Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of my father’s favorite movies, so I have seen it countless times. I remember always being a little scared, or maybe more uneasy, about the movie, but after reading the book, the movie seems tame. In Dahl’s original, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the line between humor and meanness is blurred, leading to a conflict as to the appropriateness of the text for younger readers. After taking a few days to think about the implications of the book, however, I have found that connections with religious teachings can be made within the text as well, serving as a means of enriching character education.
First off, Dahl, specifically through his Oompa-Loompa’s, criticizes a number of stereotypes with language that would be considered harsh by many people. The one instance that sticks out most clearly for me is poor Augustus Gloop. Augustus is clearly overweight and perhaps spoiled, but the language with which he is described by the Oompa-Loopas is a bit over the top. With lines such as “the great big greedy nincompoop”, “so greedy, foul, and infantile”, and “however long this pig might live” go too far, and in my opinion, are not funny. If a story were written today, in our world of political correctness, using similar language to describe an overweight character, the author would most likely be criticized harshly.
One stereotype being perpetuated in this story is that of the saintly child from humble beginnings in the form of Charlie Bucket. Charlie is described from the beginning as being skeletal and his home as being a shack, so his humble beginning is well established. He is painted as being a good boy, loved by his parents and grandparents, and willing to share, as evidenced by his sharing of his beloved chocolate bar. The archetype of the young poor child is one that is used throughout literature. The Charlie Bucket archetype harkens to other literary characters such as Cinderella, Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, and even Dorothy Gale. These characters all came from humble beginnings and, like Charlie, were portrayed as wholesome and virtuous.
Implications for Education
An interesting revelation that I came to after a few days of pondering the text is how the naughty children exemplify many of the traits that are seen as undesirable in Christianity. As a teacher at a Catholic school, this would be a relevant tie-in for my students. The seven deadly sins are seen throughout the children in Dahl’s book. August Gloop exemplifies gluttony, Veruca Salt is the definition of lust and envy in her intense desire to find a golden ticket, Violet Beauregarde shows pride in being the best gum chewer and wrath in her feud with “Miss Cornelia Prinzmetal”, while Mike Teavee is the epitome of sloth. The final sin, greed, is one shared by all four of Dahl’s naughty children. The fact that the children exemplifying these traits are villainized in the story, one could argue that this could be a valuable morality tale for children.
When considering this book for use with children, I would be cautious. As an adult reading this story, it was easy for me to pick out the negative and violent remarks and read more deeply into some of the descriptions than a younger reader might. To help accommodate for this, I would likely choose to present this story as a read aloud if I were to use it with my third graders. This would allow for discussions about the language that Dahl chose. Aside from clarifying the text, it would also allow for students to explore the idea of questioning text, rather than just accepting it as it is written – just because Dahl chooses to use certain words to describe characters, does that make it alright for us to do the same?
In terms of the “goodness” of this book, I would consider this to be a good book for most children. With proper support and guidance, children could learn the lesson of being humble and virtuous. The harsh language and violence presented, while possibly too intense for some readers, mirrors the harsh realities of the real world and presents them in a way that is understandable for most children. Children learn through mimicry and role playing, so being able to experience the hardships of life through the use of humor is a safe way for children to learn these lessons.
Edie, great paper looking at the "serious" side of Dahl's humor. I LOVE the idea that these are the seven deadly sins in a book for children... sort of.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, instructional designer,online instructor, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!