One could extend a structuralist analysis to the works of Roald Dahl. This is so because their heroes are chosen just as the plots demands it and not vice-versa. In other words, Dahl does not write stories for fleshing out the psychological complexities of its various characters. These details are furnished implicitly as the plot turns and moves forward. In other words, there is nothing in their psychological make-up that makes them inherently ‘heroic’. The same assessment could not be made of the villainous adult characters, some of whom are either derived from Dahl’s frightful early life experiences. More than the hero, the villain in Dahl’s stories is more psychologically complex and compelling. This is necessary, for the plot revolves around defeating this powerful psyche through the advent of the child protagonist. More broadly, read from the structuralist perspective, the adult villain is “the archetypal overreacher, functioning as the disruptive element in the social order that is necessary for the book’s main plot to develop.” (Hunt 63) In this regard the construction of the villain’s psycho-social profile is of greater import for Dahl compared to the hero and those benevolent toward him. (Hunt 63)
We can offer more theoretical grounding for Dahl’s particular projection of dark adult characters. Since under structuralism, character is seen as the source of meaning and action “comes from a wider and more ideological perspective than that of structuralism alone”. (Hunt 63) More broadly, since structuralism uses semiotics to search for the entire range of codes that operate in texts and by which they construct their meanings, the framework is very useful in studying Dahl’s characterizations. Herein we witness “structural elements in myths to structural elements in the society that gave rise to them.” (Hunt 63) In consequence Dahl’s villains can be interpreted in several layers. Their engagement in conflict with the hero can also be read as an allegory to real social issues.
To gain an insight on how Dahl was able to construct such complex psychological profiles for his characters, especially the likes of Willy Wonka and Trunchbull, a brief study of his childhood and upbringing is necessary. Dahl’s home environment was a chaotic and riotous, where the kids ran around swearing and which some visitors likened to being in a madhouse. In 1920, when Dahl was just three years old, he lost both his sister and his father to illness. This brought him very close to his mother – Sofie Magdalene, who would entertain her beloved son with vivid description filled Scandinavian fairy-tales. These flights of fantasy were about “forest dwelling trolls and witches, an upbringing which led to Dahl seeing the world through an outsider’s eyes.” (“I’ll Never Be as” 8) Dahl’s unsavory experiences at the Cathdral School in Llandaff were instructive to how he creates a palpable sense of fear in the reader’s mind. A classic example is Mrs. Trunchbull from Matilda, who was inspired by a rather worn out and ugly old woman in the neighborhood who owned a sweet shop.