Roald Dahl is one of the most widely read children’s book authors of the twentieth century. Although he wrote several forms of literature, including adult novels and essays, he is most renowned for his children’s books, including popular books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. Beyond proving to be accessible and engaging to children, his works reinvigorated this genre by making it more accessible and realistic for children to identify with. His penchant for understanding child psychology and composing a complex, intriguing plot contributed to his renown. More specifically, one of the defining features of Dahl’s fiction caused by Dahl’s personal childhood is its macabre characterization of several adult characters juxtaposed with good natured characterization of other adult characters.
In Roald Dahl’s literary style, the story is mostly constructed from the point of view of the child protagonist, who is pitted against a few imposing adult personalities. For example, in the book Matilda, the villain is a woman teacher. She is shown to be quite dangerous – someone who will induce a young reader to be terrified of every female teacher he or she meets. Indeed the depiction of the teacher was so excessive that the book was attacked by critics as being unsuitable for young readers. (Cockburn 41) Further, in Matilda, Dahl provides “a dramatic shift in tone as he moved from character to character—innocent, intelligent Matilda, the caring Miss Honey, and the towering inferno of the headmistress Miss Trunchbull.” (Wolf 73) Generally, Dahl’s characterization of villains is more dramatic and vivid than that of his benign characters.
The sinister-minded owner of the chocolate factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka, is another strange character who swings between either too sentimental or too cold. Wonka is “a Michael Jackson type: a lonely, childish despot, complete with high-pitched voice, inability to mix and strained desire to make everything seem just perfect.” (Sawyer 34) Therefore, when he demands Charlie to get away from his family and run the factory, he conveys this demand in a sinister tone. Charlie, on the other hand, maintains his composure throughout the antics of his master. He manages to be good without being prissy, which is quite an achievement in the circumstances. Characters like Wonka are typical of Dahl’s villains – their power and cunning seemingly offers little hope the hero to overcome. And it is in succeeding against such strong adversity that the heroism shines through.