In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a mysterious chocolatier named Mr. Wonka holds a contest where five children who find Golden Tickets hidden in Wonka candy bars will win a tour of the Mr. Wonka’s factory. When newspapers run interviews with the first four children who find Golden Tickets—Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee—Charlie (who eventually becomes the fifth winner) and his grandparents all take issue with the children’s behavior. Charlie’s grandparents, for instance, describe the kids as “bratty,” “beastly,” and “revolting.” With this, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at first seems to suggest that the children are responsible for their own behavior, whether good or bad. But as the book progresses, it shows that this isn’t true: a child’s parents or caregivers, the novel suggests, are their biggest influences and have the power to shape a child’s behavior. Vice or virtue, in other words, aren’t innate qualities—children aren’t born being good or bad, selfless or greedy. Rather, these qualities and behaviors are learned, most often through a child’s parents.
At first, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory suggests that a child’s good or bad behavior is something innate. This becomes clear when the newspapers run interviews with the first four Golden Ticket winners, Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike. For the most part, the children’s parents are notably absent from the interviews—Mike, for instance, seems entirely on his own, while Augustus’s mother makes only a cursory statement during his interview. Charlie’s grandparents all take issue with the children’s behavior, which seems, for the most part, to exist in a vacuum. For that matter, the novel gives little indication at first that Charlie’s good behavior is learned rather than innate. In the novel’s introduction of the major characters, Charlie is simply described as the “hero,” while the other four children are described in terms of their vices and misbehavior. Just as the other children’s misbehavior seems to come out of nowhere, so does Charlie’s goodness.
However, as the novel progresses, it shows that children’s behavior is largely influenced from the outside: a parent’s passivity or lack of discipline significantly affects their child’s behavior. Mr. and Mrs. Gloop, for instance, see little wrong with Augustus’s greed and desire to gorge himself on sweets all the time. By never stepping in to stop Augustus and limit his sweets, they inadvertently teach him that his greed is acceptable, which is what leads him to break the rules at the Wonka factory by eating from the chocolate river. In this way, their passive parenting style teaches their child bad habits. The song that the Oompa-Loompas sing after Mike Teavee is transformed into an inch-tall version of himself (after being transported through a magic television) offers another perspective on this dynamic. They suggest that for busy, stressed-out parents, a television can act as a kind of babysitter, keeping a child engaged and out of trouble. But according to the Oompa-Loompas, this comes at a cost: parents who sit their children in front of televisions all day essentially give up the opportunity to teach their children desirable behavior and values. A child like Mike, the novel implies, is the expected result of this kind of absent parenting. Influenced by his favorite violent television shows, Mike is rude, selfish, and interested only in emulating what he sees on TV (his last name, Teavee, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to this).
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also shows that children often mimic their parents’ own poor behavior. The Salt family offers the clearest example of this. Veruca is selfish and entitled, and she gets whatever she wants—but through Mr. Salt’s behavior, the novel shows that Veruca learned her entitlement from her father. For instance, Mr. Salt shows how powerful he is when he procures a Golden Ticket for Veruca by forcing the employees who shell peanuts in his factory to unwrap candy bars until they find a ticket. This also shows that he believes people should do whatever he tells them to do. This is why Mr. Salt is aghast when Mr. Wonka won’t sell him a trained squirrel for Veruca during the factory tour; he expects others to give him what he wants, no questions asked. Seeing how Mr. Salt behaves, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Veruca is as entitled and selfish as she is—he’s shown her that her entitlement is acceptable and will help her get what she wants.
Overwhelmingly, the novel suggests that parents should set examples for their children of how they’d like them to act and take responsibility for their children’s misbehavior. The Bucket family provides a model for how the book suggests parenting should work. Charlie’s parents may seem hands-off at first—but this, the novel suggests, is because they’ve already done the hard work of leading by example. For instance, it’s possible to see that Charlie learned to be generous from his mother, Mrs. Bucket, who has always shared her meals with Charlie when the family doesn’t have much to eat. Moreover, Charlie’s grandparents are all repulsed by Veruca, Violet, Augustus, and Mike’s behavior—and in their understanding, it’s those children’s parents who should discipline their misbehaving children. Though the grandparents’ insistence that the bad children could benefit from being spanked may seem outdated to modern readers, it nevertheless suggests that parents can—and should—step in to modify their children’s behavior when leading by example doesn’t work. Part of this, the novel suggests, means accepting that children aren’t born good or bad—they learn certain behaviors based on what they see at home. This is why, after Mr. Wonka’s trained squirrels throw Veruca, Mr. Salt, and Mrs. Salt down the garbage chute, the Oompa-Loompas’ song insists that “a girl can’t spoil herself, you know”—thereby implicating Mr. and Mrs. Salt for Veruca’s rudeness and entitlement. With this, the book insists that parents are responsible for their children’s behavior. While one might assume that children are in control of their actions, in reality, parents often emulate or encourage poor behavior—whether intentionally or not.
Parenting Quotes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie felt it worst of all. And although his father and mother often went without their own share of lunch or supper so that they could give it to him, it still wasn’t nearly enough for a growing boy. He desperately wanted something more filling and satisfying than cabbage and cabbage soup. The one thing he longed for more than anything else was…CHOCOLATE.
“Oh, it was terrible! My little Veruca got more and more upset each day, and every time I went home she would scream at me, ‘Where’s my Golden Ticket! I want my Golden Ticket!’ And she would lie there for hours on the floor, kicking and yelling in the most disturbing way. Well, sir, I just hated to see my little girl feeling unhappy like that, so I vowed I would keep up the search until I’d got her what she wanted. Then suddenly… on the evening of the fourth day, one of my women workers yelled, ‘I’ve got it! A Golden Ticket!’” […]
“She needs a real good spanking,” said Grandma Georgina.
“I don’t think the girl’s father played it quite fair, Grandpa, do you?” Charlie murmured.
“He spoils her,” Grandpa Joe said. “And no good can ever come from spoiling a child like that, Charlie, you mark my words.”
“‘And who’s she to criticize, anyway, because if you ask me, I’d say that her jaws are going up and down almost as much as mine are just from yelling at me every minute of the day.’”
“‘Now, Violet,’ Mrs. Beauregarde said from a far corner of the room where she was standing on the piano to avoid being trampled by the mob.
“‘All right, Mother, keep your hair on!’ Miss Beauregarde shouted.”
“That child,” said Grandpa Joe, poking his head up from under the blanket one icy morning, “that child has got to have more food. It doesn’t matter about us. We’re too old to bother with. But a growing boy! He can’t go on like this! He’s beginning to look like a skeleton!”
“What can one do?” murmured Grandma Josephine miserably. “He refuses to take any of ours. I hear his mother tried to slip her own piece of bread onto his plate at breakfast this morning, but he wouldn’t touch it. He made her take it back.”
“He’s a fine fellow,” said Grandpa George. “He deserves better than this.”
The tall bony old figure of Grandpa Joe could be seen standing quietly among them, and beside him, holding tightly on to his hand, was little Charlie Bucket himself.
All the children, except Charlie, had both their mothers and fathers with them, and it was a good thing that they had, otherwise the whole party might have gotten out of hand. They were so eager to get going that their parents were having to hold them back by force to prevent them from climbing over the gates.
“Daddy!” shouted Veruca Salt (the girl who got everything she wanted). “Daddy! I want an Oompa-Loompa! I want you to get me an Oompa-Loompa! I want an Oompa-Loompa right away! I want to take it home with me! Go on, Daddy! Get me an Oompa-Loompa!”
“Now, now, my pet!” Her father said to her, “we mustn’t interrupt Mr. Wonka.”
“But I want an Oompa-Loompa!” screamed Veruca.
“All right, Veruca, all right. But I can’t get it for you this second. Please be patient. I’ll see you have one before the day is out.”
“Save him!” screamed Mrs. Gloop, going white in the face, and waving her umbrella about. “He’ll drown! He can’t swim a yard! Save him! Save him!”
“Good heavens, woman,” said Mr. Gloop, “I’m not diving in there! I’ve got my best suit on!”
“I want the gum!” Violet said obstinately. “What’s so silly?”
“I would rather you didn’t take it,” Mr. Wonka told her gently. “You see, I haven’t got it quite right yet. There are still one or two things….”
“Oh, to heck with that!” said Violet, and suddenly, before Mr. Wonka could stop her, she shot out a fat hand and grabbed the stick of gum out of the little drawer and popped it into her mouth. At once, her huge well-trained jaws started chewing away on it like a pair of tongs.
For though she’s spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can’t spoil herself, you know.
Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
Who pandered to her every need?
Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that?
Alas! You needn’t look so far
To find out who these sinners are.
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.
And that is why we’re glad they fell
Into the garbage chute as well.
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:
“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!”