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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Through the Lens of Dostoevsky: A Comparison

By Kendall Spink




Gene Wilder is God. More specifically, Gene Wilder’s character, Willy Wonka, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, represents a version of God as described in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov: Rebellion. Willy Wonka exemplifies children suffering under a high power, parents causing children to pay for their sins, and questioning if revenge can be justified. I will analyze how Wonka’s actions align with Ivan’s points about God through the comparison of Willy Wonka and his allowance of children suffering in his chocolate factory to God allowing children to suffer in the world as described in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov: Rebellion.


Directed by Mel Stuart and starring Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic book. In this film, five children are invited to enter Wonka’s chocolate factory by finding a golden ticket where each child represents a different deadly sin created at the fault of their parents. The children and their respective sins are as follows: Charlie: lust, Augustus: gluttony, Violet: pride, Veronica: greed, Mike: sloth. Grandpa Joe would represent envy and Wonka wrath, but we are going to focus on two of the children: Charlie and Augustus.. We see the parents, those who the children suffer because of, indulge their children and allow, and in some cases encourage, their sinful behavior. 


Wonka is viewed as a god by the small, poor town the movie is placed in. Provider of jobs and candy, Wonka and his factory are full of mystery, and people try their hardest to get close to this power. In a seemingly meticulous manner, Wonka allows the children who enter his factory to be plucked off one by one. Tempting each of them in their own personal room, Wonka, like God, invents a test of faith to the children. All of the children fail their tests and endure suffering, and possibly death, because of it. This is a reflection of the Rebellion chapter as the abuses are listed, one after another.


The stories told in Rebellion, the chapter we are focusing on from Brothers Karamazov, describe different types of child abuse. Ivan is speaking to Alyosha about his confusion over the phrase of “love thy neighbor.” The thought of having unloveable neighbors, and loving them just for the sake of it without a sense of duty, pokes holes into this idea. Ivan decides to begin his argument that the god which people subscribe to cannot be as good as they say because he allows suffering. A picture of young, naive, innocent children is painted as the object of this suffering. These idealized children “are not yet guilty of anything” and everyone has the capacity to love them, even cruel people love children. So, Ivan asks, how can God allow these children to pay for the sins of their father? 


The first incident of suffering in Wonka’s factory is when Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river after scooping chocolate into his mouth. Wonka, and the other children and parents for that matter, make no effort to save him. Augustus is swallowed into a chocolate tube and sent to the fudge room. His mother is sent after him, hoping she gets there before he is boiled. The Oompa Loompas sing a song about greed getting you into trouble. Augustus very obviously represents the sin of gluttony and a flowing river of chocolate is the ideal test of faith for him. His gluttonous behavior is a direct result of the way he was raised. We see his mother pander to her son throughout the movie and Augustus is ultimately punished because of it.


At the end of the film, Charlie and his Grandpa Joe drink the fizzy lifting drink after being instructed not to by Wonka. Flying around a bubble filled room is all fun and games until they float too high and cannot stop from flying into the room’s large fan. They discover that burping will bring them back down to the ground, right in the nick of time. Charlie is the final child left in the factory but for breaking Wonka’s rules, is sent away from the factory without his lifetime supply of chocolate. In the final moments inside the factory, Charlie redeems himself by returning the everlasting gobstopper that he was tempted to sell to Mr. Slugworth, to Wonka. This show of good faith to both Wonka and the factory leads to Charlie being given control of the factory.


The stories of abuse in Rebellion range from the Turkish shooting a baby in its face, a child forced to steal to survive being beaten and sentenced to death, and a little girl who is flogged by her father– who is found not guilty by a jury. His final story is about an eight-year-old who injures a rich man's dog’s paw. His punishment is being chased down and killed by a pack of dogs. Alyosha’s response is to shoot him, proving Ivan’s point of human’s complex relationship with suffering. Why is the revenge, death, and suffering of one justified? The point of all of this is simple. Humans have a complicated relationship with suffering, especially that of innocents like children. Those claiming to worship an all-knowing and all-loving God really think, as Alyoshka did, that revenge can be justified. 


Each of the assaults described by Ivan and committed by Wonka have something in common. These are children, at the fault of those expected to be older and wiser, who are put in situations in which they make wrong decisions. In Rebellion this is shown in the situations children are put in by adults to commit their crimes, or are wrongfully subjected to violence for no apparent reason. In Willy Wonka, the idea of a lack of trust in adults is portrayed through the frightening nature of Wonka and the ongoings of his factory, as well as Grandpa Joe who pushed Charlie to drink the fizzy lifting drink for his own enjoyment. Children are inherently innocent and follow the lead of their elders; this does not mean that they should be physically abused or killed. But, we are shown that there is a limit to the wrong decisions that different ages can make, as one could justify seeking revenge on an adult who murdered a child. As discussed in Rebellion, the relationship humans have with suffering is dependent on many factors. Our ability and will to empathize with those we see deserving of it is limited to the young and seemingly innocent. The children in Willy Wonka toe this line as their characteristics make us less inclined to give our unwavering support.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a visual representation of the points made by Ivan in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov: Rebellion. In the movie, Wonka portrays a god who provides tests of faith to his people, consents to the suffering of the children who act against him at the fault of their parents, and asks the audience to consider their position on suffering as a form of punishment or revenge.










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