Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474

Charlie Bucket, the central character in the book, is not really a character at all. Aside from being a well-behaved boy from a poor family, Charlie has no distinguishing qualities and no distinct personality. He is, as his name suggests, an empty container, a shell waiting to be filled. It is the reader who fills in the outline by becoming Charlie. By providing a character who stands for the reader, Dahl propels us into the story in a very direct way.

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The other children are more symbols than characters. Augustus Gloop, an obese boy, symbolizes gluttony; Veruca Salt, a spoiled rich girl, embodies selfishness; Violet Beauregarde, a gumchewing chatterbox, exemplifies mindlessness; and Mike Teavee, a television addict, represents idleness. These children have no characteristics other than the behavior flaws that they represent. When they are punished for their sins, the reader can take a righteous pleasure in their fate without feeling pangs of pity.

Another set of characters that figure in the story are the Oompa-Loompas, tiny people who live and work in the factory. In the original 1964 version of the book, they have black skin and are said to be pygmies from Africa. After critics accused Dahl of racism, he changed the portrait of the Oompa-Loompas. In the revised edition, published in 1973, they are no longer black. They have long, wavy hair and come from an imaginary place called Loompaland. Besides working in the factory, at various points in the book, the Oompa-Loompas comment on events in the story through their songs.

''IT'S THE FIFTH GOLDEN TICKET, MOTHER, AND I'VE FOUND IT!"
Aside from Willy Wonka, the adults in the story are minor figures. Although Charlie lives with his parents and four grandparents, the only one who participates in his adventures is Grandpa Joe, and he does little more than answer a few of Charlie's questions. Willy Wonka, the owner of the factory, is the character upon whom the story hinges. He is an aggressive and manic person, always in control and on the move. Like the other characters, he is the personification of a particular aspect of human behavior. He represents the young person's libidinal drive, the desire to indulge in sensual pleasures, and act out aggressive fantasies. He is free to do the things that most children only wish that they could do.

One of the reasons the book is so popular with young readers is that it presents their own fantasies. Dahl does not simply depict children's daydreams; he crafts a satisfying story in which the sensual pleasures of a food fantasy are harmoniously combined with the thrills of an aggression fantasy. While adults may find the story disconcerting, children find it both amusing and reassuring. In a sense, Dahl lets young people know that their less civilized fantasies are shared by others, and that can be a comforting thought.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

Charlie Bucket is eight years old and poor. He lives with his parents and four grandparents in a small home. They seldom have much food to eat, and Charlie gets a chocolate bar only once a year, on his birthday. He loves chocolate and therefore is curious about the big, mysterious candy factory of Willy Wonka. Dahl presents just enough of Charlie's personality to make him a sympathetic figure, who bears his miseries well, attends school faithfully despite his constant hunger, and is loving toward his family — all good traits of a heroic figure.

Of Charlie's family only the father and Grandpa Joe's characters are developed. As a whole, the family is eccentric. Grandpa Joe is the oldest, being somewhere in his nineties. When Charlie finds a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory, he chooses Grandpa Joe, his special friend, to accompany him. After being bedridden for twenty years, Joe discovers that he is able to walk after all, and goes on the factory tour with Charlie. Charlie's father is kindly and works hard to feed his family.

The other children who win a tour of Wonka's factory provide a contrast to Charlie's openhearted, loving nature; their selfish traits are exaggerated so that their personalities are one-dimensional. During the tour, Willy Wonka warns each child to avoid the danger of his or her actions, but each focuses only on what he or she wants. First to leave the tour is Augustus Gloop, the glutton. Gloop bends over the river of chocolate and scoops up mouthfuls; he falls in and is sucked into a pipe. Next to go is Violet Beauregarde. When she sees a piece of gum that is supposed to be a fully nutritious meal, she snatches it up. Unfortunately for her, it is still experimental; the blueberry pie dessert part has bad side effects. She swells up into a huge purple grape and is rolled away by the Oompa-Loompas to have the juice squeezed out of her. After Violet goes Veruca Salt, who is probably the most obnoxious member of the tour group. She has already whined about wanting her father to buy her everything she has seen; at the walnut-shelling room, she charges in, demanding that she be given one of the nut-shelling squirrels. Quickly determining that Veruca is a bad nut, the squirrels throw her away into a hole in the floor where they toss all the bad nuts. The squirrels then push her parents after her. A short song from the Oompa-Loompas explains that the parents had to go too because they were as much responsible for Veruca being a spoiled brat as she was. Last is Mike Teavee, who is addicted to watching television, and sees a chance to be like the little people he sees on the screen; he is transmuted by a special teleportation camera into a tiny person. Although his parents are distressed, Mike thinks it is wonderful to be a television-sized figure.

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