“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: An Unlikely Hero

On September 13th, fans celebrated the memory of children’s author Roald Dahl on what would have been his 101st birthday. Leaving behind a vast legacy with texts like James and the Giant PeachThe BFGCharlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, the world continues to commemorate Dahl with adaptions of these stories into films, operas and broadway performances.

Many of Dahl’s stories are based on experiences from his own life. Wing commander and intelligence officer in the British Air Force, Dahl was medically discharged from the military after WWII and was inspired to write. The story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be traced back to Dahl’s own boyhood when he and his classmates were taste testers for a local English chocolate company. After writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl dedicated the book to his son Theo after tragically losing him in a car accident. Following the death of his son, two years later Dahl lost his daughter to an illness and dedicated The BFG to her in 1982.

Earlier this week during an interview on BBC’s “Today” program, Roald Dahl’s widow, Felicity Dahl, along with his biographer, Donald Sturrock, revealed that in Dahl’s most successful novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the character of young Charlie Bucket was originally drafted as a black male. Dahl’s agent ultimately convinced him that the public would question a black hero. The release of this news nearly 50 years post publication is especially crucial as the book was first published in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement. Despite being regarded as anti-Semitic by many critics due to racist representations of the Oompa-Loompa characters brought to work in Willy Wonka’s factory, it is noteworthy that the English author was not only interested in the ideas of diversity during a time of extreme racial discrimination in America but also intended on using these issues to create a text for children.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has remained a popular novel since its publication in 1964 and it would have been engaging and refreshing to see a nontraditional protagonist in such an influential children’s book. Felicity Dahl also mentioned in her interview that she would be interested in seeing a new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the intended black protagonist. Imagine if Dahl had conserved his first draft, would it have gained the worldwide popularity in which the published version has achieved decades later? Could Dahl could have influenced, encouraged or changed the mindset of an entire generation with the creation of a singular character? These are questions that need answers. During our current political climate, it is imperative to discuss topics such as these and potentially inspire the next film or broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to find our ethnic champion winning the golden ticket.

About the Author

Nancy Carroll is a senior at UNCC double majoring in English and Political Science. When she is off campus you can find her speculating Star Wars fan theories or hanging out with her cats. If she ever graduates, Nancy would like to join a publishing house and see the world.