Boy Essay - Critical Context

Roald Dahl

Critical Context

Dahl is an author known for several major works of children’s fiction. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and its subsequent adaptation into a popular film helped to establish his reputation, and James and the Giant Peach (1967), The BFG (1982), and The Witches (1983) are titles that served to enhance it. In his fiction, Dahl is admired for his exploration of childhood and imagination and for his integration of the lighter and darker sides of fantasy.

Surprisingly, many critics were not pleased to find a similar combination of joy and horror emerging from his autobiographical pen. Anne L. Okie, in the School Library Journal, disapproved of the violence in Boy and believed that it failed in its attempt to balance the grotesque with a sense of family warmth. Horn Book compared Boy to the grim Charles Dickens novels of the Industrial Revolution and questioned whether the collection of boyhood tales was appropriate for student readers or rather held appeal only for adults interested in juvenile literature and in Dahl specifically. On the other hand, Booklist acknowledged the more graphic passages as integral to the fabric of Dahl’s childhood and not at all gratuitous. Other critics argued that the book’s power lay precisely in the tension between the casual ease of everyday life and the terror that lurked in nature or human authority. Regardless of their attitudes toward Dahl’s explicitness, reviewers all acknowledged the vividness and simplicity of the writing.

The last chapter of Boy, tracing Dahl’s early career move to East Africa, alludes to his early manhood experiences as a pilot during World War II. The tales of his years in the Royal Air Force, which Dahl believed had no place in Boy, are recounted in a later volume, entitled Going Solo (1986).