The life of a child is not an easy one, not to mention the rough lives of little boys. The pressure to grow up and become a man can be overwhelming, however the influence of male role models can help mold them in their search for personal identity. As seen in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the central boy figure finds his journey to manhood supplemented by many father-like figures, whether good or bad they still work towards the end cause of their eventual sense of identity in the world around them.
Treasure Island is a book that tells the story of one boy, Jim Hawkins, and his search for buried treasure, yet in reality, it is his search for a clearer sense of self. He journeys far and wide in his pursuit of personal knowledge to an unknown island with unknown dangers, whereas his companions are in search of a glittery dream of immense proportions. For such a child, this trip is an adventure that gleams with the possibilities of excitement and the anticipation of boyhood fun in a hitherto unexplored region. This is the state of mind that Jim begins with, shifting ever so gradually to a struggle for survival that grips him with a fear he has never experienced before.
What appears to be a hunt for riches turns into a desperate struggle to survive amidst a foe that is so near to them; each other. As the author of letters to his little boy, Robert Cotroneo remarks, “Treasure Island is a novel about a journey that is very different from what it first announces itself to be. It is about the end of innocence,” (20). Jim Hawkins is the perfect example of a boy in transition. Innocence is lost for this boy hero, but an understanding of what it means to be a man is found within himself after everything he goes through. He is saddened by the loss of his father, however, he is now left without a major male role model to teach him the ways of life as a man…a void that he fills with many other men that he encounters.
The first fatherly figure that Jim encounters is that of the pirate Billy Bones, a dreadful and sad looking pirate that warns Jim of a monstrous figure with one leg. Bones takes Jim under his wing and although he causes much trouble with his constant drunkenness, his encompassing fears, and his incoherent rants, Bones provides a necessary influence in Jim’s life at the time of his father’s severe illness. It is his chance encounters with the old pirate that incite his following adventure and pit Jim against the overwhelming outside world. According to Robert Cotroneo, he believes that, “Billy Bones is nothing more than Stevenson’s means to force Jim on a journey that will take him from adolescence, with its inevitable pain and damage, into adulthood,” (20). As Jim is thrust into the world of pirates, treasure, and an encompassing sense of danger, his courage and self-sufficiency are tested at every turn. These can be seen as representing the obstacles that face an adolescent as they pass from childhood into the world of the adult and Jim faces them head on. He is in search of his identity and to achieve his new sense of self, he must endure many hardships that test his very nature.
Jim does not have to look far, for he finds a positive role model in the character of Squire Trelawney. The Squire is very noble, dignified, and polite with endearing qualities of kindness and fairness about him. He shows Jim a proper way to behave as he is the first to admit his error of ways and show his humbleness. In his realization of his personal errors of being oblivious to the connivance of his hired crew, he admits to Smollett, “Now, captain…you were right and I was wrong. I own myself an ass, and I await your orders,” (Stevenson 52). He finds himself strangely drawn to the boy in a protective role as he attempts to keep the boy safe, especially as danger looms around every corner. He trusts the boy and brings Jim closer to him, acting in a fatherly role for him, as the Squire instills in Jim, “Hawkins, I put prodigious faith in you,” (Stevenson 53). He creates a bond with Jim that time and again saves his and his companions’ lives through the bravery of Jim. It is curious if his intentions are based merely on concern for the boy or if it stems from the boy’s value for knowledge and monetary gain…even so, the Squire remains an influence on the boy in a way that guides him towards positive directions of the mature being that Jim eventually achieves.
Jim is a character that is lost…in essence, he needs direction in his life. He is unsure even as to the role that he is to play in life, and how he wants to be seen by everyone else around him. He finds himself torn between wanting to remain the cabin “boy” of the ship crew and striving to prove to himself and everyone that he is an independent, self-sufficient adult. After feeling useless in camp with the squire and his crew, he considers abandoning them for an adventuresome romp in the jungle as he reminds himself,
I was certain I should not be allowed to leave the enclosure, my only plan was to take French leave, and slip out when nobody was watching; and that was so bad a way of doing it as made the thing itself wrong. But I was only a boy, and I had made my mind up, (Stevenson 94).
This is a big step for Jim as a mature individual as he makes a bold decision on his own and follows through, taking real risks for one of the first times in his life. However, Jim still requires the influence of significant men to direct him in a way that furthers his maturity as a man. It is the influence of Ben Gunn that gives him the sense of empowerment that he can control his own destiny and not just have to follow what everyone else tells him. This feeling of independence is sparked within Jim as Ben advises him that, “Wherever a man is, says I, a man can do for himself,” (Stevenson 64). Ben has found his own self-sufficiency over the past several years being stranded on the island for so long, and so his opinion has much merit to the boy. Ben Gunn is not around the boy enough to influence him in a great sense, however, the anticipated appearances and resilience of his character inform Jim that it is possible to live by himself and depend only on himself for extended durations of time. He does provide a positive influence that liberates his excitement and self-confidence and leads him to the direction that incites a sense of loyalty to his companions while keeping a wariness of the wickedness that Long John Silver is capable of.
Long John Silver brings about many strong influences on the future qualities of Jim. He can be seen as the dangerous father to which Jim is enticed by with his cunning and treachery, yet also with his devoted attention to the boy. He is by no means the standard by which good-natured people are measured up to, however he is very admirable in his ways. As Robert Cotroneo explains to his child in regards to the positive traits of Silver, he says,
There is no shortage of eulogies for John Silver, he was the only faithful and honest man among the seamen, and nobody could have doubted his willingness. He acts with a courteous and genial manner towards Jim. He always has a kind and respectful word for everybody. He is exceptional in his shrewdness and opportunism (31).
Cotroneo does make mention of a very valid point though in describing Silver, that he is a very opportunistic individual that is always looking out for himself. It seems as if he changes sides between the good and bad sides so many times that it is difficult to keep track of. However, these changes always occur when it is in his best interests to survive and to get the upper hand on everyone else. He is very aware of impending danger and escaping it is his constant goal. Although he does risk a lot in appearing to betray trust to his allies, he displays these redeeming qualities that Cotroneo describes and combined with his elegant and flattering ways of talk he is able to woe everyone on to his side.
It is this sense of survival that Jim observes and attempts to emulate as he finds himself in need of survival, caught himself at times between those that do not appreciate him and those that want to kill him. It is Silver that provides the ultimate figure of influence that Jim requires as he displays an admiration for the boy and his courage, while still attempting to keep him alive amidst the pirates. Silver never joins Jim’s side, however he does realize the dependency that each have on each other and so he maintains an alliance with Jim that is stronger and more reliable than any other he makes. Even though he is required to commit murders, lie, and steal from others, Jim is able to learn from these negative actions, see the negative side of the world, and still find a way to come out on top.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory tells the story of a young, poor boy who needs direction in his life. It is about Charlie’s dream of chocolate and satiety of hunger that drives him to find one of the golden tickets, that is, the key to his destiny. He journeys continually on his idyllic voyage in search of chocolate and a better way of life once he receives his award of a lifetime supply of chocolate. According to Cassandra Pierce, an essayist at the University of ?, she believes that, “Dahl wrote a modern fairy tale, a story where the plot is dominant and the characters merely a vehicle for the storyline,” (Pierce 1). She states how the story is achieved through the use of the characters themselves to advance the plot, and none are more important than Charlie. Charlie does well in getting across the message of Dahl in a way that is likeable and honourable, but Pierce also has some problems with the nature of Charlie’s character, as she states,
One frustration many critics shared is that Charlie is the hero because that is his role in the plot, not because not any positive good of noble qualities, but because he is poor, quiet, and polite. A phony representation of poverty is Charlie’s sole character and being, (Pierce 1).
However, Charlie uses the facet of his poverty to better express his humbleness and positive characteristics. What Pierce does not see is that it is the impoverished sense of Charlie’s personality that allows him to journey on a quest for his identity. The enticement of riches and oodles of chocolate that would arise thanks to his winnings creates a more desperate determination towards Charlie’s goal of achieving his dream; a drive that cannot truly be seen in any of the other child winners. In reference to the story of Charlie and his search for chocolate, Mel Stuart believes that,
Although it may not be obvious, it is also the story of a quest. What makes it so real for today’s audience is that the quest is not for hoards of gold or the kiss of a beautiful princess. The quest in this movie is something as mundane – albeit enticing – as a lifetime supply of chocolate,” (5-6).
It is Charlie’s search for the chocolate that represents his search for identity and a better life for himself and his family. However, he cannot go about this search on his own, for he is still immature and needs spiritual guidance. His father is always busy working at the toothpaste factory and then on the streets shoveling snow during the winter that Charlie is left with little influence directly from him. A young boy like Charlie needs a helpful hand to clarify his surroundings and teach him the ways of life as well as someone to nurture the good qualities that Charlie so possesses in his pure heart.
The first father-like figure that Charlie searches out to aid him in his spiritual development and goal fulfillment is in the character of Grandpa Joe. He is a kind, loving, and insightful individual that shares the enthusiasm that Charlie holds both for chocolate and for journeying through Willy Wonka’s factory of wonder; there is no doubt why Charlie adores him. He gets Charlie excited as he tells him many wild and crazy stories about the chocolate factory and the life of Willy Wonka, creating the spark of excitement that would be his driving force for finding a winning ticket. He is pulling for Charlie the entire time, hoping and wishing that Charlie find a golden ticket and doing what he can to aid him in his pursuit. After secretively giving Charlie a silver ten-cent piece, Grandpa Joe goes on to explain, “It’s my secret hoard…The others don’t know I’ve got it. And now, you and I are going to have one more fling at finding that last ticket. How about it, eh? (Dahl 35).
Grandpa Joe is sacrificing so much for Charlie that he is giving up what little money he has just so Charlie can achieve his dream, and what is more, Grandpa Joe desires to share in Charlie’s adventure. Even though the chocolate bar that Charlie buys with the secret money is not a winner, it is the determination with which his grandfather displays that shows how much he cares and how far he will go for Charlie’s benefit. It is this support that he shows the child that maintains Charlie’s hopes of finding a ticket as well as furthering Charlie’s focus and determination in living his dream, and finding a way to achieve it.
Willy Wonka is the kind of character that defies most conventional wisdom. He is a strange man full of catchy quips; a person that appears to be oblivious to the events that are going on around him when he is actually fully aware. He is a deeply complex character that is not what he appears to be; a fully contemplative man with many ideas always calculating within his mind. He works towards his ultimate plan of finding a boy to take over his chocolate factory for him, and in doing so, he takes on Charlie as a son. In describing his reasons for sending out the golden tickets, Wonka explains his dilemma as he says, “I’ve got no children of my own, no family at all…So I have to have a child. I want a good, sensible, loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious candy-making secrets,” (Dahl 151). The child that he chooses is Charlie, as Charlie displays all of those qualities and more that he is looking for. Wonka shows Charlie around his factory and establishes an admiration in the boy of his character and positive qualities; a very likeable individual himself.
Wonka is very dependent on Charlie as he needs a good boy to run his factory for him and for that he ensures that he can be a father-like figure for the boy, both now and in the future when Charlie runs the factory by himself. The relationship between the two characters is summed up best by Mel Stuart, the director of the film version of the book as he states,
We were able to create an implied relationship between Wonka and Charlie. Wonka is looking for a son to take over his factory, and Charlie is searching for a surrogate father figure. We all feel a moment of identification with Charlie when Wonka puts his arms around him at the end…and says, “You’ve won Charlie, you’ve won,” (122).
It is this identification with Charlie and Wonka as father and son that is apparent during the reading of the book and that furthers the reader’s understanding of each’s dependency on one another. Charlie does become a winner in the eyes of all as he finally finds himself and his destined identity as a chocolate maker. However, to really aid Charlie in his eventual finding of himself, Wonka needs to display characteristics that express a fatherly concern and influence. Mel Stuart goes on to speak of Wonka and his representation to the children as he says, “If he was going to be a father figure to the kids, he couldn’t very well be near their height…even though things seem to be spiraling out of control at times, he has the capability to straighten everything out,” (29).
He may have appeared larger than life to the children in both his stature and his actions, but it was his ability to handle a situation and restore order amidst the chaos of the tour of the factory. It is Wonka’s fatherly noninterference with the “bratty” children that allows them to commit their own mistakes based upon their character flaws and to learn from their mistakes in a way that really does “straighten everything out,” (Stuart 29), at least on a meaningful, personal level. Ultimately though, through letting the bratty children learn from their mistakes, Wonka makes an impact on Charlie by allowing him to learn from their mistakes as well. This creates the opportunity for Charlie to continue on his path of finding himself in a more knowledgeable way; avoiding temptation and moving towards his future in the most positive way possible with such aid from Willy Wonka.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a story of several British children and their curiosity in finding a new found, fantastic world of fairytale proportions. The children are in hiding during some air raids during the war, so they find themselves in the care of kind Professor Kirke and his spacious house with many rooms. They are transported away from their parents to a safe place for protection and this leaves the children without a positive adult role model to give them guidance during a potentially frightening time in history. There are four children; two boys and two girls that find their way to Narnia in this adventure, however, it is the two boys, Peter and Edmund, that show a most definite progression both in character and in their ideas about the world about them. It is the task upon both of these boys that they seek out male role models for them to learn how to behave in the world and to search out a sense of identity during this, their critical time of adolescence. Both of these boys are affected by different individuals and in different ways, however both end up finding a better sense of self in the end.
Peter is the oldest of the group and is possibly the wisest and most considerate of the siblings. He is a boy of elder status, yet he still finds himself lost at times without an answer. He searches out Professor Kirke as a role model early on in the story as he is perplexed whether or not Lucy, his youngest sister is telling the truth about her trip to Narnia. The Professor, having actually experienced this fairytale world before, hints to Peter that her unbelievable story may have truth in it. In regards to the question of Lucy’s wild stories, Professor Kirke exemplifies to the children,
Logic…There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth, (Lewis 52).
As the Professor has secretive knowledge about the nature of Narnia, having been there himself, he can give the proper advice to the children, hinting that Lucy is telling the truth. The Professor is very logical and allows the children to believe the unthinkable, that a separate world does exist through the wardrobe; an idea that most any other adult would still consider preposterous. In doing so, he is creating a rapport between himself and the children by appearing on a similar wave of thought and imaginative curiosity. This in turn frees up Peter’s mind to be curious and adventurous in searching for this other world, a world in which his future destiny as King awaits. However, the Professor still does maintain his fatherly figure as when asked about what to do about this new found discovery, he retorts, “We might all try minding our own business,” (Lewis 54). It is this fatherly influence towards Peter that incites his search into Narnia and into his own self, a search that leads him to eventually recognize the King that has always laid within the bosom of his own heart.
The white witch, Jadis, can be seen as a fatherly-figure to Edmund, with her lust for power, corruption and greed and how these embody a traditional view of a man of authority. The method upon which she expresses her influence is through temptation and promises of greatness, despite the immorality that it entails. She is a tall and beautiful woman, however her beauty masks the evilness that lies within her heart. She realizes that Edmund is one of the prophesied humans that can bring about her downfall and so she uses him to draw his siblings into her clutches so that she can save herself by killing each of the others as well as Edmund. In her attempt to win over Edmund to her evil side, she tells him,
I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I am gone…you are much the cleverest and handsomest young man I’ve ever met. I think I would like to make you the prince- some day, when you bring the others to visit me, (Lewis 40).
This describes the role of fatherly figure that Jadis imposes on poor, helpless Edmund, expressing her desire to take on a parental role and teach Edmund how to be a prince. She even goes as far to flatter him greatly to an extent that he cannot help but feel the presence of her guiding hand in shaping his thoughts and desires. However, all of her words are false and although she does provide a strong influence on Edmund in leading his actions towards the betrayal of his siblings, her role model is one of evil and deceit. The examples that Jadis does provide though give Edmund a sense of what it is like to be immoral. It is through his guilt for his betrayals and eventually his repentance for his sins that he is able to better understand the value of that which is good; an identity of good that he desires to maintain.
The most important and most definitive influence that either boy has in their life is that of the character Aslan. Aslan is a lion; the mystical ruler and overseer of Narnia whose courage and strength are unmatched by any. As the children are in need of a guiding figure, Aslan always is the first to step up and convey his vast knowledge on them. As Martha Sammons refers to Aslan she says that, “We cannot read very many pages of a Narnia story without sensing Aslan’s presence, though unseen and often in another form, and guidance of event. Like God, he is wise and foreknowing,” (81). She emphasizes Aslan’s father-like figure that he so best represents to the children, as he is always just around the corner.
It is her comparison of Aslan to God that is interesting as it defies Aslan in an ultimate father-figure, that of God, the Father and creator of all of the world. It is his influence and guiding hand that best shows Aslan’s father-like example for the boys. Sammons goes on to say that, “Aslan is ever present to warn the children sternly from time to time not to do wrong. He reproves not out of anger but because he always know what is best for them,” (82). He is the caring father that these children are in need of during their feelings of isolation and helplessness as they wander the unknown land of Narnia. He allows the children to learn from their own mistakes while all the time knowing how to guide them to their answers. It is his influence that leads Peter to find his own identity as “Peter the Magnificent – High King of Narnia,” always being that guiding hand that kept him on the straight path. Even at times when his faith is fading, it is Aslan who picks him back up and pushes him on, so that Peter becomes what Sammons refers to as, “A perfect example of the true chivalric ideal, tempering his courage with courtesy and fair-mindedness,” (96).
Aslan continues furthers his example on the character of Edmund. Even though Edmund commits sins against Aslan and his siblings by betraying them to the white witch, Aslan is still willingly to forgive him. He even goes so far as to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the wrongful boy, all because he wants to lead Edmund into a better life. Martha Sammons sees this as she says in reference to Edmund,
But though he is perhaps a seemingly unworthy person, Aslan, who sees the worth of every individual, sacrifices himself in Edmund’s place. Edmund’s transformation after he realizes the evil nature of the Witch – whom he really believed was bad all along – is remarkable, (98-99).
It is Aslan’s ultimate sacrifice that truly changes the boy for the better. This aids him in finally seeing the difference between good and evil and eventually sacrificing himself to help defeat the white witch. It is Aslan though that sees the worth in Edmund and believes in him as a father would. This instills the values within Edmund that he needs to grow as a person and work towards his eventual identity as a king of Narnia. Yet, he owes everything to the presence of Aslan in his life and the sacrifice that he so willingly gives so that Edmund can achieve this destiny.
Life can be a struggle to survive at times and it is easy to find one’s self lost amidst an encompassing world full of chaos and corruption. No matter what age or experience, it is necessary that we work towards finding a clearer sense of identity despite all the problems and fuss. However, we cannot to this alone. Throughout the works of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the central boy characters strive to find their identities, yet still require the father-like figures around them to guide them towards a brighter future as an adult of the world. We all need role models…yet we are never alone. There is always a father figure just around the corner. It is merely up to us to acknowledge His presence and look to Him for answers to our problems. Only then can we better find ourselves and our place in the world around us.