The characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are clearly divided into two categories: those who are wealthy, and those who aren’t. Charlie Bucket and his family, for instance, live in a drafty two-room house on the edge of town, where they subsist on very little food and struggle to keep warm. Charlie gets lucky and finds one of five Golden Tickets hidden in Wonka candy bars (which wins him the prize of touring Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory), but the other four children who win Golden Tickets lead wealthy, privileged lives. For example, Veruca Salt only gets a Golden Ticket because her father, Mr. Salt, converts the peanut-shelling factory he owns into a candy-unwrapping operation for several days. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory generally suggests that wealth (or the lack thereof) isn’t everything, as Charlie and his family are portrayed as much happier and more fulfilled than the book’s wealthy characters. While wealth may be able to buy something like a Golden Ticket, it can’t purchase what the novel suggests are the more important things in life: happiness, love, loyalty, and a strong, supportive family.
The novel makes it clear that being wealthy can make life easier and help people get ahead in the world. It’s perhaps not surprising that of the five Golden Ticket winners, four are much wealthier than Charlie is. Mike Teavee’s family owns a television, which was still something of a luxury item by the mid-1960s (when the book is set); Augustus’s family has the money to buy Augustus many bars of chocolate; and Veruca’s father is a wealthy man who can afford to have his entire factory staff unwrap candy for several days. Even Violet’s family is well-off compared to Charlie’s: her interview with reporters takes place in her living room, which seems luxurious compared to the Buckets’ tiny, run-down house. Particularly for Augustus and Veruca, their families’ affluence—and thus, their ability to buy more Wonka bars—made it far more likely that they’d find Golden Tickets. The novel reiterates this when Charlie finds his Golden Ticket, and a boy nearby grouses that it’s not fair that Charlie found one when the boy has been buying 20 bars per day. Wealth might not entirely guarantee outward success (like finding a Golden Ticket), the novel suggests, but it can certainly make success more likely.
However, it soon becomes apparent that wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness or a loving, supportive family. Over the course of their Wonka factory tour, the children with wealthy parents meet disastrous fates, yet their parents don’t seem particularly concerned. For instance, when Augustus falls into the chocolate river, Mr. Gloop refuses to wade in to save his son on the grounds that he’s wearing his best suit. With his response, he shows that it’s more important to him to preserve something that signals his wealth than it is to save Augustus. Similarly, when Mr. Wonka’s trained squirrels shove Veruca down the garbage chute, and Mr. Wonka notes that there’s a chance she’ll end up in the garbage incinerator, Mr. Salt is underwhelmed. He insists that he’s “cross,” a darkly humorous response that acknowledges he’s annoyed—but again, it doesn’t suggest that he loves or feels protective of his daughter, who may be in a life-threatening situation. These families may be wealthy and able to spoil their children, but the book makes it clear that this doesn’t mean there’s any love, affection, or loyalty among family members.
The Buckets, on the other hand, illustrate what the novel suggests is an ideal situation: they don’t have a lot of money, but they’re nevertheless loving, loyal, and generous with one another. Charlie only receives a single Wonka bar every year for his birthday—a stark contrast to the wealthy children in the novel—yet he never seems deprived or unhappy. With this, the novel suggests that wealth and material goods aren’t necessary for people to be content and fulfilled, especially when they have a supportive family. Though Charlie has much less than other children do, he never seems to question whether or not his parents and grandparents love him. Instead, Charlie’s family members show their love to one another in other ways. For instance, Charlie brightens his grandparents’ days by spending every evening with them, listening to them tell stories—which brings the whole family together and makes them forget about their difficulties. Being poor doesn’t take away from the fact that they enjoy spending time together, and these evenings are very fulfilling for everyone involved. Indeed, the quality time that Charlie and his family members spend together make the fact that they live in poverty easier to bear. With this, the novel suggests that it doesn’t take money or lavish gifts for family members to be happy, live fulfilling lives, or show one another that they care.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory never shies away from the fact that living in poverty, as opposed to being wealthy, can be dangerous and even life-threatening. The narrator, for instance, describes Charlie and his family’s starvation, Charlie’s increasingly bony face, and the habits he develops to conserve his strength. But on the whole, the novel also suggests that poverty and happiness aren’t mutually exclusive, and it also shows that poverty can sometimes be improvable or escapable—in Charlie’s case, by getting lucky, finding a Golden Ticket, and eventually inheriting Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory. On the other hand, the novel suggests there’s no real way to fix a family dynamic that’s uncaring or disloyal, no matter how much money that family might have.
Poverty and Wealth ThemeTracker
Poverty and Wealth 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.
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.
He was the only bright thing in their lives, and his evening visits were something that they looked forward to all day long. Often, Charlie’s mother and father would come in as well, and stand by the door, listening to the stories that the old people told; and thus, for perhaps half an hour every night, this room would become a happy place, and the whole family would forget that it was hungry and poor.
“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.”
“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.
“‘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.”
“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’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!”