A Kind Act in a Weary World

A Polaroid of Mom and me, taken probably about six months before Willy Wonka was released
A Polaroid of Mom and me, probably taken about six months before Willy Wonka was released

1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is one of those movies that’s imprinted in my DNA. As a child, I watched it countless times. It must have aired on TV a lot, because this was before the age of VHS, or DVD, and definitely way before streaming. I used to associate the movie with having pneumonia, which I think I had at least twice when I was young.

Despite that rather traumatic association, or maybe because of it, lines from Willy Wonka feel like second nature to me. I can’t say it’s a favorite movie, because that would be like saying my right hand is my favorite hand because it’s the dominant one. My knowledge of that movie is just something that is.

I’ve never read the book. I don’t think I realized it was a book until I was an adolescent. It’s not that I didn’t read. I loved reading, (still do) and my childhood was filled with great books like L. Frank Baum’s Ozma of Oz, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. By the time I found out who Roald Dahl was, I might have felt I was too old for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I don’t feel like I’m too old anymore, but now it’s a matter of making the time for my very slow reading ability.

Some quotes that are often in my head: “Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet.” And the line from a song: “I want a feast. I want a bean feast.” The 90s band Veruca Salt named themselves after the character who sings that song. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who seems to have their DNA entangled with that movie.

But there’s one line that’s very meaningful to me. It’s when Charlie brings back the Everlasting Gobstopper to Willy Wonka, who’s sitting in his office. That office, with everything cut in half, and the clock ticking like a metronome, used to scare the hell out of me. It still does, a little bit.

Gene Wilder’s mercurial Willy Wonka, and his outburst toward Grandpa Joe (“Good day, sir!”) still scares me, too. And I’m still surprised and heartened when he closes his hand around the candy and says, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” I think it’s testament to Gene Wilder’s brilliance that this scene still affects me so.

I think of this scene every time a friend, an acquaintance, maybe even someone I don’t know, makes a simple gesture of kindness. It’s the intention and the context that always comes to me. But for as much as I think of it, I never quite get the syntax of the line right.

A good friend recently donated to the Tijuana Mission Outreach Foundation, a home-building project my brother Jerry has been involved in for nearly twenty years. They’re facing a budget shortfall this year, so my niece put together a GoFundMe page. If the “Get Kanye Out of Debt” page can raise $7,000 in three weeks, surely this worthy cause could make inroads toward their budget goal. (It hasn’t quite gained the traction of Kanye’s page, but there’s still time, so I remain hopeful).

Anyway, I pulled up the “So shines a good deed” scene on YouTube because I wanted to use the quote to thank my friend (I knew he would get the reference). I gained three things from that Internet search:

1. Realization of my misremembered wording. I always want to say, “So shines a kind act in a weary world” instead.

2. A clue to its origin. I found these lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice:

How far that little candle throws his beams!

So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

3. The inspiration for this post (insert smiley face emoji here).

P.S. I struggled to find a non-copyrighted visual for this post. That photo has always been one of my favorites, especially because of the homemade poster hanging above my head—“The greatest joy in life is to be loved.” The house I grew up in was full of lovely, simple messages like it. Probably one of the reasons I am so susceptible to the “So shines a kind act” sentiment.

2 thoughts on “A Kind Act in a Weary World

  1. Elizabeth Mialaret. If I remember correctly you were performing Shakespeare in the UK when we met 31 years ago. X


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