Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, about a group of children who tour a fantastical chocolate factory, teaches young readers the value of being kind and virtuous. However, there is also underlying prejudice and bigotry in the world of the novel. For instance, Augustus Gloop (one of the children who tours the factory) is characterized as an antagonist, simply because he’s very overweight—the implication being that his greed is tied directly to his size. By contrast, both Charlie and Mr. Wonka—two of the novel’s protagonists—are notably thin and spritely. Moreover, the characters tasked with delivering the novel’s most overt lessons on morality are Mr. Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas, small men who live and work in Mr. Wonka’s factory in an arrangement that resembles slavery. So, while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teaches lessons about virtue and kindness, it also implies that only certain kinds of people, or people who look a certain way, are worthy of respect and fair treatment.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory equates vices, like greed, with being overweight. Augustus, the only overweight child of the group, is the most overt example of the link between physical appearance and morality in the novel. The way the narrator describes Augustus introduces his vice: his face is like “a monstrous ball of dough with two small greedy curranty eyes.” This description not only ties Augustus’s greed to his weight (by describing his “greedy” eyes), but it also suggests that he’s so large as to be “monstrous.” The idea that Augustus is “monstrously” large shows up again after Augustus gets sucked into the glass pipes that are “enormous.” Onlookers are surprised that Augustus fits through the pipes at all—he’s too large, even, to fit into something at an industrial scale. The novel also implies that Augustus is greedy and selfish because of his weight. The narrator notes that the reader “might have guessed” that Augustus would sneak over to the chocolate river to gorge himself. In other words, readers are meant to infer that because Augustus is overweight, it makes sense that he (rather than one of the other children, who are all thin) would do such a thing. But Augustus isn’t the only character whose vice is connected to weight or is described in language that suggests prejudice against overweight people. When Violet snatches the three-course meal gum from Mr. Wonka, she does so with a “fat hand”—and after chewing the gum, she, like Augustus, expands until she’s a massive, round blueberry with a tiny head and limbs. Her punishment for snatching the gum, in other words, is to become too huge to effectively function. In this way, the novel implies that being overweight is a kind of moral failing, and that becoming larger is a punishment.
Thinness, on the other hand, is something the novel holds up as a marker of virtue and goodness. All members of the Bucket family and Mr. Wonka are extremely thin. In the case of the Bucket family, this is because of their poverty—they survive on meals of cabbage, potatoes, and bread. But regardless of the reason for their thinness, the Buckets are nevertheless the heroes and the role models of the novel. Charlie, for instance, accepts what he’s given and never asks for more, even when he’s literally starving, which equates his virtue with his thinness. Mr. Wonka, meanwhile, is held up as a “magician” and a “genius.” He’s described as a small, spritely man who’s always moving and dancing—which means that he’s able to quickly navigate his maze-like factory. So, as he leads the group on the tour of his factory, the thin Charlie and Grandpa Joe (in addition to Mike, Veruca, and Violet) are able to keep up with Mr. Wonka without issue—while Mrs. Salt, who’s “a great fat creature,” pants “like a rhinoceros” as she tries to keep up. It’s also worth noting that both Mike and Augustus leave the factory thinner than when they entered—and the Oompa-Loompas and Mr. Wonka suggest that the children are leaving the factory “better” than when they came in. It’s unclear if the children actually learned the moral lessons the Oompa-Loompas intended to teach them, so the only verifiable thing that has changed about the children is their sizes. Again, thinness is presented as being better—that is, more virtuous and desirable—than being overweight.
Finally, despite acting as a kind of moral authority, the Oompa-Loompas have the least amount of power and receive the worst treatment in the world of the novel. Mr. Wonka expresses little regard for the Oompa-Loompas’ well-being. He betrays no emotion, for instance, when he mentions that all the Oompa-Loompas who have tried the three-course meal gum have turned into blueberries, or when he tells Charlie about an Oompa-Loompa who tried his Lifting Soda and floated into the sky, never to be seen again. Instances like these suggest that Mr. Wonka doesn’t necessarily see his Oompa-Loompas as people who are worthy of concern or should be able to make choices about being used as test subjects. In this way, the novel portrays the Oompa-Loompas as little better than animals. This is made even clearer when Veruca Salt shouts that she wants one, and her father agrees to buy her an Oompa-Loompa, just like he later offers to buy her a squirrel. Veruca and Mr. Salt’s attitude denies the Oompa-Loompas their humanity and suggests that they’re more like pets than people. This is particularly ironic given that the Oompa-Loompas are the most moral characters of the novel—and the narrator and Mr. Wonka do describe them as people. So, despite their moral behavior, important lessons, and the fact that they are human, they nevertheless receive the least amount of respect and have no agency.
With this, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory paints a chilling picture of a world that is rooted in bigotry and prejudice despite its emphasis on the importance of kindness and generosity. Through its treatment of characters who look different from others—overweight characters and the Oompa-Loompas—the novel sends the discriminatory message that not everyone in its world deserves to be respected, no matter how virtuous they might be.
Prejudice and Bigotry ThemeTracker
Prejudice and Bigotry Quotes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The picture showed a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump. Great flabby folds of fat bulged out from every part of his body, and his face was like a monstrous ball of dough with two small greedy curranty eyes peering out upon the world.
“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.”
Augustus Gloop, as you might have guessed, had quietly sneaked down to the edge of the river, and he was now kneeling on the riverbank, scooping hot melted chocolate into his mouth as fast as he could.
“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.
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.”