Charlie and the Toothpaste Factory

I started reading _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory_ to my son at night. It has been a rather enjoyable experience.

The already starving and desperate family, all of whom can barely afford food, are willing to starve even more to maintain Charlie’s happiness and his conviction for the impossible. From this, I extract the theme of conviction for the impossible from the place of hopelessness.

The family desire is hinged to this conviction for the impossible from the place of hopelessness, but there is a supplemental, defensive, position that pops up as well. It is the conviction that the Other will offer a way out of all of one’s problems. For example, the family secretly believe – but will not let Charlie know – that Wonka’s chocolate bar lottery might help them out of their poverty. Or, at the very least, they believe that Charlie must remain happy precisely despite his poverty. I extract from this the theme of the Other’s omnipotence (e.g., the belief in the Other’s brilliant and “magical” abilities) and the counteraction of hopelessness with happiness.

This latter theme was transferred to Charlie precisely by the grandfather who instead of buying food for himself or for the family (indeed, for Charlie, who was skinny!), he gives Charlie his last coin so that he might buy a second chocolate bar on his birthday and so that he might have another chance at winning the trip to the factory. It was this moment that secured for Charlie the conviction of the Other’s omnipotence. It may have even been a case of interpassivity: the grandfather did not believe that Charlie would actually win, but he wanted Charlie to believe it; and Charlie did not believe he would win, but he wanted to make his grandfather happy by keeping up appearances. In any case, another stab at the lottery!

It is when Charlie moves through the factory that we can see things begin to change. Charlie is finally set free for a significant period of time from his family’s desire. He is not motivated by any of the vices of the other children, that is, in the final instance, Charlie, unlike the others, is not motivated by the desire for wealth. He remains happy in his poverty, and simply appreciates ‘being there.’ He is not tempted by this or that accumulation but is rather tempted by the purity of his curiosity: how do these “absurd” things work? Unlike the other children, he wants only to come to know the “absurd,” that is, he wants to know how the tricks are accomplished. In psychoanalytic jargon: he desires to know the unconscious, the place of the Other.

It is only through this radical hopelessness – the desire to know the absurd – that Charlie is capable of finally seeing Wonka for what he really is: an old man who will die and who will, precisely through that death, expose Charlie to the responsibility he has to run the factory. In Lacanese: the factory and all that is in it is like language and all of its signifiers, then, at the end of the book, Charlie takes control of these signifiers and invokes them to express his desire. Charlie passes through the fundamental fantasy. You can see how the relationship to Charlie’s father, who is never home and works at a toothpaste factory, is rendered apparent in the Wonka narrative: toothpaste factory cleans and protects teeth, chocolate and sweets destroy teeth.

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