For Oompa-Loompas, Orange Was the New Black | Layla Eplett

Top Image: The lived realities of chocolate laborers in São Tomé, the source of Cadbury’s cocoa, was a striking contrast to the experience of their employees in the idyllic village of Bournville, where the company’s chocolate was manufactured.

Abstract: For some, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a story made of pure imagination. For others, it is emblematic of colonial ideology since the Oompa-Loompas were originally depicted as African pygmies. This article explores the inspiration, interpretation, and revisions of the classic story and looks at its appropriateness within children’s literature.

Key Words: Roald Dahl, chocolate, children’s literature, colonialism, Oompa-Loompas

Everlasting Gobstoppers, Scarlet Scorchdroppers, and Glumptious Globgobblers were not the only things sugarcoated in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There may have been more beneath the sweet exterior of this classic children’s book. In the original version, the Oompa-Loompas were African pygmies and their depiction has been critiqued for perpetuating British imperial ideologies.

Although Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was officially published in 1964, the inspiration for the story began much earlier. During the 1930s, a homesick Roald Dahl attended Repton, a prestigious public boarding school in Derby, England. He and his schoolmates would occasionally receive packages from Cadbury. The dull, gray cardboard boxes were anything but fancy, but for Dahl, their contents were made of pure imagination.

Each box contained twelve chocolates (eleven new varieties and one control) that the chocolate factory sent for the school’s students to evaluate. It was a task Dahl took seriously; he fancied himself to be quite the chocolate connoisseur, leaving marks accompanied by comments such as “Too subtle for the common palate” (Dahl 1984: 148). Tasting the chocolates, Dahl would imagine working in Cadbury’s chocolate labs, inventing an irresistible new chocolate bar and reveling in the accolades to follow.

Although it was not exactly a Golden Ticket, when he later wrote his memoir, Boy, Dahl recalled how these events inspired him. “It was lovely dreaming those dreams, and I have no doubt that, thirty five years later, when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (1984: 149).

The influence Cadbury had on Dahl did not end there…. Continue reading at