to watch the film adaptation starring Johnny Depp as Mr. Willy Wonka and I only remembered that halfway through the book.
The details of the film escaped me, but these resurfaced as I went on with my reading. It was fun, and I’m glad to know that Dahl is a staunch evangelist of reading as a pastime. In the songs written in iambic tetrameter sang by the Oompa-Loompas, small people from a faraway tribe hired by Mr. Wonka to work for his chocolate factory, we are reminded once again that the television is for idiots. Here’s a snippet:
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting ou with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
To magnify the negative effects that too much TV has on us, there is a kid named Mike Teavee, one of the golden ticket winners, who learns his lesson for acting as if everything were a TV show. We see how kids learn their lessons for not curbing their bad deeds, and we also see kids get a reward for being good. You know, the laws of karma.
[There is something about very cold weather that gives one an enormous appetite. Most of us find ourselves beginning to crave rich steaming stews and hot apple pies and all kinds of delicious warming dishes; and because we are all a great deal luckier than we realize, we usually get what we want–or near enough.]
Dahl also illustrates the class divisions among the characters. Of the five children, Charlie is the only one who doesn’t get much in life. The other four have pretty comfortable lives. In fact, one of them, Veruca Salt, got a hold of the golden ticket thanks to his father’s hoarding of Mr. Wonka’s chocolate bars. It’s not fair if you think of it because this hunt is meant for the children. Even the young Charlie realizes this. It also makes one realize that money can be used to do a lot of things, if one has not realized that yet.
But Charlie doesn’t want too much. He just wants to get by his everyday life, even if there isn’t a lot of food on the table and even if he gets to sleep on the cold floor. His meek disposition weakens his character, but he is nevertheless endearing. Besides, this meekness and his inner strength help him go through the challenges that he meets at the chocolate factory. So it’s true then: the meek shall inherit the earth.
[But there was one other thing that the grown-ups also knew, and it was this: that however small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance is there. The chance had to be there.]
Mr. Wonka, however, is a different story. His generosity is of an ambivalent nature. One is never too sure if he is doing it for the kids’ welfare or if he is just doing it for himself. He also has an irascible temper, so Charlie’s shyness almost always escapes his explosions.
Dahl started to write his stories after he served in the British Royal Air Force before the second world war. When he returned home and got married, he wrote stories for his children. His experiences as a kid bullied at school are some of the factors that shaped his books. It is interesting to note that the bad children in this novel are severely punished for their bad behavior. Isn’t that always the case in children’s literature? Is violence appealing to children and helpful in strengthening their sense of morality?
[Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all if it hasn’t been whipped with whips, just like poached eggs isn’t poached eggs unless it’s been stolen in the dead of the night.]
A very readable book with cute illustrations and funny play on words, I would recommend this to children, probably those eight and below. I wouldn’t want them to miss the magic of reading books that cannot be matched by watching TV. Of course you saw this coming; I’m as staunch an evangelist as Dahl was.
Dates Read: December 9 to 14, 2012
No. of Pages: 155
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars