The book begins by introducing the Bucket family. In a small wooden house at the edge of a big city live the seven Buckets. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine are Mr. Bucket's parents, and Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina are Mrs. Bucket's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bucket have one child, a small boy named Charlie, who is the story's protagonist.
The Buckets are extremely poor. The house is too small for all of them, and they only have one bed, which the four grandparents stay in all day. Mr. Bucket is the only one in the family with a job; he works at a toothpaste factory, screwing on toothpaste caps all day, and makes very little money. They eat cabbage stew for nearly every meal.
This is especially hard for Charlie, since he loves chocolate more than any other food in the world, and they live right down the block from the largest chocolate factory in the world belonging to Mr. Willy Wonka. Charlie passes by the factory on his walks to school every morning and wishes desperately that he could go inside.
Every evening, Charlie listens to his grandparents' stories. On one particular evening, Grandpa Joe tells Charlie all about Mr. Wonka's factory. He says Mr. Wonka is the best chocolate maker in the world, and can make anything he wants. Grandpa Joe speaks of all the things Wonka has made, including chocolate ice cream that will never melt. He also tells Charlie a crazy story about Mr. Wonka and an Indian prince named Prince Pondicherry. the prince asked Wonka to build him a palace entirely of chocolate, and Wonka did. Wonka told him when it was finished to start eating right away, but the prince intended to live in it—that is, at least until a very hot day came along and it melted around him.
Grandpa Joe talks more about the mystery of the Wonka factory: nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out. They have never seen any of Wonka's workers, though they know they must exist. Grandpa Joe says he does not believe ordinary people work there, but he saves the rest of that story for the following evening. When he continues, he tells Charlie that not so long ago, there were thousands of regular people working in Wonka's factory, but he made them all leave because some of them were spying for other chocolate makers to get Wonka's incredible recipes.
The factory was dark for days, but then all the sudden it started up again, and all the lights and machines went on. Still, though, no workers came in or out. Observers could see tiny dark shadows in the windows working, but no one knows what kind of people these tiny workers are. As Grandpa Joe finishes the story, Mr. Bucket comes into the room waving the evening newspaper and reveals some exciting news: Wonka will be opening his factory at last to a lucky few.
The whole family gathers around the paper to read. Wonka has decided to allow five children to enter the factory and be escorted around on a tour. At the end of the tour, they will receive a lifetime supply of chocolate as an added gift. The children will be chosen through a search for Golden Tickets. Five Golden Tickets will be hidden inside Wonka's chocolate bars around the globe, and the lucky five children who find it will get the prize. Charlie desperately wants a Golden Ticket, but he only ever gets one candy bar a year on his birthday. Even though his birthday is approaching, he has a terrible chance of finding a ticket with only one candy bar.
Like with most books, the first few chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory introduces readers to the characters, the setting, and the main conflict. In a story arc, this is called the exposition. The setting of the first part of the story is immediately established, and the contrast between the small, run-down Bucket house and the big city that sits beside it makes it clear how different the Buckets' lives are compared to everyone else's. The setting for the second part of the story—Wonka's chocolate factory—is introduced as well, and the rumors and stories that Grandpa Joe shares about it get both Charlie and the readers hyped up to find out more.
We begin to get a sense of the characters' personalities in these first few chapters. The Buckets all appear to be kind and caring, and their love for each other keeps them tied together as a family through the challenges posed by their tough financial situation. All four grandparents are lively and cheerful, despite being bedridden, and Mr. and Mrs. Bucket are hard workers who do their best to keep the household running and raise Charlie with strong values.
But in the first five chapters, we learn the most about Charlie and Grandpa Joe in particular. Charlie is curious and inquisitive, which is clear through the various questions he asks his grandfather about Wonka's factory. More importantly, though, he is grounded, humble, and grateful for everything he has, even though he does not have the luxuries in life that many other children his age take for granted. Though the Buckets' poverty has crippled them in many ways, it has actually helped to shape Charlie into the admirable boy that he is.
Grandpa Joe is also an important character in these chapters. It is clear immediately that Charlie looks up to him, and some of Charlie's favorite times are spent listening to Grandpa Joe's stories. Grandpa Joe is characterized as a man with many stories to tell and an endless sense of excitement, adventure, and enthusiasm, even though he is stuck in bed. He is a dreamer just like Charlie, imagining what it would be like to find a Golden Ticket. All of these qualities suggest that Grandpa Joe was very like Charlie when he was his age.
As for Mr. Willy Wonka himself, little is known about him except for what Grandpa Joe says in his stories. The air of mystery surrounding Mr. Wonka and his factory is extremely important, since it heightens the excitement of the Golden Ticket hunt. Readers are put right into Charlie's shoes; they are just as curious as Charlie to know more about Willy Wonka, and they are already rooting for Charlie to find a Golden Ticket.
These chapters establish the primary conflict of the story: the search for a Golden Ticket. Charlie is up against millions of other children who have more money to buy chocolate than he does, and therefore a better chance. But Charlie wants it just as much as any of them. Grandma Georgina's pessimistic line "There isn't a hope" (p. 31) at the end of Chapter 5 is ominous, but a careful reader knows that ending a chapter with a quote like that foreshadows something unexpected.