We’re all very different people, walking around in this world and trying to live our best lives. But if you were anything like me, you dreamed of visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with a golden ticket, or making friends with a big friendly giant, or living in a giant peach because of Roald Dahl. You definitely stared at a pencil hoping to lift it up in the air with Matilda-like powers. The author of these wonderful books that took us on flights of wonder and imagination, however, doesn’t really live up to his own standards of goodness. After all, isn’t prejudice and close-mindedness exactly what made Matilda’s parents so unlikeable? Didn’t we all feel smug when judgy unkind witches felt the results of their own mean actions?
Roald Dahl very vocally proves himself to be an antagonist in his own narrative before he died, one who believed that some people were lesser than others just for being born different. He died a self-proclaimed anti-semite and supporter of Hitler, a man who we can all agree did not need or deserve anyone’s support. I can tell that some of you are skeptical, so here’s a quote that I’m truly sorry to be sharing with you:
“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews,” he said. “I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
Mmhmm. Wild, right? He said, and I quote, “I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-Israel.”. This isn’t his only fault either, because he cheated on his wife for over a decade before divorcing her and marrying his mistress. He was nicknamed “Roald the Rotten” which was merciful of her, I’d have done worse than a mean nickname. With witnessed accounts of his fascism now on record, it’s time to do some analysis of our favourite childhood stories.
He cheated on his wife for 11 years with a hot young actress, and he did it all while she was suffering from a stroke. He also had multiple affairs with women while working as a spy. His heartbroken wife nicknamed him “Roald the Rotten”, and a letter from his children claims that the only kids he was particularly nice to weren’t his own.
Facism in his novels
First in my line-up is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. As a kid, the Oompa-Loompas were a cute gimmick with catchy songs and funny behaviour. However, the narrative of a tribe hidden in the forest who treat the first humans they see as gods because of their access to culturally valued items(chocolate)?? I read Christopher Columbus’s letters and found some startling similarities in his pro-colonization propaganda as he too said he found tribes in previously unexplored lands who treated him as royalty for having guns. Let me tell you, the other side of the picture is not as friendly. These tribes were forced to give up land and change their cultural practices because they were scared of the men with guns and attack dogs, not because they revered them. Since Oompa-Loompas aren’t real we can’t exactly get both sides of the story but the parallels are startling. Also, while it was very convenient for Willy Wonka to exchange chocolate for labour, what if an Oompa Loompa wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor? Wonka himself was not just a chocolatier but also a businessman as we keep forgetting. I also distinctly remember scenes where they tested unsafe candies on themselves. Were they in a union? Did they know their worker’s rights? We want answers, Mr. Wonka.
Bullying in his novels
Lastly, we come to the children. Our five lucky winners of the golden tickets. Augustus Gloop was a child, and naturally had the impulse control of one. A chocolate river with no warning signs or boundaries would have been hard to ignore even for an adult. Yet, all he received was a verbal warning. The phrase is ‘three strikes and you’re out’ Mr. Wonka, not ‘one strike and you get sucked up a pipe, bullied for being overweight, and turned into a sentient marshmallow’. That pipe would have given a full-grown adult claustrophobia, this was a preteen. If the river was that dangerous there should have been a railing Mr. Wonka. This is why we hire architects to design parks, not bored chocolatiers. Then we come to Veruca Salt, the daughter of very wealthy parents who didn’t have the word ‘no’ in their dictionary. Her crime was to disturb a squirrel, for which she was dumped into the garbage. Again, unsafe working conditions! While admittedly convenient for the squirrels, no one should be made to work on an uneven floor that leads directly to an unmarked, unlocked garbage chute. The first person those squirrels should have thrown down there was Willy Wonka himself, and see how he liked it.
As a kid, it was fun to see snobby characters get knocked down a peg, but now I’m a little horrified at the drastic reactions to relatively small annoyances. How is the factory still standing? Roald Dahl letting his prejudice leak into his work is even more worrying now that Netflix has its metaphorical hands on the rights to his books. A new generation of kids will see scenes subtly approving fascism, and antagonist characters carrying traits that Hitler-era propaganda deemed ‘unwanted’ and Jewish.