Associate Professor Catherine Keyser is recognized for research on racism and children’s bodies in the manuscript version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Keyser’s outstanding essay “Candy Boys and Chocolate Factories: Roald Dahl, Racialization, and Global Industry” has received the Margaret Church Memorial Prize from Modern Fiction Studies for the best article to appear in the journal in 2017.
While numerous studies of Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have commented on the text’s racism, visible in characters like the exploited Oompa-Loompa workers, Keyser exposes Dahl’s own recognition of the painful cost of racial stereotypes of young bodies. She looks at an early draft of the novel that features the hero Charlie as a black boy trapped inside a hardening mold of chocolate—a sweet prison that burns him and commodifies a raced representation of his body, reminiscent of racist pictures of black bodies used in 20th-century syrup, chocolate, and other food advertisements. The draft “reveals that even an apparently racist text…can reveal, in its very attempts to justify global capitalism and racial hierarchy, the nightmare underbelly of racialization.”
Keyser compares Dahl’s recognition of “vulnerab[le],” raced bodies in this manuscript to Kara Walker’s 2014 site exhibit at a Domino factory of statues of boys built out of sugar and corn syrup, a politicized “Homage,” the artist offers, “to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World.”
See Professor Keyser’s New York Times interview on this groundbreaking research.