Earlier today I read Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Upon opening the book I was immediately struck by the overtness of the themes. The story immediately pushes the narrative that the poor are moral heroes, hardworking and virtuous. Rich people are portrayed negatively. Charlie, the book’s hero character lives in a cripplingly poor family together with his parents and four grandparents. They are described as being hungry all the time and without excessive money to purchase most necessities.
There is a problem with this “noble poor victim” mentality that is found in many popular books. The focus is on the blameless child, in this case Charlie. This focus triggers an emotional response to the situation in order to strengthen a particular sentiment in the reader. The political sentiment is being pro-poor and anti-capitalism and free markets. I asked myself why Charlie’s family found themselves in that situation in the first place. Only the father works outside the home to provide for all seven residents of the family dwelling. Obviously, you are going to struggle making ends meet with such a irresponsible family structure. Why doesn’t the grandparents have any savings or income from pensions? This tells us a lot about their previous life choices.
In effect, this is a tale of how poverty is replicated along family lines. The family displays remarkable poor people behaviour. A key plotline in the book is a lottery of sorts where five extremely valuable golden tickets have been hidden inside candy bars. One scene portrays one of the grandparents spending the last cents of his savings on a candy bar for Charlie in the hopes of him winning the lottery by finding a golden ticket. This is a very apt metaphor for poor people in real life. Poor life decisions are often at the roots of poverty. Cigarette use, snuff use, alcohol consumption and a penchant for gambling are disappointingly common among the poor populace. In other words, poor impulse control and a lack of time perspective in the form of a delaying of gratification is at play.
The reality is therefore often quite different from the “deserving poor” view often pushed by the left. Habits and attitudes with negative outcomes are ingrained in the younger generation from the elders. Another overt political theme is sharing. Charlie is an avid sharer of scarce items. He shares food and money, even though he has precious little of each. It is not a coincidence that he is also the moral hero of the story. As in other children’s books, training the younglings to accept a socialistic worldview begins at a young age. Those that share (“from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”) are good, those that hoard and are “selfish” are the villains. In this book, some of the other children have rich parents that give their children whatever they desire. One pair of parents bought a half million candy bars to get a golden ticket. This is perhaps the clearest example of the dichotomy between the moral status of rich and poor found in the book.
Going further, obedience to authority is the third prominent theme. Once inside the factory for the tour which the golden tickets provided as a reward, one by one the children are disobedient and suffer harsh consequences. In the end only Charlie remains. He had dutifully respected the words of the authority figures (in this case Willy Wonka, the owner of the factory) and thus gets a great reward at the end. At the end, Wonka reveals that he is bequeathing the entire factory to Charlie. Thus, children learn from this tale that obedience to authority is greatly rewarded.