top of page

Should we avoid reading authors because of their bigotry in life?

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

… Roald Dahl disgusts those who loved him

Last week, a cartoonist had his iconic comic strip rejected by hundreds of newspapers across the country — all because he called blacks in America a “hate group.”

Was that fair?

Dilbert was not exactly as beloved as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a children’s book that has impacted thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of young people.

Yet, a few years ago a man who loved Roald Dahl’s writing, particularly the Chocolate Factory, had to come to a conclusion that although the author was one who introduced him to certain valuable principles, he could never again read anything by Dahl.

David Perry’s debate as a Jewish man

A man who is a senior academic adviser in the history department at the University of Minnesota wrote that he had to part ways with Dahl, despite his love for his writing,

As a nerdy Jewish kid in Indiana and Tennessee in the late 1970s and 1980s, I had far better relationships with books than I did with other kids. If I liked a book, I read it again, and again and again.

And so it was with Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Dahl’s protagonists Charlie and later James (of the “Giant Peach”) both provided early models for how to find a better way through a hostile world where I always felt like an outsider.

Given that personal history, the announcement that Netflix has acquired Dahl’s entire catalog and plans a robust lineup of multimedia adaptations ought to feel like good news.

Except I have no plans to recommend them to my kids. I’m not interested in what Netflix has planned, nor was I in any of the Dahl films that have come out in the last decades. In fact, although surely my children have read some of his books in school and seen some of the films, at no time have I suggested that they read Dahl.

David M. Perry, “Why I hope my kids never read Roald Dahl,” CNN, September 28, 2021

What led him to this point?

Some of the statements

A Jewish website listed some of the most offensive of Dahl’s statements that drove people like Dr. Perry away from him. Here is one of them,

“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.”

Thea Glassman, “Roald Dahl’s family just apologized for his Jew

hatred,” The Jewish Daily Forward, December 7, 2020

When you blame the Jewish people for the loss of six million Jewish people in the Holocaust was because they refused to battle back against them.

Should we blame authors for their racism and bigotry?

Dr. Perry analyzed how he went about learning to deal with authors who are hypocritical or sleazy, but he is not exactly consistent in this,

There are cases where it’s complicated to ascribe modern values to figures from the past and as a reader, my feelings, my emotions, are just not going to be consistent. I don’t share C.S. Lewis’ religious views and his treatment of his character Susan, who he wrote as choosing sex and lipstick over Narnia, has always irked me (and many others). J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is, I’m sad to say, bound up in long histories of racism.

But my childhood copies of their books still occupy my shelves, some missing covers and pages, and I bought new copies for my kids and tried – with mixed success – to share my love of those stories with them. It’s hardly new for readers of one generation to struggle with the views of authors from another.

But Dahl is different. He passed away in 1990, only 31 years ago. And we know he was an anti-Semite because he said so.

David M. Perry, CNN, September 28, 2021

Well, is Perry himself being hypocritical?

“To be or not to be”

Last night I worked with a high school student who was reading “Hamlet.” The assignment he needed help with was the iconic soliloquy entitled “To be or not to be.” What he was seeking was the various interpretations of that, and we discussed that for an hour.

In this, Hamlet is debating whether or not to take his own life, or at least that was the first analysis. However, he also questioned whether or not an afterlife exists and whether or not religion actually brainwashes people into thinking that hell exists so that people will follow their consciences. Or at least that was part of the explanation.

Should we listen to Shakespeare even though his morality may not have always been sterling or because we may not agree with his thematic content?

That is a challenge for all readers. Should we be open-minded and ignore the racism and anti-semitism of authors?

An interesting idea.

I have assigned a reading from Dahl entitled “The Landlady,” and I will continue to do so. They have no idea about his beiiefs.

That does not mean we condone them or their beliefs.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

12 views0 comments


bottom of page