Augustus Gloop is one of the five Golden Ticket holders in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in puppet master Willy Wonka’s elaborate scheme for finding a worthy heir to his “chocolate kingdom”. Augustus is the first to find a Ticket, and our initial encounter with him is through a report in Mr. Bucket’s evening newspaper.
His portrayal is anything but euphemistic, and Augustus is reported as being “so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump”. The author elaborates: “Great flabby folds of fat bulged out from every part of his body, and his face was like a monstrous ball of dough with two small greedy currant eyes peering out upon the world.” (Dahl, Charlie 21) Through this short segment, it is obvious that Dahl wanted to give ample attention to Augustus’ rotundity, as not one of the other children in the novel gets quite the same attention to appearance. It is hard not to conjure up images in one’s head while reading this passage, but Quentin Blake’s illustration (Charlie 22) is probably even more ridiculous than the reader would imagine. Augustus is pictured with a comically spherical torso, and the poor, tortured buttons in his figure-hugging shirt looks as if they are ready to concede at any minute.
There is little mention in the text about Augustus’ mood, however the illustrations show him sporting a broad grin (Charlie 22, 54), so it can be assumed that he is generally happy—at least as long as he has food.
A nine-year-old for whom eating is a “hobby” (Charlie 22), he has essentially expunged any child-like tendencies to challenge his parents and his boundaries (unless it has anything to do with food)—a situation for which his mother, Mrs. Gloop, seems grateful. She defends his voracity by claiming that it is “better than being a hooligan and shooting off zip guns and things like that in his spare time” (Charlie 22). Instead, Augustus comes across as completely monomaniacal, thoroughly fixated on food. As he sits down by the chocolate river and tries to drink it, he shuts himself off from his surroundings and takes no notice of Wonka and his mother urging him to come away from there: “But Augustus was deaf to everything except the call of his stomach. He was now lying full length on the ground with his head far out over the river, lapping up the chocolate like a dog.” (Charlie 72)
Just as he was the first child to find a Golden Ticket, he the first one to be weighed in Wonka’s scales and found wanting. In an almost Hellenic bout of dramatic irony, he is engulfed by his own gluttony as he inevitably falls into the river. He gets sucked up by one of the glass pipes that feed into the fudge room, and the Oompa-Loompas—the Greek chorus quip that he will be turned into “a luscious bit of fudge” (Charlie 79–80), perhaps for yet others to gluttonize.
It is easy to dismiss the punishment of the children by assuming they themselves are inherently bad, and that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory simply continues the moralism of “awful warning” stories. However, Dahl gives many clues that the children are only bad because of their negligent, careless and indulgent parents. His idea of children could thus be interpreted as blank canvases or “sponges” that will absorb the virtues and vices of their parents. Augustus is gluttonous because his mother does not stop him—it is simply easier for her not to. Besides, she is not exactly a very slender woman herself, and it is likely that her son has picked up some of her dietary practices. Her ignorance is sarcastically penned by Dahl: “[Augustus] wouldn’t go on eating like he does unless he needed nourishment, would he? It’s all vitamins, anyway.” (Charlie 22)
To support this idea that Dahl really is calling out the parents, it is useful to compare Augustus Gloop to the other children in Charlie. The most overt references are found in the Oompa-Loompa songs. Perhaps the harshest is their song for Mike Teavee, where they lash out at parents who let their children “sit and stare and stare and sit / until they’re hypnotized by (…) [the] repulsive television screen” instead of getting involved and encouraging them to use their imagination by reading books. They regard TV as an easy way out for the parents, as avoiding responsibility: “Oh yes, we know it keeps them still, / they don’t climb out the window sill, / they never fight or kick or punch, / they leave you free to cook the lunch / and wash the dishes in the sink” (Charlie 139–141).
Veruca Salt’s story has a similar flavor. The Oompa-Loompas very explicitly blame her “loving parents” for her abrasive personality: “for though she’s spoiled, and dreadfully so, / a girl can’t spoil herself, you know.” (Charlie 117–118)
In addition, we can look to other parts of Dahl’s oeuvre. In his novel Matilda, we meet Bruce Bogtrotter, who on the surface share a few similarities with Augustus Gloop, namely their gluttonous propensity (discussed below) and physical traits—Bruce is described as “an eleven-year-old boy who was decidedly large and round” with a waddling gait and a “plump flabby face” (Dahl, Matilda 112–114). However, their characters are diametrical opposites in terms of the sympathy they get—showing that nothing is entirely black and white with Roald Dahl.
Whereas Augustus elicits little or no sympathy from the reader or even from the other characters in the book, Bruce’s story is a tale of accomplishment and of standing up for yourself, in an unexpected act of heroic gluttony: When the vicious headmistress of the school, Mrs. Trunchbull, catches him stealing her chocolate cake, she plots to humiliate him at the morning assembly by forcing him to gorge himself with an entire eighteen-inch cake. However, this backfires when he uses his vice to his advantage: “This was nothing less than a battle between him and the mighty Trunchbull. (…) [Bruce] kept pushing the stuff into his mouth with the dogged perseverance of a long-distance runner who has sighted the finishing-line and knows he must keep going.” (Matilda 124–125) He is cheered on to finish the entire cake in front of an euphoric audience and becomes the hero of the day, at least as far as his fellow pupils are concerned.
Judging from Blake’s illustrations, Augustus seems to come from the upper class, perhaps most evidently from his attire (Charlie 22 and 54). In addition, being fat was traditionally considered “an overt physical representation of one’s power or rank” (Janiszewski) and could be another indicator of Augustus’ place in society—especially when compared to the lower-class, underfed Charlie who, as Grandpa Joe remarks, is “beginning to look like a skeleton” (Charlie 40). Having experienced food rationing during and after World War II, the image of an amply proportioned nine-year-old could probably nettle any parent reader.
However, as “abundant food supplies became available to even to [sic] lowest social ranks, (…) excess adiposity started becoming unwanted and stigmatized.” (Janiszewski). Matilda was published 24 years after Charlie and can show the change of situation in the European economy. In fact, quite opposite from Augustus, Bruce seems to come from a family with not quite as lofty standings in society. His last name, Bogtrotter, an offensive term for an Irishman, was historically used to refer the lower class peasants who roamed “among the bogs of Ireland” (“Bogtrotter”).
Born and raised in Wales in the early twentieth century (“Timeline”), Dahl was no doubt well informed about the class society in the United Kingdom. This may explain why the narrative is sympathetic to Bruce, even though he and Augustus share the same flaw. Indeed, it may highlight the fact that Augustus’ overeating, and by extension, the other children’s vices, are not the core issues of Charlie, like suggested above.
The book can therefore be understood on two levels simultaneously. In addition to the moralistic “reap what you sow” aspect which is the most likely to be picked up by child readers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be read by a parent (or any adult in general) as an appeal and a reminder to preserve “good” parenting values. Augustus, for all his faults, therefore also is a multi-layered character who, if the blank canvas theory is to be followed, is an innocent victim of his parents’ ignorance and deserves more sympathy than Dahl gives him in the book.
However, the protagonist of Matilda seems to perfectly defy this assumption, by blossoming into a brilliant young girl in spite of her horrible parents. Again, this just goes to show that with Roald Dahl nothing is really black or white—what do you want to believe?
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