Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fundamentally absurd and funny book. The candy factory where most of the novel takes place is filled with amazing fictional sweets, like chewing gum that provides a three-course meal and ice cream that doesn’t melt in the sun. Moreover, the eccentric chocolatier Mr. Willy Wonka and his Oompa-Loompas (the tiny men who work in his factory) seem fantastical and even magical. Particularly when Mr. Wonka takes Charlie Bucket and four other children on a tour of his factory, readers are encouraged to engage with the Wonka factory’s delights like Charlie does: with awe and wonder. Through the lessons that Mr. Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas impart during the tour, the book suggests that people should simply enjoy the world around them for what it is, acknowledging and accepting rather than manipulating or rejecting their surroundings.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first suggests that absurd, entertaining stories are worthwhile—no matter how outlandish they might be. For example, as Grandpa Joe tells Charlie about Mr. Wonka and his chocolate factory, he shares a fantastical story about a palace made of chocolate that Mr. Wonka built for Prince Pondicherry (an Indian prince). Grandpa Joe describes faucets that dispense hot chocolate and massive bricks of solid chocolate that make up the palace’s walls. The story enchants Charlie—and most importantly, the narrator notes, these fantastical stories distract the Bucket family from their poverty and their hunger. Stories, the novel shows, can help a person escape from circumstances that are less than ideal. Later, at the chocolate factory, the novel shows that this idea applies to real-life experiences as well. Charlie is entranced as Mr. Wonka leads the group of children and parents through his factory and accepts without question the chocolate river, edible grass, and other bizarre and unique candies. To Charlie, it all seems too good to be true. And especially given Charlie’s poverty, he seems to realize the importance of enjoying the tour as much as possible. While the other, wealthier kids may have opportunities to experience fantastical things again because their families can afford such luxuries, Charlie’s can’t—so for him, it’s essential to make the most of his visit. As far as he knows, it’s the only exciting, fun trip he’ll ever get to take.
On the other hand, the novel shows that questioning or trying to control something fun and absurd can take away from its entertainment value. The clearest example of this is when television-obsessed Mike Teavee is confronted with a chocolate bar inside of a television. Mike knows how television works, so he’s skeptical when Mr. Wonka demonstrates that he can take a mattress-size bar of chocolate and transmit it so that it appears inside a television screen—where a viewer can then pluck the bar out of the screen and eat it. Believing that such a thing is impossible, Mike only laughs when Mr. Wonka invites him to take the chocolate bar out of the television. So Charlie, who sees the world with wonder and is willing to take things as they come, ultimately removes the chocolate from the television. This suggests that questioning something like this, rather than trusting and accepting it, can cause people to miss out on truly fantastical things. And throughout the factory tour, Veruca Salt shouts at her father, Mr. Salt, that she wants to own the fantastical items she sees. She wants a candy ship on a chocolate river, an Oompa-Loompa, and one of the squirrels that Mr. Wonka trained to shell walnuts. While Charlie takes the time to enjoy and savor all the delights that Mr. Wonka shares with the group, Veruca’s only thought is how to possess the things she sees. And this, the novel suggests, diminishes her enjoyment of the factory tour: she looks at the factory only with greed, not with wonder or delight.
Finally, the novel suggests that readers should try to emulate Charlie’s way of seeing the world and offers several ways to do that. Throughout the novel, Charlie and Grandpa Joe—who looks at the world with the same kind of childlike wonder as Charlie does—have more fun than the people on the tour who are skeptical and critical. Through their example, the novel implies that accepting and enjoying things for what they are results in a happier life, as people with this attitude are better able to appreciate and take full advantage of their experiences. More concretely, though, the novel suggests that readers can learn to think this way by doing two related things: watching less (or no) television and reading books instead. After Mike Teavee shrinks himself in Mr. Wonka’s Television Chocolate room, the Oompa-Loompas sing a song about how television “rots kids’ brains,” makes them “dull,” and destroys a person’s imagination. The fact that Mike has spent his life in front of a television, the Oompa-Loompas imply, is why he’s not willing to reach into the television and grab the chocolate when Mr. Wonka invites him to—his imagination no longer allows for that sort of thing. According to the novel, books provide the antidote to television. Where television destroys imaginations, books, according to the Oompa-Loompas, expand imaginations and allow children to experience all sorts of fantastical, nonsensical worlds. With this, the novel’s message is twofold: first, it champions looking at the world with wonder, excitement, and acceptance. Second, it encourages readers to keep reading and experiencing new worlds, long after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s last page.
Fun, Absurdity, and Wonder ThemeTracker
Fun, Absurdity, and Wonder Quotes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Mr. Bucket, however hard he worked, and however fast he screwed on the caps, was never able to make enough to buy one-half of the things that so large a family needed. There wasn’t even enough money to buy proper food for them all. The only meals they could afford were bread and margarine for breakfast, boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch, and cabbage soup for supper. Sundays were a bit better. They all looked forward to Sundays because then, although they had exactly the same, everyone was allowed a second helping.
“Wouldn’t it be something, Charlie, to open a bar of candy and see a Golden Ticket glistening inside!”
“It certainly would, Grandpa. But there isn’t a hope,” Charlie said sadly. “I only get one bar a year.”
“You never know darling,” said Grandma Georgina. “It’s your birthday next week. You have as much chance as anybody else.”
“I’m afraid that simply isn’t true,” said Grandpa George. “The kids who are going to find the Golden Tickets are the ones who can afford to buy candy bars every day. Our Charlie only gets one a year. There isn’t a hope.”
“Don’t you think they look pretty? I told you I hated ugliness! And of course they are all eatable! All made of something different and delicious! And do you like my meadows? Do you like my grass and my buttercups? The grass you are standing on, my dear little ones, is made of a new kind of soft, minty sugar that I’ve just invented! I call it swudge! Try a blade! Please do! It’s delectable!”
Automatically, everybody bent down and picked one blade of grass—everybody, that is, except Augustus Gloop, who took a big handful.
Charlie was holding tightly onto his grandfather’s bony old hand. He was in a whirl of excitement. Everything that he had seen so far—the great chocolate river, the waterfall, the huge sucking pipes, the candy meadows, the Oompa-Loompas, the beautiful pink boat, and most of all, Mr. Willy Wonka himself—had been so astonishing that he began to wonder whether there were could possibly be any more astonishments left. Where were they going now? What were they going to see? And what in the world was going to happen in the next room?
Her body was swelling up and changing shape at such a rate that within a minute it had turned into nothing less than an enormous round blue ball—a gigantic blueberry, in fact—and all that remained of Violet Beauregarde herself was a tiny pair of legs and a tiny pair of arms sticking out of the great round fruit and a little head on top.
“It always happens like that,” sighed Mr. Wonka. “I’ve tried it twenty times in the Testing Room on twenty Oompa-Loompas, and every one of them finished up as a blueberry. It’s most annoying. I just can’t understand it.”
“That isn’t exactly how [television] works,” said Mike Teavee.
“I am a little deaf in my left ear,” Mr. Wonka said. “You must forgive me if I don’t hear everything you say.”
“I said, that isn’t exactly how it works!” shouted Mike Teavee.
“You’re a nice boy,” Mr. Wonka said, “but you talk too much.”
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink—
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSES IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK—HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
“Mind you, there are thousands of clever men who would give anything for the chance to come in and take over from me, but I don’t want that sort of person. I don’t want a grown-up person at all. A grownup won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He will try to do things his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child. I want a good sensible loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious candy-making secrets—while I am still alive.”
“I’m afraid my mother won’t come with us,” Charlie said sadly.
“Why ever not?”
“Because she won’t leave Grandma Josephine and Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George.”
“But they must come too.”
“They can’t,” Charlie said. “They’re very old and they haven’t been out of bed for twenty years.”
“Then we’ll take the bed along as well, with them in it,” said Mr. Wonka. “There’s plenty of room in this elevator for a bed.”
“You couldn’t get the bed out of the house,” said Grandpa Joe. “It won’t go through the door.”
“You mustn’t despair!” cried Mr. Wonka. “Nothing is impossible! You watch!”