10

The nationality of the title character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not, as far as I know, ever stated explicitly; however, the denominations of money that he uses seems to place him in the UK:

Under cover of the bedclothes, the old man opened the purse and tipped it upside down. Out fell a single silver sixpence. 'It's my secret hoard,' he whispered.


Then one afternoon, walking back home with the icy wind in his face (and incidentally feeling hungrier than he had ever felt before), his eye was caught suddenly by something silvery lying in the gutter, in the snow. Charlie stepped off the kerb and bent down to examine it. Part of it was buried under the snow, but he saw at once what it was.

It was a fifty-pence piece!


(emphasis mine)

Note that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1971, the same year that the UK moved over to a decimal currency system. Fifty pence pieces had been introduced in 1969, in anticipation of the change, explaining why they were in circulation at the same time as silver sixpences. I believe that this gives further evidence that the story is set in Britain.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel, was published a year later (1972) in the US and two years later (1973) in the UK. Dahl appears to have decided to appeal to the American audience, because Charlie and his whole family become American:

At that precise moment, Grandma Josephine poked her head out from under the sheets and peered over the edge of the bed. Through the glass floor she saw the entire continent of North America nearly two hundred miles below and looking no bigger than a bar of chocolate.

Of course, if they'd blasted off from Britain, she might still have seen that continent from space. But later on, when Grandma Georgina becomes 358 years old, she seems to have lived most of her life in America:

The tiny sunken black eyes glimmered faintly and a sort of smile touched the corners of the almost invisible little slit of a mouth. ‘There was a ship,’ she said. ‘I can remember a ship … I couldn’t ever forget that ship …’

[...]

THE MAYFLOWER!’ cried Charlie.

Her other memories from her life have a distinctly American flavour:

Every second now she was growing slightly less and less shrivelled, becoming more and more lively. It was a marvellous thing to watch. ‘Gettysburg!’ she cried. ‘General Lee is on the run!’ And a few seconds later she let out a great wail of anguish and said, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead!’ ‘Who’s dead?’ said Mr Bucket, craning forward. ‘Lincoln!’ she wailed. ‘There goes the train …’

As well as the following -- which is, not surprisingly, not present in the UK edition of the books:

We've beaten them! Yorktown's Surrendered! We've kicked them out, those dirty British!


My question is this: was there ever any explanation given, either by Dahl or by the publishers, for why Charlie changes nationality from one book to the next? Was it ever commented on at all?

  • 4
    Are you sure that the book wasn't simply localised for the US market? – Valorum Nov 23 '17 at 19:25
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    @Valorum I presume that was the reason. But I want to know if the apparent continuity error was ever commented on or explained. Note that, with the exception of the 'dirty British' quote, all the rest of the evidence placing Charlie in the US is present in the British edition of the book as well. – John Gowers Nov 23 '17 at 19:35
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    The version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I am familiar with is thoroughly American. All of the currency was American and so were the spellings (e.g. "curb" not "kerb"). – Laurel Nov 23 '17 at 20:42
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    @Laurel That's a good point - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also published in the US before being published in the UK. Perhaps that's the original version. Items of currency would be easier to change for a British audience, but the whole 'Mayflower' section in GGE is less easier to change, so was left as it was. – John Gowers Nov 23 '17 at 22:09
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    My copy of the book, published in the US, has Grandpa Joe's 'secret hoard' being a dime, not a sixpence. I'd say that CCF was localised. – Jeff Zeitlin Nov 24 '17 at 17:13
9

As the comments have suggested, Charlie (along with the other characters) was originally American, and remained so in the sequel.

This is because at the time, Dahl's books were more popular in the US and he was able to get Charlie and the Chocolate Factory published first in the US by Alfred A. Knopf in New York. It wasn't published in the UK until three years later by Allen & Unwin.[1]

Even Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was published first in the US and a year later in the UK, by the same publishers.[3] The plot of the sequel clearly favors using American characters, at least for the astronauts, and once the astronauts and the President are introduced, the nationality of Charlie, his family, and Willy Wonka all pretty much have to be clarified.

According to Dominic Cheetham[2]:

...the only differences between the British and the American editions were the coins used in the story, and the word ‘elevator’ in the USA and ‘lift’ in Britain.

Sources:

[1] Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wikipedia)

[2] Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Versions and Changes

[3] Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Wikipedia)

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