A lot happens in this book, and boy do we mean a lot. There is a tone of action. Often, that action happens because of something a character does, whether it be crazy, foolish, generous, or greedy.
Take Charlie, for example. We know he's a kind, generous kid. (For more on this, see his "Character Analysis.") But he doesn't say much, so how exactly do we know? Simple: because of his actions. Like in Chapter 7, when he tries to share his birthday chocolate bar with his entire family. Willy Wonka, too, is a generous man. After all, he gives his entire factory to Charlie.
Mr. Wonka is a bit kooky, too, and we know this as soon as we meet him. Not only is he dressed a bit strangely (see below), he's acting pretty crazy as well: "He kept making quick jerky little movements with his head, cocking it this way and that. […] Suddenly, he did a funny little skipping dance in the snow, and he spread his arms wide." (14.9-10)
In fact, pretty much all the characters can be sized up by their actions. Think of Augustus Gloop, greedily drinking from the river, or Mike Teavee, rashly sending himself through the television, or even Grandpa Joe, gleefully dancing when Charlie finds the Golden Ticket.
Did we mention Mr. Wonka's a bit batty? Well, if our discussion of his actions didn't convince you, maybe his outfit will:
He had a black top hat on his head.
He wore a tail coat made of a beautiful plum-colored velvet.
His trousers were bottle green.
His gloves were pearly gray.
And in one hand, he carried a fine gold-topped cane. (14.3-7)
We dare you to wear this to school tomorrow. We're betting you'll make quite a splash. From his outfit alone, we get the idea that Willy Wonka is fun and whimsical, and clearly doesn't care about matching. You won't see this guy in a black suit and tie. No sir.
Mr. Wonka isn't the only character who's shaped by his clothes. Mike Teavee appropriately wears a Lone Ranger windbreaker and accessorizes with toy pistols. Why not, when his idols are the gangster stars of television? Veruca Salt, the richest of the children, shows up in a silver mink coat.
And how can we forget our Charlie? In his case, it's the absence of clothes that gives us a hint about his character. The fact that he doesn't even have a coat to keep him warm in the cold weather tells us that our hero is very, very poor.
This book is plumb full of fun, creative names. But the names do more than just make us giggle. They give us a hint as to what kind of person we're dealing with: Augustus Gloop is so overweight that "gloop" might be a good way to describe the way he moves. Mike Teavee does nothing but watch – drumroll please – TV! The Buckets' pockets are just about as empty as a bucket. Even the minor characters like Professor Foulbody, and Mr. Ficklegruber have punny, funny names.
One more interesting tidbit. Did you know that salt used to be worth a lot more than it is today? In fact, in some parts of the world, it was even used as currency (source). We don't know if Roald Dahl knew about that, but if he did, it makes Veruca's last name all the more perfect.
When Charlie first finds his Golden Ticket, Grandpa Joe tells him, "You must start making preparations at once! Wash your face, comb your hair, scrub your hands, brush your teeth, blow your nose, cut your nails, polish, your shoes, iron your shirt, and for heaven's sake, get all that mud off your pants!" (12.23) It seems like Charlie's world is one in which physical appearances matter quite a bit.
Indeed they do, because in this book, physical appearances tell us a lot about the characters. Take, for example, Charlie's grandparents. They are described as being "as shriveled as prunes, and as bony as skeletons" (2.2). Clearly what's important here is that these old folks are old, and probably very hungry. Charlie's looks, too, help show just how much he needs a good meal: "His face became frighteningly white and pinched. The skin was drawn so tightly over the cheeks that you could see the shapes of the bones underneath." (10.14).
On the other hand, we have folks like Augustus Gloop, who's described as "so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump," (6.1) and the shopkeeper, who "looked fat and well-fed. He had big lips and fat cheeks and a very fat neck. The fat around his neck bulged out all around the top of his collar like a rubber ring." (11.3).
Once again, we can't help but notice just how poor Charlie and his family seem compared to the other people in the story. The fatter Augustus Gloop and the shopkeeper are described, the skinnier Charlie Bucket appears to us.
The character who gets perhaps the longest physical description is the chocolate man himself: Mr. Willy Wonka. The narrator tells us, "his eyes were most marvelously bright. They seemed to be sparkling and twinkling at you all the time. The whole face, in fact, was alight with fun and laughter." (14.8) Based on these few lines alone, it would be hard to argue that Mr. Wonka is anything but fun and full of life. We know immediately that he's going to bring joy and humor to Charlie's tough life.