Gene Wilder in the 1971 film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: blessed are the meek

Or: how Charlie and the Chocolate Factory describes the Kingdom of God. Hardly possible, barely plausible – but I’m going for it nonetheless. Suffer little children below.

The only way is …

Arrow sign on wooden fence

In Tim Burton’s 2005 reboot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket asks what we’ve all wondered: “Why would Augustus’s name already be in the Oompa Loompa song?”

In fact, how do the Oompa Loompas have songs ready for all the ‘terrible’ children? As for each of the little brats meeting such deserved fates: is that narrative irony, or creepy, cast-iron fate?

Roald Dahl’s 1964 book makes much of luck and miracle – but in fact, none of the children could possibly have had any other outcome. Charlie was always going to win.

Which begs the question: once the Golden Tickets had been won, why didn’t Mr Wonka just give Charlie the factory immediately, instead of making the children suffer for show?

Cautionary Tales for naughty children

Disaster girl meme

Four of the children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are monsters. Dahl hints at it on the very first page (“there are five children in this book:”) and goes on to list their crimes. Augustus Gloop is greedy, Veruca Salt is spoiled. Violet Beauregarde chews gum, and Mike Teavee is an obnoxious telly addict.

As if that weren’t shocking enough, some of these children are fat.

The winner of the first ticket, Augustus Gloop, is: “a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump.” (26) He is, moreover, “monstrous”, as is his behaviour. This is a point of condemnation I’ve never entirely understood. Gloop’s sin is that he craves chocolate but:

a.) so does Charlie (“The one thing he longed for more than anything else was … CHOCOLATE” (6)) and

b.) Mr Wonka has made his fortune by selling chocolate to children.

Still, as Philippians (4:5) tells us, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” So Gloop’s crime isn’t that he enjoys the fruits of capitalism, but that he lets it show…

Later on, Violet Beauregarde is also described as podgy: “before Mr Wonka could stop her, she shot out a fat hand and grabbed the stuck of gum out of the little drawer …” (112). Ironically, this ends with Violet temporarily becoming even fatter and rounder.

Fatness is short-hand for greed – for excess and craving – and all the brats have this particular sickness. Now, on the one hand, greed is shown to be good, but the children aren’t allowed to enjoy it. As the grandparents predict (39), each child will come to a sticky and deserving end:

  • Augustus chomps through so much chocolate that it’s almost impossible not to win a Golden Ticket. Later, his greed sees him sucked into a pipe – a kind of bypass which sees him miss the rest of the tour but come out much thinner.
  • Veruca just demands a ticket, so her rich daddy has his peanut shelling factory workers dedicate their time to finding one. Later, the walnut shellers (the squirrels) give Violet and her parents a lesson in the importance of setting boundaries.
  • Violet uses her skills as a proud champion chewer to find a Golden Ticket. In the factory, her addiction to gum sees her turned into a blueberry, and then squashed down to size.
  • We’re not told how Mike Teavee uses his TV-watching talents to win a ticket, but he’s clearly a bad ‘un.

So the children, perhaps a little unfairly, are painted as villains and rogues – and that’s part of the fun of the book – but they’re also cautionary tales that warn children to be good, or else! Or, as Mr Wonka is fond of saying, it will “all come out in the wash”. In other words, by the end of the book they’ll be laundered spotless, cleansed of their sins, because of their sins. Poetic, no?

Mr Wonka reads about the winners in the newspaper, just as the rest of the world does (“Yes, yes.” Mr Wonka announces at the factory gates, “I read all about it in this morning’s papers” (73)). It’s not inconceivable that he then quickly devises a fitting solution for each child’s woes … including Charlie.

The baby maker …

Magician's playing cards

It’s not a big leap to see Wonka as God-like. He is never seen for much of the book, but talked of in hushed tones of reverence. He is a master magician and creator. He owns a factory which is so delightful as to be paradise. He punishes sins and rewards goodness. And, one day, he makes a child for himself out of nothing.

Who say what now?

At the end of the book, Wonka confesses that he can’t go on for ever – and that he needs someone to take over the factory:

I don’t want a grown-up person at all. A grown-up won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He will try to do things his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child. (175)

Not holding much truck with grown-ups of either gender, Wonka decides to cut out the middle woman (and the waiting) and just win a boy in a stacked lottery. And that would be Charlie.

Il est Charlie

A rusty bucket on a desk

Dahl tells us in the preamble that Charlie Bucket is “The hero”. Very soon we also learn that he is also poor (the underdog is often crucial to redemptive fiction). More importantly, he is the deserving poor.

Charlie is a saint. He craves chocolate, but gets only cabbage soup – and doesn’t grumble about it. He won’t take extra rations from his mother even when he’s slowly starving and, when he stumbles across some money in the street, he indulges himself very carefully, with one eye on the needs of his family. Charlie is gentle and loving and almost without hope. Just like his grandparents, we want him to find a ticket against all the odds.

Except that Charlie was always going to win a ticket (because he’s the underdog), just as he was always going to win the factory.

  • Chapter 11 is titled “The Miracle” because, in it, Charlie finds a Golden Ticket tucked inside a bar of Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight. In fact, the real miracle takes place a chapter earlier, in which the bone-poor Bucket boy just happens across a 50p in the street, half-tucked in the snow and not seemingly lost by anybody: “Several people went hurrying past … None of them was searching for any money.”
  • The other children are established as rotten brats. They’re greedy, obnoxious, spoiled and – the final nail in the coffin – are rich enough as it is (and we know how hard the rich man will find it to get into heaven). In searching for Golden Tickets, they get through thousands of chocolate bars between them. Charlie does it in four. With those odds, clearly he’s on a roll.
  • Each of the children reserve a reward commensurate with their ghastly behaviour. Skinny little Charlie is meek and gentle … and the meek shall inherit the Earth. At the end of the book, Charlie (and Mr Wonka and Grandpa Joe) are seen shooting up through the factory roof, heaven- and glory-bound.

Last but not least, when Wonka crowns Charlie the winner, it’s exactly what he was expecting:

‘You mean to tell me you’re the only one left?’ Mr Wonka said, pretending to be surprised.

Indeed, there are no surprises here.

A one-way ticket

Old man making the 'loser' sign

The book is, after all, called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – it was never going to end any other way.

What’s surprising, though, is how far the other children must fall for Charlie to be crowned ‘Champion of the World’. Not only are they shown the errors of their [parents’] ways, the Oompa Loompas delight in how miserable the children must be.

Augustus Gloop, for instance, is reviled as a useless pig; a boy who would “never give / Even the smallest bit of fun / Or happiness to anyone” (94), which is a pretty harsh judgement on a minor. There’s likely no judge in the land who would say on sentencing, that he’d like to chop a child up with knives and boil him with sugar and cream – but all is fair game for the singing Oompas.

This bloodlust is OK, supposedly, because it’s for the good of the child: the parents may have spared the rod, but the Oompa Loompas will rectify such slackness. Compare Violet’s ditty – which tells of how she’s been spared Miss Bigelow’s fate, which was to chew her own tongue off (119). As for Mike Teavee:

We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can’t – it serves him right. (164)

As with the Bible, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory contains easy lessons for those willing to learn. Be modest and moderate. Don’t spare the rod and spoil your child. And, above all else, read.


Words: my own. All rights reserved: no copying, pasting or re-using without permission.

Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Penguin Random House UK, 2016.

Cards by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash

Bucket by pepe nero on Unsplash

Arrow by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Other images via Imgflip