The Dark Side of Roald Dahl

The beloved author may have held offensive views, but we can still find redeeming messages in his books

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Revising the Oompa-Loompas
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  • In what ways can we see hints of this side of Roald Dahl in his writing?

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    The most well-known example is the original depiction of the Oompa-Loompas in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The first edition of the book described them as dark-skinned pygmies from Africa who let out warlike chants. This brought about accusations of racism from the NAACP and other groups. Mel Stuart, director of the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," knew Dahl's description was offensive and depicted the Oompa-Loompas as the orange and green elf-like creatures we are familiar with.

    Shortly after that, Dahl apologized publicly for the misunderstanding, saying he never meant to appear racist, and changed the description of the characters in the book to "rosy-white dwarves."

    On a slightly less obvious level, Dahl's depiction of authority figures in all of his children's books--especially "Matilda" and "James and the Giant Peach"--mirrors his own unhappy experiences in boarding school in England, where the headmaster was brutal to many of the students but at the same time also preached sermons at the school chapel services about grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Dahl never forgot the hypocrisy of that and goes into detail about those experiences in his memoir, "Boy." So that is partly why many of the parental or adult figures in his books come off as harsh, cruel, or as just plain idiots.

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