Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 1964. Phantasmagoric children’s story.

charlie-and-the-chocolate-factoryI began this book with a scowl: it’s about chocolate lust and a weirdo recluse—who cares? Although I continue to resist the notion that Dahl has crafted a sublime text, Charlie and Chocolate Factory is an entertaining fluff piece in which Willy Wonka is not a pedophile, greedy or obnoxious children suffer well-deserved punishments, and golden-haired little boy Charlie Bucket (a one-dimensional character) lives happily ever. Horatio Alger myth, anyone?

Dahl tries to raise the stakes by presenting Charlie’s family as poor to the point of starving. Yet Dahl presents their only viable alternative to starvation as buying a Golden Ticket (a lottery ticket) and by sheer luck winning the prize of a lifelong chocolate-filled debauch. I thank Dahl for his memorable outburst against permitting children to watch television, but I hate his implicit message that the proletariat (Charlie’s father is an unemployed factory worker) can attain fiscal security only by winning the lottery, as if wasting scarce money on a million-to-one shot is a greater leveler than work, faith, love, or revolution. Sorry, Roald Dahl. We make our own luck.

To end with a quote from Eleanor Cameron, Dahl’s phantasmagoric fantasy is “delectable and soothing while we are undergoing the brief sensory pleasure it affords but leaves us poorly nourished with our taste dulled for better fare.”

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