Quitting the chocolate factory
Today’s letter + an invitation to chat with art coach Beth Pickens
We watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) with the boys on Friday night. The boys liked it. I found myself worrying about Charlie Bucket. I pictured Charlie at 40 years old, the appointed heir, the blank slate, running the chocolate factory like Wonka instructed him to, doing work he never really chose for himself. Besides the supply chain issues and the Oompa Loompa labor strikes, one can imagine the lump growing in Charlie’s stomach, and the day he finally snaps.
We could borrow the scene of Sherwood Anderson in Mark Slouka’s essay, “Quitting The Paint Factory”:
…in the middle of dictating a letter to his secretary (”The goods about which you have inquired are the best of their kind made in the…”), he simply stopped. According to the story, the two supposedly stared at each other for a long time, after which [he] said: “I have been wading in a long river and my feet are wet,” and walked out. Outside the building he turned east toward Cleveland and kept going. Four days later he was recognized and taken to a hospital suffering from exhaustion.
What will Charlie do with his mid-life crisis? I wondered to myself. There’s your sequel!
(It suddenly occurs to me that it might be time to re-watch Hook, which is about Peter Pan’s mid-life crisis.)
All of this is on my mind because I’ve been re-reading Carl Jung and the work of the Jungian analyst James Hollis. Over the weekend I finished Hollis’s 1993 book, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life. I knew I was going to like it the minute I saw the epigraphs: