Intro to: Food Issues in Roald Dahl
Áine's dissertation will explore how food links to wider cultural issues in the books of the iconic children's author.
What is read to you and what you read as a child, I believe, can influence the rest of your life. My parents read to me all the time, which lead to me reading all the time. Without this interest in books from a young age, I wouldn’t be doing a degree in English and want to teach English to children.
Beyond that, what is read to you can stick with you and inspire you to become anything in the world. And so, I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books, and I can pretend it’s for work…
In this reading, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a theme throughout children’s literature, of food being essential to the narrative. My dissertation is going to explore this theme more generally as well as focusing on Roald Dahl’s representations of food.
I find children’s literature particularly interesting because of the completely unpredictable nature of how children react to what they read. Due to the unpredictable nature of children’s responses, I’m going to conduct some reader response trials with two sections of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and ask 9-11-year olds to write down their immediate responses to the text.
I think this will be invaluable to my interpretations of the text, because as an adult (or sort of adult) it’s impossible to have the same reaction to a children’s book as a child would.
Children’s literature is an enormously broad genre, it can be classified as anything from a basic picture book for toddlers, to a young adult novel for 16-25 year olds, I think this is one of the reasons I find it so interesting.
Roald Dahl fits in to this in a fairly transgressive way, he invites the younger reader into the world of older readers. In this world, words that the reader’s parents would probably disapprove of are allowed and relished in; laughing at people’s appearance is completely accepted and encouraged even; and gorging yourself on sweets and chocolate is highly important. I believe that this inviting into an older reader’s world is why Dahl is so popular with children still.
Who is providing the food and what type of food it is, is key in a lot of narratives. For example, a parental figure might give food that we associate with sustenance to a child, where as less trustworthy adults might give food a child food that we associate with being unhealthy, (don’t take sweets from strangers, kids).
A clear example of this would be in Charlie, where Wonka gives the children almost every unhealthy food you can imagine and Charlie only survives the factory because he doesn’t gorge himself on all this food. (Food can also play a more obvious role in the forwarding of a narrative, for example in Alice in Wonderland food and drink changes Alice’s size. This means her narrative is moved forward by being able to fit through a small door/reach a high up object.)
The unhealthy relationships with food that Dahl explores in Charlie can be split in to two categories, starvation and over-indulgence. For the reader responses to Charlie I plan to conduct, I’m going to use one section from the beginning of the book and one from a later chapter. The section from the beginning will include a passage depicting the Bucket family, the family are very poor and eat a diet of cabbage and potatoes.
‘The only meals they could afford were bread and margarine for breakfast, boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch, and cabbage soup for supper’, these descriptions are hardly the mouth watering ones we associate with Charlie. The section I plan to use from later in the book will focus on over-indulgence, which takes up much more of the book.
Augustus Gloop is the most visually obvious example of over-indulgence, as the first character who is described as being enormously overweight. ‘The picture showed a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump. Great Flabby folds of fat bulged out from every part of his body’. This is an example of Dahl inviting the reader to laugh at his representation of Augustus, something children are discouraged from doing in their real life.
I’m currently reading, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl and Love From Boy by Donald Sturrock. I’m hoping this will give me more insight into Dahl’s childhood and help me to understand his relationship with food.
by Áine Casey