Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Politically Correct OompaLoompa Evolution
Roald Dahl suffered many attacks on his books by conservative literary critics, but one of the worst and most damaging skirmishes arose over the "OompaLoompas" in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
"In the version first published, [the OompaLoompas were] a tribe of 3,000 amiable black pygmies who have been imported by Mr. Willy Wonka from 'the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had been before.' Mr. Wonka keeps them in the factory, where they have replaced the sacked white workers. Wonka's little slaves are delighted with their new circumstances, and particularly with their diet of chocolate. Before they lived on green caterpillars, beetles, eucalyptus leaves, 'and the bark of the bongbong tree.'" [Jeremy Treglown's Roald Dahl: A Biography]
Dahl's editors "saw the story as essentially Victorian in character a 'very English fantasy'" so they disregarded any racist misgivings about the story. Indeed, when the book first appeared in the United States in 1964 it was regarded with only acclaim and enthusiasm. It wasn't until 1972, nearly a decade later, that a wideranging attack on the book was published by American writer Eleanor Cameron and the political agenda of the story finally began to be debated.
After Dahl and Cameron had many public backandforths in various American literary journals (over much more than just charges of racism - see the Horn Book's excellent virtual exhibit to read the letters for yourself), Dahl's publishers decided that "to those growing up in a racially mixed society, the OompaLoompas were no longer acceptable as originally written. The following year, to accompany its new sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a revised edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appeared, in which the OompaLoompas had become dwarfish hippies with long 'goldenbrown hair' and 'rosywhite' skin." [Jeremy Treglown's Roald Dahl: A Biography]
Created and maintained by Kristine Howard with assistance from Michael Mander