Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is an unusual piece of literature; accepted by children and adults alike today as an exciting fantasy world, though originally criticised as racist, politically incorrect and immoral. Today’s revision of the novel has therefore been adapted for a racially aware society.
Nevertheless, it can still be seen as akin to a communist fantasy world; the Oompa Loompas are all equal and work for the common good, and the children (with the exception of Charlie, the underdog who ultimately benefits from the dictator- like figure Willy Wonka) are symbols of capitalism, such as the gluttonous Augustus Gloop and the spoilt Veruca Salt, who come to their end through “sadistic or extreme”1 retribution.
The novel, therefore, appears to combine in the microcosm of the chocolate factory the religious- based ethics and retributive justice portrayed in Victorian morality plays with a communist style dictatorship reminiscent of Marx’s ultimate utopia. The analogy of the factory as a symbol of communism, a criticism directed at Dahl’s other novels such as James and the Giant Peach,2 is prevalent throughout the book. Charlie’s father Mr Bucket, for example, is the epitome of the poor worker in a capitalist system; “however hard he worked…. he] was never able to buy one half of the things that so large a family needed. “3 When the competition is announced, Grandpa George declares that the people who will win the tickets “are the ones who can afford to buy bars of chocolate every day;”4 in other words, children in stereotypically capitalist families. The criticism of capitalism is reinforced as the children are revealed as representing some of the seven deadly sins; Augustus Gloop is gluttonous, Veruca Salt is avaricious, Violet Beauregarde is prideful, and Mike Teavee, “A boy who does nothing but watch television,” is slothful.
In contrast, as Cassandra Pierce notes, Charlie shows a “complete lack of these characteristics;”5 poor, hungry, and refusing to eat his grandparents’ food. When he “wins” the factory at the end of the novel, it not only represents the triumph of the righteous being over the “unholy” who have gone to be “cleansed,” but also symbolises the rise to power of the poor overturning the rich, as Marx predicted. In addition to this, Willy Wonka is represented as a dictator with sinister undertones that many readers fail to realise. As Stalin and Lenin did, for example, he restricts freedom of speech, refusing to listen to complaints or questions.
For example when Mike Teavee asks why Wonka makes gum in his factory if he thinks “it is so disgusting,” Wonka replies “I do wish you wouldn’t mumble. “6 This is repeated throughout the book with Wonka claiming that he is “a little deaf in my left ear”7 and telling the children “Don’t argue…. It’s such a waste of precious time! “8 Furthermore, the chocolate factory is used as a metaphor for the corrupt communist system whose government holds monopolies over the people. For example, Grandpa Joe describes how “the chocolates… have become more fantastic and delicious…. and nobody] else is able to copy it,”9 and later implies that the competition is merely a ploy to earn more money because “The whole world will be searching for those Golden Tickets…. He’ll sell more than ever before! “10 Though this is a criticism of corrupt communist systems, however, in reality it is a feature of capitalist systems with companies such as Microsoft accused of having monopolies over computer systems, and media ‘moguls’ such as Rupert Murdoch in effect controlling freedom of speech. Additionally, his treatment of the Oompa- Loompas is questionable.
This is particularly true of the original version of Charlie and the Chocolate factory which was criticised by writers such as Eleanor Cameron. Her primary concern was the Oompa- Loompas, who were originally African Pygmies working for a wage of cacao beans, singing songs akin to war chants, and allowing themselves to be experimented on “like laboratory animals” by Wonka. Though it “didn’t occur to me that my depiction of the Oompa- Loompas was racist,”11 Dahl revised the book in sympathy with the NAACP and other critics to create dwarves with “rosy white” skin and “funny long hair” who came from “Loompaland. 12 This was further revised in 1971 for the film to green- haired, orange skinned midgets, rendering it as politically- correct as possible and through doing so altering images created without malicious intent. If taken as racist creations, however, Dahl’s portrayal of Wonka is akin to Hitler, who also experimented on the disabled; rendering the novel “surreal,”13 “disturbing” and “macabre. “14 The critics of Dahl’s work, however, often read too much into what really appears to be an exciting, magical fantasy world.
For example, Wonka is more of a father than slave- master to the Oompa- Loompas, saving them from “thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the world,”15 and finding it “very sad”16 that one of the volunteers who drank Fizzy Lifting Drinks disappears forever; written perhaps, as Pierce suggests, in response to Lois Kulb Bouchard’s comment that “a Black man floats away to his death stupidly silent, and no one among his family or friends misses him. Though some have tried to read racism into Dahl’s other works such as the originally black- skinned Fleshlumpeater in The BFG, and sexism in his portrayal of women such as Trunchball in Matilda, his creations are probably nothing more than fantasy figures; white males, such as Matilda’s father, receive similar treatment. Therefore the treatment of Dahl’s novel is akin to what Jeremy Clarkson bemoans about today’s society- that it
is too politically correct; for example calling Siamese twins “conjoined twins. It is possible to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a Victorian morality play not only in setting with the “great iron gates”18 and huge chimneys reminiscent of an English factory during the Industrial Revolution, but also in message with Wonka summing up the “moral” of the story in the final few pages, telling Charlie that “I want a good sensible loving child. 19 It is also possible to see is as an analogy of a corrupt communist dictatorship with the “evil” dictator gradually disposing of those he dislikes; thereby bringing relevance by comparison with today’s international politics. Though it is interesting to read subtleties such as these into the plot, however, it is likely that it is possible to read them into any fictional novel. I would prefer to continue to read it as a magical novel that inspired my imagination from childhood onwards, written with no racist malice or cruel intent.