• So shines a good deed in a weary world.

    wonka
    Gene Wilder. Rest in peace.
    It’s not for Shakespeare that many recall this Merchant of Venice quote. In the play, the line is,
    How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
    A small noble act, like a lone candle, seems to shine more brightly in a darker place. It is more precious and more dire.
     
    Wonka was surrounded by liars, cheats, and self-obsessed narcissists. People who wished to exploit him. People who take, consume, and exploit rather than give, create, and nurture. The clearest allusion to this meaning is another oft-quoted Wonka-ism:
     
    We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.
    This is misunderstood as Wonka expressing whimsy and counseling the importance of imagination. This is wrong because he is really admonishing Veruca’s disrespect. Let’s look a bit closer. Wonka is quoting We Are The Music-makers, by Arthur O’Shaughnessy:
    We are the music-makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
    Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
    And sitting by desolate streams.
    World-losers and world-forsakers,
    Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
    Yet we are the movers and shakers,
    Of the world forever, it seems.
    With wonderful deathless ditties
    We build up the world’s great cities,
    And out of a fabulous story
    We fashion an empire’s glory:
    One man with a dream, at pleasure,
    Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
    And three with a new song’s measure
    Can trample an empire down.
    We, in the ages lying
    In the buried past of the earth,
    Built Nineveh with our sighing,
    And Babel itself with our mirth;
    And o’erthrew them with prophesying
    To the old of the new world’s worth;
    For each age is a dream that is dying,
    Or one that is coming to birth.
    Here “dreams” include the entire age of a civilization: toppling crowns, and building mighty cities. O’Shaughnessy’s “songs” make the world’s great cities. Wonka, by way of O’S, is not cheering for whimsy, he is offering a warning. Let’s return to the scene in the film. The group enters the room with the lickable wallpaper. Wonka giddily tells them about it. When the rotten-hearted Veruca Salt derides snoozeberries, Wonka accosts her. His smile departs the scene. His voice is deadly serious.
     a_salted

    Veruca was thumbing her nose at the notion of creation while literally partaking in the fruits aside their creator. Wonka is chastising her because every element of her world was conjured in the minds of women and men and then made real in their hands. Everything Veruca covets and needs to survive are snoozeberries. Wonka is incensed by her disrespect, but his reaction is part of why Wonka is such a great, enduring character. He chooses not to correct or ridicule the girl. Instead, he makes certain he has her attention. Then, he directs it to information she is not processing about the nature of her position. She is a parasite. She is invited to become more than that, but the seriousness in his voice and face imply every mosquito that causes too much an itch gets swatted.

    Wonka’s manners are example to how powerful, but decent, people should act. Versus the less powerful, they should have more restraint and less aggressiveness, rather than vice-versa. They should feel compassion for and even seek to help their enemies, where this is practical. Wonka is rich, powerful, smart, witty, and learned. He has every advantage over those around him. Yet, we never see him insult anyone. He doesn’t brag. He never bullies anyone or forces anyone to do anything. He takes their jabs in stride, taking care not to engage, when possible. He shows some passive-aggressiveness, but this is after someone else has invited mischief upon themselves.

     The hallmark of a very strong person is not their ability to fight or depose others, it is placid calm in the surety that aggressive others pose them no harm. And that they probably need help. Wonka shows his strength through his calm. He shows it by defusing conflicts he could win easily. When he has to intervene, he chooses the means with the greatest chance of bettering the wayward interloper.
    Rest in peace
    Gene Wilder‘s charisma and brilliance as a performer brought Wonka to life. I would recommend many of his other movies: The Producers, Stir Crazy, Young Frankenstein, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. But Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the most memorable to me. Farewell to a national treasure.

    Category: Critical ThinkingmoralitySkeptic Ink News and Report

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA, cofounder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.