The narrator introduces two elderly people sitting in bed. They’re Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine, Mr. Bucket’s parents. The other two old people, also in bed, are Mrs. Bucket’s parents, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina. Mr. and Mrs. Bucket have a son too, named Charlie. (Charlie is very pleased to meet the reader.) Charlie’s entire family lives in a tiny wood house on the outskirts of a big town. The house isn’t big enough for everyone—there are only two rooms and one bed—so the grandparents spend all their time in the bed and never get out. Charlie and his parents sleep on mattresses on the floor in the other room.
The way that the novel introduces Charlie and the Bucket family highlights their poverty first and foremost. They seem to be poorer than most everyone else in town, given how separate and different from the rest of the town their house looks. The fact that all seven of them live in two rooms and don’t have enough space makes this even clearer. Then, having Charlie essentially introduce himself as he does (saying that he’s pleased to meet the reader) shows readers from the beginning that Charlie is polite and kind.
Things aren’t so bad in the summer, but in the winter, the Buckets’ house is freezing cold. They’re too poor to be able to afford a bigger house or another bed, since Mr. Bucket is the only member of the family with a job. He works in a toothpaste factory, screwing caps onto filled tubes of toothpaste. No matter how much he works, he barely makes enough money to support his family. So, the family subsists on meals of bread, margarine, boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, and cabbage soup. On Sundays, they get second helpings. Everyone is always hungry, but nobody starves.
The Buckets live a difficult, deprived life. For much of the year they’re not warm enough, and it’s a challenge to get enough to eat. This continues to drive home that Charlie is coming from hardship. However, there are nevertheless funny and absurd aspects to this passage. For instance, getting a second helping of soup on Sundays seems darkly humorous, given that an extra serving of something as meager as cabbage isn’t likely to fill the family up.
Charlie suffers the most out of his family. Mr. Bucket and Mrs. Bucket regularly give Charlie their helpings of food, but it’s not enough for a growing boy like Charlie. What he really wants is chocolate. Every morning as Charlie walks to school, he passes shops with slabs of chocolate stacked in the windows. His classmates eat candy bars all day long, which is torture for Charlie.
Charlie lives in a world that’s filled with luxuries like chocolate—and he spends a lot of his time looking at it, unable to indulge. His family’s attempts to help him get more food aren’t enough to satisfy him, though there’s no indication that he resents this or complains about it. However, giving Charlie their food does show that his family is generous and giving, which is perhaps why Charlie is sweet and polite himself.
Charlie gets chocolate once per year, on his birthday. His parents and grandparents save their money to buy Charlie a single, small chocolate bar. Every year, he makes his chocolate bar last as long as possible. He first spends several days staring at it; then, he nibbles a tiny bit every day until it’s gone. He can make his candy bars last a month like this.
The Buckets might be very poor, but they nevertheless feel that it’s essential to indulge in a treat once in a while. Charlie shows just how appreciative and resourceful he is by making his candy bars last a full month.
But what makes life even worse for Charlie is that he not only sees chocolate all the time in shop windows—from his house, he can see a massive chocolate factory. The factory, Wonka’s factory, is the biggest and most famous in the world. A man named Mr. Willy Wonka, a great inventor and chocolatier, owns it. His factory is mysterious, with high walls, smoking chimneys, and odd sounds. The air around it smells like chocolate. Charlie has to pass it every day as he walks to and from school. He loves the smell and wishes that he could get inside the factory.
Again, the fact that Charlie lives so close to this massive, famous chocolate factory drives home the inequality in his world. The way the narrator describes the factory as mysterious and somewhat odd suggests that the life of luxury the chocolate represents is totally unfamiliar to Charlie. Charlie dreams of bettering his circumstances and being able to afford chocolate more often—but he doesn’t know how to get there yet.