From Loompaland To Capitalism

in Deep Dives2 months ago

You may have recognized Loompaland as the home of the Oompa-Loompas from Roald Dahl's famous book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Oompa-Loompas originally come from Africa though, and were black Pygmies, not fantasy figures from a fantasy land. In fact, the story is an advertisement for all the bad things about capitalism, colonialism and selfishness.


wonka_small.jpg

source: YouTube

The story is about Charlie Bucket, a poor kid who's literally starving most of the time, whose family is so poor that they can afford to buy a Willy Wonka chocolate bar only once a year, on Charie's birthday, when they ceremoniously unwrap, divide among themselves and eat it. Charlie's family lives nearby Willy Wonka's famous factory, the biggest factory in the world that creates the world's sweetest candy. There's a mystery about that factory though. No one has seen or heard from Wonka in years and the factory's gates and doors are always closed; no one enters or leaves the facility ever. But still trucks come and leave with Wonka's famous and delicious produce. Grandpa Joe is an ex-employee from the factory but he and everyone else was fired and sent away decades ago. So who are the mysterious workers who keep the place running and never show their faces?

Anyhow, in the story Willy Wonka is getting old and he has no children who can inherit his precious factory, including all of its priceless secrets and recipes for the magical sweets and candies produced there. Wonka makes ice-cream that never melts, sweets that last forever, and bubblegum that can blow up to infinite size. (Why hasn't he solved the world hunger problem yet? Must be the same reason why Bezos, Musk or Gates haven't.) So he organizes a competition, a lottery of sorts; inside the wrappings of five Willy Wonka Chocolate Bars there will be hidden a Golden Ticket, and the five children who are lucky enough to find them will be invited to a tour of the factory. They will be shown all of its secrets and one of them will be selected as Wonka's successor. Charlie doesn't stand a chance of course with his family being able to afford just one chocolate bar per year, and spoiled rich kids being able to buy hundreds or even thousands of them. But, as it goes in children's stories, Charlie one day finds some money on the street, and in an act of rare selfishness buys himself two Willy Wonka Chocolate Bars, instead of buying food for his starving family. That's when he finds his Golden Ticket. Be selfish, get ahead. Get it? And boy does Wonka reveal himself to be a selfish prick in the rest of the story...

Before I go on, let me first say that Roald Dahl almost certainly didn't intend his most famous children's story to be an advertisement for unfettered capitalism. It's impossible to separate children's stories from the ideological fabric of our world, the power structures that privilege adults, and the particular historical moment in which stories are produced. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was first published in 1964, right before the wave of human rights activism. In this original version of the novel Willy Wonka fancies himself quite the white savior, but in fact the Oompa-Loompas are black pygmies who Wonka imports from "the deepest and darkest part of the African jungle" and enslaves in his factory. In the book they're called "helpers" and they are paid in cocoa beans, the only currency they understand. Wonka explains:

You only had to mention the word ‘cacao’ to an Oompa-Loompa and they would start dribbling at the mouth.
source: The Conversation

The above linked article explains how the novel "reflects cultural anxieties that emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1960s when the labour market opened to New Commonwealth citizens from India and the Caribbean. Grandpa Joe, a former Wonka employee who is laid off, represents the concerns of white British workers who saw immigrants as rivals for what they believed were rightfully white British jobs," and goes on how the Oompa-Loompas were white-washed in later editions and adaptations. But it doesn't tell how the story makes excuses for Willy Wonka's behavior as a selfish capitalist tycoon, how he punishes all the "bad" kids and how he exploits poor Charlie's gullibility.


Chocolate Room - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On a side-note, let's not forget how Roald Dahl's books always carry some dark undertone, always depict a world where children are the victims of the cruelty of adults in their world. Kids are regularly abused, neglected, abandoned, tortured even in Dahl's stories. Just look at what happens to the other kids in the Chocolate Factory. One is sucked up in a tube, one becomes a purple balloon, one is thrown down the garbage chute and one gets shrunk down to the size of a chocolate bar. The Oompa-Loompas cheer and sing about the children's misbehavior and Wonka couldn't care less about these bad children's fate. Like I said, children are often on the receiving end of cruelties in Dahl's books;

From Miss Trunchbull to the Twits, Aunts Spiker and Sponge, and even Willy Wonka, many of Dahl’s adult characters are merciless figures who enjoy inflicting physical and emotional pain on children.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka not only orchestrates the various “accidents” that occur at the factory, but he stands by indifferently as each child suffers.

In Wonka’s determination to make the “rotten ones” pay for their moral failings, he not only humiliates the children (and their parents), but permanently marks the “bad” children through physical disfigurement. When gum-chewing champion Violet Beauregarde turns purple, Wonka is indifferent. “Ah well,” he says. “There’s nothing we can do about that”.

source: The Conversation

In Dahl's other books however, the cruel adults are the obstacle, the enemies to overcome in the child-protagonist's hero's journey. Charlie Bucket on the other hand has no such journey; he's a quiet and obedient boy who never complains about the injustices inflicted on him and his family by the world. By capitalists like Willy Wonka, to be more precise. Charlie lives in desperate poverty right next to the unimaginable riches contained withing the impregnable fortress that is the Chocolate Factory, and gets access to that proverbial heaven through an act of selfishness and a twist of fate, dumb luck. What's more, his obedient and unquestioning adherence to the authority of the capitalist and imperialist tycoon is what wins him a place at the side of Wonka. Charlie wins his place in the material capitalist heaven, which is illustrated perfectly by the ride in the glass elevator at the end of the story.

I've just scratched the surface here; there are many more symbolic and not so symbolic, indirect ans not so indirect indications of this story's love-song to unfettered capitalism. The story, and Willy Wonka himself have many more dark sides to be explored and laid bare, but for that I refer you to the excellent video linked below.


Willy Wonka: Capitalism for Kids!


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