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“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
as Judeo-Christian Allegory”
In the classic children’s film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which is based on the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the author and writer of the screenplay, Roald Dahl presents the viewer with a strikingly vivid metaphor that compares fundamental Judeo-Christian beliefs with, that’s right, candy. The basic figures in the religion are given representational roles in the film that do not hide, but instead sugar coat their meaning. Even the basic concepts of the religion are cleverly placed in the film so that their symbolism is both recognizable and utilitarian. Overall, the film metaphorically presents the dichotomy of Christianity within the candy context.
The work centers on the world’s love for the candy made by Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, an eccentric, who for as long as anyone can remember, has been holed up in his factory to avoid industrial espionage, especially by the infamous Slugworth. Then one day Wonka announces that he is to hold a contest with five winners who will be allowed into his factory for a tour and then given a lifetime supply of his chocolate, a prize which is far more desirable to the characters than any other. This is the point in the film at which, “the plot kicks in,” according to Chris Hicks of Deseret News. The winners are to be decided by a game of sorts. Five Golden Tickets are hidden in Wonka Bars and those who find them are the winners. As the excitement grows, the number of available Wonka Bars dwindles. Wonka madness ensues as the narrating newscasters in the film keep the viewer up to pace with the action through constant “this just in” style reporting.
The first four people to find tickets are: Michael Bollner’s Augustus Gloop, a rather, um, large child from Germany with an equally large appetite; Julie Dawn Cole’s Veruca Salt, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy peanut tycoon who basically wants everything she sees to be her own; Denise Nickerson’s Violet Beauregarde, the daughter of a car salesman who only stops chewing her gum long enough for a jumble of words to spew from her mouth; Paris Themmen’s Mike Teevee, also a child, who, as his name implies, never stops watching his television. The fifth golden ticket is eventually found by young Charlie Bucket, played by Peter Ostrum. Charlie is a pure hearted poor child who survives on cabbage water in a small house with his mother and four grandparents, including Grandpa Joe played by Jack Albertson.
The viewer first sees Wonka forty-five minutes into the film as he greets the contest winners at the gates of his factory. The winners are allowed to bring with them one member of their own family, and Charlie has brought his Grandpa. The group then enters the factory and begins the tour. On the way however, a certain disaster befalls each of the contest winners: Augustus falls into a chocolate river and is carried away by a pipe; Violet snatches a piece of unperfected chewing gum and turns into a blueberry; Veruca, while dancing and exclaiming “‘give it to me now'” is dropped down a garbage chute that leads to the furnace; upon the presentation of the prototype for Wonka-Vision, Mike decides that he wants to be the first person to be sent by television, that is, he is to be electronically “‘split up into millions of tiny pieces, (which then) go whizzing through the air down to (the) TV set where they’re all put together again in the right order'” but unfortunately he ends up smaller on the other end, much smaller, just like a television picture, and must be taken to the taffy room for pulling. After each child’s demise, the mysterious Oompa Loompas “preach moderation,” says M.V. Moorhead of the Phoenix New Times, as they clean up the mess and present the lesson of the situation to the viewer in a very memorable song.
Charlie is also befallen by disaster. He and Grandpa Joe indulge in Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks to try them out after Wonka has told the group not to do so. The only difference is that in Charlie’s case, he doesn’t know that anyone has seen him break the rules. This becomes important later, when he discovers that Wonka sees all. At the rather abrupt end of the tour, Wonka wishes Charlie and Grandpa Joe a good day and disappears into his office. Stunned, the two characters enter the office to pursue their chocolate prize. It is at this time that Wonka informs them that he knows of their thievery and that their prize is null and void. Charlie then shows his remorse for his deed and apologizes to Wonka, an act that is a fairly precise parallel with the Christian deed of asking for God’s forgiveness or, in other words, repentance. He is then proclaimed the winner of the prize and is invited to bring his family to live in the chocolate factory forever.
Several parallels between the film and the tenets of Judeo-Christian belief stand out to the viewer. First, the concept of God is almost fully embodied in Willy Wonka himself. Wonka is omnipotent, omnipresent, and secluded. He controls the one thing that the whole world wants: candy. In a song in the beginning of the film that refers to Wonka, a shopkeeper sings,
“The candy man can ’cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good
And the world tastes good
‘Cause the candy man thinks it should.”
This last line implies that Wonka has the power to dictate the general happiness of the world. The song also introduces the very important concept of love. This is interesting because in the Judeo-Christian religion, God is love.
The concept of sin is well imbedded in the minds of those who are familiar with the doctrine of Judeo-Christian religion. However, while the “sins” of the characters in the film are really just varying forms of excess and not traditional sins, they stem the same result. Augustus’ gluttony, Violet’s gum chewing, Veruca’s selfishness, and Mike’s insatiable craving for television all bring about their respective doom in such a way that makes each one a victim of his or her own sin. This is quite fitting since according to the Christian religion “the wages of sin is death.”
An equally compelling parallel deals with the Christian concept of redemption. Charlie, like all sinners, has committed a sin and doesn’t know that he has been caught. However, when he is confronted with the consequences of his actions, in this case, the loss of his lifetime supply of chocolate, he repents and expresses his remorse. It is at this point that Wonka grants Charlie an eternity in the Chocolate Factory. In reference to this, Moorhead contends that “Wonka is just putting Charlie to the test.” This is similar to the manner in which God tests his followers with situations that can easily spawn sin in order to provide the opportunity for repentance.
This brings us to another important correspondence: that of the Chocolate Factory and Heaven. The only people who are allowed to be in the Chocolate Factory at the end of the film are the repentant Charlie (with his family) and the deified Mr. Wonka. Also, the Factory is certainly a grand enough place to fit this analogy. Charlie describes it as “the most wonderful place in the whole world.” The most important similarity, however, is the fact that Charlie gets to stay in the happy, wonderful Chocolate Factory for eternity. This fact in itself is enough to start turning the metaphorical wheels, but combined with the rest, it seals the deal.
The general tone of the film is somewhat comedic and gleeful to keep the children interested, but overall it is quite a dark chronology of events. The viewer is left with a fear for the well being of the bad children even though Wonka assures near the end of the movie that the children who have sinned and thus departed are going to be “‘quite all right.'” Hicks describes the film as possibly, “too dark in places for young children.” This element of darkness is not uncommon for a Dahl story. For instance, Lawrence Ulrich of Roughcut.com describes Dahl’s works in general as being, “filled withmischievous, indelicate humor.” Overall, the film is a great children’s movie, as it was intended to be, because it focuses on the results and consequences of certain child-like habits. However, on a more adult level, the film meets with dogma and doctrine from the Judeo-Christian theologies in places that are undeniably intentional. Described by Wm. Humphrey of Film.com, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a grand example of cinematic confectionery – disguising the dark message at its center with a sweet, chocolatey exterior.” The film’s equivalencies of repentance, redemption, paradise, sin, the wages thereof, and even the Godlike qualities of Wonka himself undeniably present a moral content to adults that is as strong if not stronger than that presented to children.