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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 173

Although the main setting of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a magical confectionery, it begins in a contemporary industrial area known simply as "a great town." Because Dahl never mentions the city's name or location, he gives a sense of universality to the story. It could be taking place in practically any large city in England or America. The city, however, has one distinguishing characteristic: it is the home of Wonka's factory.

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From the outside, Wonka's Factory looks much like any other factory, but the interior is fantastic. The city's residents are unaware that most of the factory lies underground, consisting of winding tunnels and various chambers. The Chocolate Room, for example, resembles an outdoor park complete with a beautiful waterfall; but the cascading liquid is actually melted chocolate. Another chamber is called the Inventing Room. Crammed with pipes, pots, and odd machines, it is a center of activity. Although each chamber is different, a sensual quality pervades the entire factory. It's a place where practically everything tastes, smells, and looks good.

Literary Techniques

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an allegorical fantasy; that is, its characters are symbolic and the action takes place in an imaginary world. There is not much of a plot; the action moves from one moral point to the next, and the only suspense is anticipating how each bad child will be rewarded. The novel's appeal is primarily in its fantasy. Jean Russell notes that Dahl has "an inventive imagination that is totally child-centered." Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an example of his child-centered imagination at work. The appealing elements are: a good, intelligent child for a hero; candy as a special pleasure; a fun and sympathetic grandfather; and a childlike Willy Wonka, who makes the best candy in the world. These elements are united by the imaginative world in which they are placed.

In Dahl's fantasy world, anything can happen. The factory itself is a wonderland devoted to making foods that will make people happy, with a chocolate river, a candy boat, and seemingly endless rooms filled with wonders scattered through long tunnels and corridors. The success of the story depends on the wonders being fully satisfying, and this they are. Each chapter rewards readers with a new and interesting idea, creature, or invention.

Literary Qualities

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Among adults, there is no general agreement as to the book's literary merits. Some opponents of the book consider it one of the most tasteless books ever written for children. Others, however, argue that the book should be read as a modern fairy tale, within a tradition in which the characters are stereotypes and violence and ruthless punishments are taken for granted.

Dahl does, in fact, draw on that tradition. He not only borrows the forms of violence that run through many fairy tales, but he uses the types of characters found in these tales. As Bruno Bettelheim points out in The Uses of Enchantment, fairy tale characters are "either good or bad, nothing in between."

Literary Precedents

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C. S. Lewis argued that in fairy tales justice should be sure and clear, and that violence is appropriate even in fairy tales for children. Dahl seems to agree with this view. Although he kills no one — and even the bad children seem much improved by their experiences — the children meet with sudden and sometimes violent punishments for their misbehavior — Augustus is sucked through pipes, and Veruca is dropped into a garbage hole. This is one sign that Dahl is writing in the fairy tale tradition. The other signs are not quite as obvious. By setting the story in the present, in a factory town, Dahl modernizes the fairy tale form. Willy Wonka plays the role of a magical figure — a fairy queen, a magician, an elf — who invites some ordinary people into his magical fairyland. In the fairyland, magic abounds. People can be turned into grapes or shrunk into tiny beings. Magical figures are everywhere. The Oompa-Loompas are like elves, the magical people who populate fairyland. There are also the fantastic squirrels, who seem almost human. In fairy tales, anything can happen; people can sleep in the same bed for twenty years; fathers can have jobs screwing on toothpaste caps; and factories can make candies that never lose their flavor and can whip chocolate by pouring it in a waterfall.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192

Bouchard, Lois Kalb. "A New Look at Old Favorites: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." In The Black American in Books For Children, edited by Donnarae MacCann and Gloria Woodard. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1972. Bouchard explains why she feels the first version of the book is racist.

Cameron, Eleanor. "McLuhan, Youth and Literature." Horn Book 48 (October 1972): 433-440. This article contains Cameron's first attack on the book.

"A Question of Taste." Children's Literature in Education (Summer 1976): 59-63. Cameron argues that the book is tasteless.

Campbell, Alasdair. "Children's Writers: Roald Dahl." The School Librarian (June 1981): 108-114. Campbell defends the book and calls it a modern fairy tale.

Dahl, Roald."Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A Reply." Horn Book 49 (February 1973): 77-78. Dahl's response to Cameron's attack.

Merrick, Anne. "The Nightwatchmen and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Books to be Read to Children." Children's Literature in Education (Summer 1975): 21-30. Merrick expresses reservations about the book but says it works well when it is read aloud.

West, Mark I. Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children's Literature. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1988. This book contains an interview with Dahl in which he explains why he revised the book.

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