Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lessons from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

Speaking of the 4th grade, I remember my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Larsen with great affection.  She was one of those rare people who looked for the good and ways to help bring that out in her students.  She truly encouraged confidence in my 9 yr old self.

I remember she had shared with the class that she had visited Japan and enjoyed the culture.  To emphasize this, she created an assignment for the class to make hand puppets with a Japanese flair.  She even built a little puppet theatre that she called "The Cherry Blossom Theatre" where we would perform the little plays that she had duets of students write.  The plays would be performed for parent night at school.  It was during this assignment that Mrs. Larsen encouraged my ability to write and perform and I will be forever grateful for her influence.  I got an A+ in puppets on my report card that year.

She also used to read out loud to us and introduced me to the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."  I was so intrigued by this book that after she was finished reading it to the class, she allowed me to take it home and read it on my own.  I loved that story as a child and was thrilled when in 1971, they made a movie based on the book called "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," it starred Gene Wilder.  Back in the day, going to the movie theatre was a rare treat, so I didn't actually see the movie until it came on television.   It still remains a beloved favorite.

As a child, I saw this story in such a simplistic way, 5 kids found a Golden Ticket after they had bought and consumed many Wonka Bars.  This ticket was the door to a golden opportunity to visit the mysterious and reclusive Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. In the film (not the book) after the children got their golden ticket, they were approached by a stranger whose name we discover is Slugworth, a competitor of Wonka's who offers them rewards beyond their wildest dreams if they provide him with Wonka's secrets and a sample of his new candy "The Amazing Gobstopper.
 Four of the children; Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Mike TeeVee and Violet Beauregarde are shown to come from well to do families, with parents that spoil and encourage their individual weaknesses, such as entitlement, lack of self control, ingratitude, gluttony, competitiveness and obsession.  In my young mind they were brats who didn't deserve the opportunity. Charlie on the other hand  deserved it because he comes from a very impoverished family, his mother is a laundress and Charlie delivers papers to add a few pennies the meager earnings and they take care of their four grandparents who are bedridden.

However, as I have grown a bit older and experienced a bit of life, my take on the movie has matured.  Possibly I am seeing a little more of what the author had intended but with my own insight.  The children in a broad sense, represent many weaknesses that all in society are challenged with in one way or the other, even Charlie.  As a child, I identified Charlie as being so different than the other four children, that I didn't see that he was given the same temptation as all the other children.  Wonka was testing all of them.  The tour of the chocolate factory served as vehicle to test the children's weaknesses and the choices they would make as a result of them.  The first four children's dilemma's were so blantantly obvious to the audience;  they disobeyed the rules set down by Wonka and then gave in and  fell victim to their weakness, parents in tow, they did not finish the tour.  Charlie and Grandpa Joe's disobedience by sneaking a sip of a fizzy lifting drink seemed tame in comparison to the others it even appeared to go unnoticed.  However, his misdeed did not go unnoticed by Wonka.  After Charlie finished the tour, he expected the reward that was promised for making it to the end; a lifetime supply of chocolate.  In the film he was confused because Wonka was so casual as he showed them the door.  Grandpa Joe became indignant and asked for Charlie's reward.  Wonka then explained that he had noticed their misdeed, they broke the rules and Charlie would get nothing. Grandpa Joe then told him off and suggested Charlie give Slugworth the gobstopper.  Here was Charlie's moment to choose.  Even though this was not in the book, I enjoyed the value that was brought out.  At the end of the day Charlie chose to give the gobstopper back to Wonka, he didn't use his poverty as an excuse his actions or  make accusations of unfairness,  he chose to be honest and accountable.  At the end of the day he discovered that he had passed the test and that his reward beyond any he imagined.

All of us have our weaknesses, challenges and tests that we have to deal with during our sojourn on this earth.  Sometimes we are painfully aware of them, other times we are shown them during times of temptation on our life's tour of the chocolate factory.  It's how we choose to respond to and learn from them that is the key.  Do we use our weaknesses, challenges and tests as a reason to disobey and an excuse when we get caught sneaking the fizzy lifting drinks that face us? Or do we choose to take the higher road by being honest with ourselves and the Lord and hope for His reward, a reward beyond our imagination?

It was interesting to me that the children and parents were deceived into believing that if they provided Slugworth with what he wanted they had something more to gain,  unfortunately in reality unless they followed the rules they would end up with nothing. Satan is out there disguised as Slugworth, waiting to tempt us to give up the greater blessings for little or nothing all we have to do is give up our integrity or our testimony to have it.  The truth is that when we obey the commandments, follow the Lord's ways and utilize the power of His atonement we have all his blessings to gain.

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