The Magic Finger Essay - Critical Context

Roald Dahl

Critical Context

Roald Dahl was a strong supporter of the downtrodden and a courageous crusader against injustice. This common thread runs through a number of his most popular children’s books. In The Magic Finger, it is deer and wild ducks that are oppressed, and the hero and upholder of justice is an eight-year-old girl with a magic finger. The story ends happily for the antagonists, the Gregg family; this is not the case in all of Dahl’s books. In fact, this is not the case for a cruel teacher, the antagonist in a subplot of The Magic Finger. When the young girl is unfairly victimized by the teacher, the magic finger’s power turns the teacher into a catlike creature, a condition from which she never recovers.

In Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961), the protagonist, James, is the victim of injustice thrust upon him by wicked and uncaring aunts who make his life miserable. A strange old man gives James magic crystals to add to water. He convinces James that if he drinks this potion, he will no longer be unhappy. The boy falls and spills the crystals at the base of a tree, resulting in the creation of an enormous peach that will provide many magical adventures for James. Things do not end happily, however, for his aunts: The peach rolls down a hill, crushing them—a type of justice seemingly upheld.

Dahl’s Matilda (1988) features a bright young girl with stupid and self-centered parents who is further victimized by the headmistress at her school. Again, justice is, questionably, served when Matilda gets rid of her parents and goes to live with a favorite teacher. The plot contains cruelty, vulgarity, and violence that will certainly be offensive to some parents and teachers.

Dahl’s basic premise for these books is noteworthy: There are many injustices in the world, and there is a need for strong voices raised against them. The Magic Finger may be his least-offensive book in addressing this issue. It is a classic work that warrants an open-minded reading.