Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

by

Roald Dahl

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Roald Dahl

Dahl was born in Cardiff, Wales to Norwegian immigrant parents. When he was still very young, Dahl’s sister and father died within weeks of each other. Rather than return to Norway to live near family, Dahl’s mother remained in Wales so her children could be educated in English schools. However, Dahl’s school days were unpleasant for him—he hated the hazing rituals and prevalence of corporal punishment. Following school, Dahl worked for Shell Oil until World War II, in which Dahl served as a fighter pilot. In 1940, Dahl was seriously injured in a crash landing that temporarily robbed him of his sight. He flew again and served briefly as a flight instructor after his recovery, but then became a diplomat in Washington, D.C. During his time in the U.S., Dahl published his first story, anecdotes about his time as a pilot. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Dahl published a number of short stories for adults as well as The Gremlins, his first book for children. 1961’s James and the Giant Peach, however, catapulted him to fame and became the first of his many successful children’s novels. Dahl was married twice, first to actress Patricia Neal and then to Felicity Dahl. He had five children with Neal. In his lifetime, Dahl was a fierce advocate for immunization—his daughter died of measles in 1962—and posthumously, Felicity Dahl created Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity to support sick children. His novels have sold millions of copies and remain immensely popular. Dahl is often considered one of the most influential British authors of the late 20th century.
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Historical Context of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Published in the 1960s, it’s possible to see the influence of mid-20th-century culture and media on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In particular, the way that Dahl portrays Mike Teavee reads as a condemnation of television—which, by the 1960s, had become a staple in many upper-middle-class people’s homes. The Oompa-Loompas’ song about television states that television “makes a child so dull and blind / he can no longer understand / a fantasy, a fairyland!” This can be read as a jab at television shows that featured fantastical elements or circumstances, such as the titular talking horse in Mr. Ed or, indeed, the entire premise of the sci-fi series The Twilight Zone. Charlie specifically makes note of The Lone Ranger, which was adapted into a television series in the 1950s and then into a 1961 feature film. Chocolate, meanwhile, had become affordable for many American and British households by the late 1930s and was at that point no longer considered a luxury item. It was even deemed an “essential food” during World War II. The British chocolate company Cadbury introduced its famous Cadbury Crème Eggs in 1963, and many other classic candies—such as Swedish Fish, Sweet Tarts, and Lemonheads—were first released in the 1960s. In 1966, two years after Charlie was published, Razzles came on the scene; the candies are Wonka-like in that they transform in a person’s mouth from hard candy to gum. In its original version, Charlie also reflected the racial tensions at the heart of the civil rights movements happening around the world in the 60s, as Dahl initially wrote the Oompa-Loompas as Black. Some readers were offended by this, since the Oompa-Loompas work in Mr. Wonka’s factory in an arrangement that resembles slavery. After receiving criticism, Dahl changed the Oompa-Loompas to their final, “rosy-white” skin color.

Other Books Related to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, many of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels feature adult characters who are evil and cruel; magic and nonsense; and bright young children as protagonists. Charlie is one of Dahl’s most famous books and has influenced a number of authors since its publication—J. K. Rowling, especially. She’s said that Charlie is one of her favorite books, and its influence shows up in the Harry Potter series in a variety of ways, such as in the similarities between Augustus Gloop and Harry’s cousin, Dudley Dursley. For his children’s books, Dahl drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Published about a century before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Alice novels brought the genre of nonsense literature to the forefront—and they were some of the first to present stories for children that weren’t simple morality tales. Dahl also grew up listening to his mother, a Norwegian immigrant, tell him Norwegian folk and fairy tales, which influenced a number of his novels. Within the novel itself, Dahl references several classic works of children’s literature, including stories by Rudyard Kipling (“How the Camel Got His Hump”) and Beatrix Potter (the Peter Rabbit stories), and the novel The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Though Dahl is best known for his children’s literature, he also wrote a number of short stories for adults that share some of the same bizarre, macabre elements.
Key Facts about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Full Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • When Written: 1963
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1964
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Children’s Novel; Fantasy
  • Setting: An unnamed city in England
  • Climax: Mr. Wonka tells Charlie that he’s leaving him the Wonka chocolate factory.
  • Antagonist: The Salts; the Gloops; the Beauregardes; the Teavees; Greed; Selfishness
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Problems with Product Placement. The 1971 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a sore spot for Dahl, who wrote the original screenplay. Other writers made a number of changes to the screenplay that Dahl didn’t like, and he was particularly upset about the film’s title change to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The title change was made in part because the Quaker Oats Company sponsored the film to promote its launch of Wonka Bars.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Cacao beans (and the processed chocolate that the beans are made into) contains a substance called theobromine, which in small doses acts as a mild stimulant in humans. However, in extremely large quantities, theobromine is toxic. A person would have to eat over 7,000 Hershey’s kisses to reach a toxic level.