Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a novel in which things are either good or bad, and one way Dahl attributes goodness to something is to make it small. Charlie, for one, is small and undernourished. When he stands outside the factory, the crowd pities Charlie for his small size and frailty. Mr. Wonka is also small: the initial description of Mr. Wonka focuses on his small stature. Finally, chocolate bars are small. Small things can easily be underestimated by those who do not take the time to notice them. Charlie, Mr. Wonka, and chocolate bars all have the potential to carry much more weight than one might assume. Charlie’s pitiful appearance belies his inner strength and ability to outlast the other children and eventually take control of the entire chocolate factory. Mr. Wonka’s small size disguises his intense energy and amazing power. He has the power to determine children’s fates and grant wishes. A single chocolate bar contains all of Charlie’s hopes and dreams. When Charlie opens it and finds the golden ticket, he realizes just how powerful something small—like he himself—can be.
The classic distinction between those who have money and those who do not pervades Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Furthermore, it helps form the background for the morality of the story. Money is dangerous, especially when it is used unscrupulously. Veruca’s father embodies all the negative aspects of wealth when he uses his financial resources to secure Veruca a golden ticket. Even Charlie, who almost never speaks ill of anyone, says he disagrees with Mr. Salt’s method. In contrast, poverty can often lead to good things. Charlie is extremely poor; he rarely has enough to eat, and he sleeps on the floor with his parents. But the dignity with which Charlie handles his poverty makes him a beloved character. He does not yearn for extraordinary wealth—he only wants enough to get by. Yet he is eventually rewarded with riches beyond his wildest dreams. Veruca is punished for her wealth, which accompanied by her parents’ ineptitude, causes her to be such a brat.
After it has been established which characters are good and which are bad, each of the characters is punished or rewarded in accordance with his personality. The bad children—Veruca, Violet, Mike, and Augustus—receive punishments. Augustus, who overeats as a hobby, gets himself stuck in a chocolate pump that eventually flattens him out. Veruca, for her bratty behavior, is denied the squirrel that she desires. Furthermore, the other squirrels deem her a “bad nut” and send her down the garbage chute. Violet, unable to resist gum, chews herself into a giant blueberry. Mike, who is obsessed with television, is permanently altered by it. In all of these cases, the children undergo painful punishments that ultimately make them better people. As the good child, Charlie receives only rewards.