Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469
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Roald Dahl’s Matilda begins with a declaration that parents are “funny.” Most parents mistakenly think kids are "awesome," but few kids are. In fact, most children are “disgusting.” According to Dahl, however, it is okay that parents are so unrealistic. What is not okay is when parents insist on telling the rest of the world how great their children are. Because of this, Dahl thinks it would be fun to be a teacher. That job would give him the opportunity to write report cards, and then he would get to tell parents the truth about their "lazy, smelly, awful" kids. He would amuse himself making up poetic insults that would force parents to face the truth about their unremarkable offspring.
But as awful as it is when parents mistake their little idiots for angels, it is even worse when parents do the opposite. According to Dahl, there are a few rare parents who simply have no interest in their children.
As it happens, the parents in Matilda are the especially bad kind. They are called Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and they do not particularly care about either of their two children. They are especially awful to their daughter, Matilda. On the rare occasions when they bother to think about her at all, they think of her as an annoyance. They would probably get rid of her if they could.
Having parents like the Wormwoods is tragic for any child, but Matilda happens to be the kind of “sensitive and brilliant” girl most normal parents would adore. However, the Wormwoods are “so wrapped up in their silly little lives” that they do not notice how wonderful their daughter is.
Unlike her ordinary brother, Michael, Matilda shows signs of brilliance from babyhood. She learns to talk early, and by the age of three, she even teaches herself to read. By age four, she gets tired of the reading material in the house—newspapers and a cookbook—and she asks her father for a book of her own.
Instead of being thrilled at his daughter’s interest in reading, Mr. Wormwood is annoyed. He says that the only kind of entertainment she needs is "the telly"—the TV. According to him, only a spoiled child would ask for a book.
Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood often leave four-year-old Matilda at home all by herself. This gives her the freedom to sneak out and go to the library. The librarian, Mrs. Phelps, lets Matilda sit in the children’s section and read. She soon reads every children’s book in the whole building. Then, with Mrs. Phelps’s help, she begins picking out grown-up books to read. Soon the little girl is devouring a steady stream of classic novels.
Matilda's newfound reading habit makes her happier than ever before.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472
Mr. Wormwood, the Great Car Dealer
Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father, sells used cars. He is a "liar" who tricks his customers into paying too much for cars that are old or broken. At home, he sometimes explains his methods to his son, Michael, because he wants the boy to take part in the family business someday.
One afternoon, Mr. Wormwood explains how to stop a car’s engine from making loud clanking sounds. According to him, all you have to do is mix a little sawdust in with the oil. That makes the engine sound “sweet as a nut.” When Matilda asks how long it takes the clanking to start again, her father says it lasts “long enough.” In other words, it lasts until after the customers pay for the cars. After that, the engines are ruined, but it is not his problem anymore.
This answer upsets Matilda, who says her father is being unfair. He gets angry and tells her she is stupid. “No one ever got rich being honest,” he says. According to him, customers exist in order to be tricked by smart businessmen like him.
Next, Mr. Wormwood tells Michael how to make the mileage look really low on cars that are actually quite old. He has a way of using a screwdriver to reduce the mileage reading on the speedometer. His trick for doing this is his own invention, and he considers himself a genius for thinking of it.
Again, Matilda speaks up and accuses her father of cheating. This time, he loses his patience and shouts at her. He tells her that his business buys her food and puts a roof over her head. He calls her “an ignorant little squirt,” and her mother agrees. Mrs. Wormwood orders Matilda never to talk back to her father again.
During this conversation, the family is eating instant dinners and watching a mindless soap opera on TV. Matilda asks permission to go to the table and read her book while she eats, but her father tells her that she must sit with her family and watch television instead of going away and reading by herself.
By now, Matilda is angry. She hates her parents, and she knows that this is bad. However, her books have shown her that there is “more to life than cheating people and watching television,” and she wishes they understood this too. It also bugs her when they call her stupid because she is sure she is smart.
Matilda is five years old now, so she is not old enough to run away and live on her own. She is stuck with her family, and she has to find a way to make life bearable. Privately, she decides to get revenge every time her parents treat her poorly. Her father will be her first victim.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441
The Hat and the Superglue
The next morning, before her father leaves for work, Matilda tiptoes into the cloakroom. Standing on her tiptoes and using a cane to extend her reach, she gets her father’s hat down off its hook. Quickly she applies a ring of Superglue to the rim of the hat, and then she puts it back on the hook.
Matilda sneaks out of the cloakroom just in time. She is out of sight when Mr. Wormwood puts on his hat. He suspects nothing as he leaves for work—but when he arrives at his used car dealership, he cannot get his hat off. He is forced to wear it all day long, even as he works on cars. He is too embarrassed to explain his problem to his coworkers, so he pretends that he likes wearing his hat all the time.
At home that evening, Mrs. Wormwood yanks on her husband’s hat but cannot get it off. She laughs at him and says that he must have Superglued it to his head by mistake. Mr. Wormwood protests that he did no such thing, but nobody believes him. He glances at Matilda suspiciously, but he does not really think that a five-year-old girl could have played such a dirty trick.
Matilda is thrilled by her father's embarrassment, but she acts as innocent as possible. She speaks up only once, to relate the story of a boy she knows who accidentally Superglued his finger to the inside of his nose. Mrs. Wormwood scoffs at this story and says that children are disgusting. When Matilda points out that she has seen her mother pick her nose, her mother changes the subject.
That night, Mr. Wormwood is forced to skip his shower and to sleep with his hat on. This is very uncomfortable, so he gets no rest at all. His tossing and turning disturbs his wife, who shouts at him for making so much noise. She tells him that the glue will wear off by morning.
But in the morning, the glue has not worn off. Eventually Mrs. Wormwood is forced to cut the hat off Mr. Wormwood’s head. To do this, she has to cut off a ring of hair all the way around his scalp, and it makes him look awful. At breakfast, a few stray scraps of hat material are still stuck to Mr. Wormwood's forehead. Matilda helpfully informs him that he looks like he has lice.
By the end of this adventure, Matilda decides that it was “a satisfactory exercise.” However, she does not really think that her father has learned “a permanent lesson.”
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
The experience with the hat embarrasses Mr. Wormwood so much that he stops “boasting and bullying” for a whole week. Then one day he gets into a bad mood, probably because of a problem at work. He comes home red-faced and angry. He marches into the living room, where Matilda is reading in a corner, and he turns on the TV. He cranks up the volume and glances at her, hoping that the noise will bother her. It does not; she has learned to tune out the sound of the “dreaded” TV. In fact, she does not appear to notice her father’s existence.
For some reason, this makes Mr. Wormwood mad. Maybe he just wants to bully someone, or maybe he is jealous that Matilda can get enjoyment in a way he cannot. Whatever the reason, he yanks the book from her hands and shakes it in her face. He has never read the book himself, but he calls it “trash."
Calmly, Matilda tells her father that the book is a wonderful story called The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. Instead of listening, he tears it to pieces. Matilda is horrified, but there is nothing she can do to stop him. She does not cry; she already knows that tears do not solve anything. Instead she plans revenge.
The following day, Matilda goes to her friend Fred’s house. He often boasts about his talking parrot, and she asks to see it. He takes her to his room, where she hears the parrot screech “Hullo” and “Rattle my bones!” According to Fred, this is all the bird knows how to say—but for Matilda’s purposes, it is enough. She offers Fred a week’s worth of allowance if he will let her borrow the bird for an evening. Then she takes the parrot home, shoves its cage up the dining room chimney, and waits.
That evening, Matilda’s family eats dinner in front of the TV as usual. During their meal, they hear strange words coming from the dining room: “Hullo!” “Rattle my bones!” Everyone thinks the voice must belong to a burglar, and Mrs. Wormwood tells her husband to go find out. However, Mr. Wormwood is too scared to go fight a bad guy on his own. He makes the rest of the family come with him. Everyone grabs a knife or golf club or fire poker, and they all tiptoe into the dining room together.
The Wormwood family—including Matilda, who is good at pretending—searches the dining room for a burglar. When they cannot find anything wrong, Matilda tells everyone the room is haunted. This scares her parents and brother, and they run away.
The following day, Matilda takes the parrot cage out of the chimney and carries it back to Fred’s house. He asks if the bird behaved, and she says her parents loved it.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
Matilda is the smallest and weakest person in her house, so she has to obey her parents even when they are wrong. When this gets unbearable, she plays one of her tricks. These acts of revenge cheer her up, and they humble her parents a bit. This makes them easier to live with—for a while.
After the parrot episode, Matilda’s parents are calmer and nicer for a week or so. Then one day, her father comes home bragging loudly that he had an excellent day at work. He cheated five silly customers into buying five overpriced cars. He earned an excellent commission on each car, and now he feels rich and happy.
Matilda’s brother Michael is a completely ordinary boy, but Mr. Wormwood thinks boys are more important than girls. Because of this, he likes Michael a bit better than he likes Matilda. Mr. Wormwood wants his son to join the family business when he grows up, so sometimes he spends evenings teaching Michael important lessons about business.
Today Mr. Wormwood tells Michael that a car salesman needs to know how to calculate profits. After sending the boy to get a paper and pencil, Mr. Wormwood lists off the buying and selling prices of each car he sold today. Michael tries to write down the amounts, but he keeps getting mixed up and asking his father to repeat the figures.
When Michael finally gets all the numbers written down properly, Mr. Wormwood orders him to subtract the purchase price from the selling price for each car, and then to add up the results. If he does the work properly, he will figure out how much money Mr. Wormwood earned today.
Instead of getting right to work, Michael stares blankly at the ten numbers on the paper in front of him. He comments that selling cars takes a lot of math. Mr. Wormwood chuckles and brags that he figured out the answer in just ten minutes by jotting the numbers down on a sheet of paper and working out the calculations. As an afterthought, he comments that it would be impossible to do that much math without a pencil and paper.
Hearing this, Matilda decides to prove her father wrong. Quietly, she does the math in her head and tells her father exactly how much he earned today. He assumes that she is just making up a number. "Don’t butt in,” he says. Matilda tells him to check his paper, and he does so impatiently. When he realizes that Matilda is right, he is shocked.
Mr. Wormwood refuses to believe that a five-year-old child, “especially a girl,” could be good enough at math to do a whole bunch of calculations in her head. He calls her “a cheat and a liar,” and he insists that she got the answer by peeking. Matilda furiously tries to defend herself, but he refuses to listen.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541
The Platinum-Blond Man
Matilda is outraged that her father refuses to believe she is good at math, so she dreams up another act of revenge. This time she attacks one of his biggest points of pride: his hair.
Matilda’s mother, Mrs. Wormwood, dyes her hair a shiny silver color that looks like “a female tightrope-walker’s tights in a circus.” Twice a year, she gets this dye job done at a salon. In between, she occasionally uses a strong peroxide hair wash. Matilda has often admired the label on the peroxide bottle: “Keep away from children.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Wormwood’s hair is nothing like his wife’s. It is thick and black, and he often brags that it makes him look like a good businessman. He massages his head daily with a bad-smelling purple hair tonic that is supposed to keep his hair healthy.
On the morning after the math incident, Matilda gets up extra early, dumps most of her father’s hair tonic out of the bottle, and adds a generous amount of her mother’s peroxide hair wash. She replaces the bottle on its shelf and hopes her father will not notice the difference.
An hour or so later, while Matilda is eating breakfast with her brother, Mr. Wormwood makes his noisy way into the dining room. He is always loud in the house; he feels a need to prove that he is the most important person in the family:
One could almost hear him saying, “It’s me! Here I come, the great man himself, the master of the house, the wage-earner, the one who makes it possible for you to live so well!”
Normally nobody takes any notice of Mr. Wormwood and his obnoxious behavior, but everything is different on this particular morning. When he walks into the dining room, Mrs. Wormwood is so appalled by the sight of his hair that she screams and drops his breakfast.
Mr. Wormwood’s hair is a gross silver color, like “a tightrope-walker’s tights that [have] not been washed the entire circus season.” Mrs. Wormwood assumes that her husband dyed his hair this color on purpose, and she tells him this was a ridiculous thing to do. She gives him a mirror so that he can see how bad he looks, and he freaks out. He says he cannot possibly go to work looking so stupid.
During this conversation, Matilda does not speak up until her father starts looking for someone to blame. Then she says casually that he probably washed his hair with her mother’s hair dye by mistake. Everyone agrees that this must be what happened. Mrs. Wormwood is horrified because peroxide is very strong: “I’m surprised it didn’t take the whole of the top of your head off!” She orders her husband to go upstairs and take a shower to prevent his hair from falling out. In the meantime, she makes an emergency call to the local beauty salon to beg them to dye her husband’s hair black again.
After Mr. Wormwood leaves for the salon, Mrs. Wormwood confides to Matilda that men are not very smart. “You will learn that when you get a bit older, my dear,” she says.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
Matilda begins her education at Crunchem Hall Primary School. Her teacher is Miss Honey, a sweet, pretty young woman who understands children very well. Her students love her.
The Headmistress of Matilda’s school, Miss Trunchbull, is Miss Honey’s opposite. All of the children and teachers are afraid of Miss Trunchbull, who sows terror wherever she goes. When she walks through the school hallways, she never pauses or stops for anyone. She just zooms straight through the crowds of children, sending surprised little ones flying in all directions.
There are not many people in the world who are as awful as Miss Trunchbull, but according to the narrator, almost everyone meets one sometime in life. When this happens:
you should behave as you would if you met an enraged rhinoceros out in the bush—climb up the nearest tree and stay there until it has gone away.
On Matilda’s first day of school, the lovely Miss Honey warns the class about the Headmistress. She tells them never to misbehave in the presence of Miss Trunchbull because she “can liquidize [children] like a carrot in a kitchen blender.” A girl named Lavender laughs, but Miss Honey says it is not a joke.
When she is sure everyone understands this most important piece of information, Miss Honey begins teaching. She introduces the idea of the multiplication tables and asks if anyone already knows how to multiply by the number 2. Naturally, Matilda raises her hand. At Miss Honey’s request, Matilda recites 2 times 1, 2 times 2, and so on. Unaware that children usually only learn the multiplication tables up to the number 12, Matilda recites onward to 2 times 15 before Miss Honey stops her.
Impressed and curious, Miss Honey asks Matilda how far she can go. Matilda does not understand the question, but she says that multiplication is not hard. Miss Honey presents a series of math questions and quickly realizes that Matilda can multiply virtually any two numbers in her head. It seems clear that the little girl is a genius.
As the school day continues, Miss Honey continues to test Matilda’s abilities. She soon realizes that Matilda reads fluently, has an excellent vocabulary, and understands complex ideas. Matilda composes a sweet little poem about Miss Honey, and she also shares smart ideas about children’s books. According to Matilda, all children’s stories should contain “funny bits.” As she puts it, “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.”
By the time the bell rings for recess, Miss Honey is convinced that Matilda is the smartest little girl the school has ever seen.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439
Miss Honey normally avoids the Headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School, but meeting a genius is extremely exciting. Bravely, Miss Honey marches straight to the Headmistress’s office to report what she has discovered about Matilda's intelligence.
Inside Miss Trunchbull's office, Miss Honey comes face to face with the Headmistress. Miss Trunchbull used to be an Olympic athlete, and she is still huge and muscular. It seems probable that she “could bend iron bars and tear telephone directories in half.” She wears a brown cotton jacket and bright green pants, both of which make her look ridiculous. She is not kind, friendly, or interested in educating children. In fact, the headmistress displays exactly zero of the good qualities people normally want to see in a teacher. It is “a mystery” that she has her job at all.
Miss Trunchbull's first guess when she sees Miss Honey is that the children have done something awful. Timidly, Miss Honey explains that nothing of the sort is true. In fact, she has come with good news about a girl named Matilda Wormwood.
As it happens, Miss Trunchbull just bought a car from Matilda’s father yesterday. She raves about what a smart man Mr. Wormwood is, and she gloats that she got a good deal on a car that is nearly new. It seems clear that she has been cheated but does not yet know it. One would think that her positive attitude toward Mr. Wormwood would dispose her to like Matilda, too, but it does not. Apparently Matilda's father mentioned that Matilda is “a real wart” who does nothing but cause trouble.
The Headmistress demands to know what Matilda has done wrong and refuses to listen when Miss Honey claims that the girl is very well-behaved. Although she has no evidence, Miss Trunchbull blames Matilda for setting off a stink bomb in the school office this morning. She says that girls like Matilda are bad news:
I have discovered…that a bad girl is a far more dangerous creature than a bad boy. What’s more, they’re much harder to squash.
Patiently, Miss Honey insists that Matilda has done nothing wrong and is in fact “a genius.” She suggests that the little girl be placed in the highest class in the school. Miss Trunchbull calls this “piffle” and refuses. She accuses Miss Honey of wanting to get rid of a bad child by sending her to another classroom.
In the end, Miss Trunchbull's bullheadedness wins. Miss Honey agrees to keep Matilda in her classroom, but privately she resolves to help the little girl learn as much as possible.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
After leaving Miss Trunchbull’s office, Miss Honey borrows a set of textbooks from the teachers who work with the most advanced students at the school. She then speaks privately to Matilda and explains the following plan: Matilda will spend class periods reading from the advanced textbooks while Miss Honey teaches the other children. Then, at the end of each period, Matilda can have a few minutes to ask questions. This appeals to Matilda, who nods and says thank you very politely. Miss Honey marvels at the idea that anyone could think of this child as a bad girl.
Miss Honey thinks that Miss Trunchbull must have been mistaken when she said Mr. Wormwood disliked his own daughter. Privately, she resolves to speak to the Wormwoods herself. She is sure that Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood will be pleased to hear how talented their daughter is:
In any event, parents never underestimated the abilities of their own children. Quite the reverse. Sometimes it was well nigh impossible for a teacher to convince the proud father or mother that their beloved offspring was a complete nitwit.
However, when Miss Honey shows up on the Wormwoods' doorstep that evening, Mr. Wormwood's first assumption is that his daughter is in trouble. He tells Miss Honey that he does not want to hear about it. “Well, she’s your responsibility from now on. You’ll have to deal with her,” he says. When Miss Honey insists on coming inside for a chat, he and Mrs. Wormwood flatly refuse to turn off the TV. All they do is turn down the volume.
Excitedly, Miss Honey explains that Matilda is brilliant. She is only five years old, and she can read long books written for grown-ups. Mr. Wormwood is unimpressed, and he wastes no time saying that it is silly for anyone to make a big deal about reading and education. “You can’t make a living sitting on your fanny and reading story-books,” he says.
Mrs. Wormwood agrees. “Looks is more important than books,” she says. She adds that she has spent her whole life pursuing good looks, and this is why she is married to a fine, wealthy man. If she had chosen books, she might be “slaving away teaching a lot of nasty little children” like Miss Honey must do.
The Wormwoods’ attitude astounds Miss Honey, who cannot imagine encouraging a brilliant little girl to chase men instead of developing her brain. Miss Honey tries to convince them again. She explains that Matilda is a math genius who, with the right tutoring, might be capable of doing college-level work within a few years. Mr. Wormwood shouts that this is an awful idea: “Who wants to go to university, for heaven’s sake! All they learn there is bad habits.”
Eventually Miss Honey understands that she will never make Matilda’s parents see reason. She gives up and walks out.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522
Throwing the Hammer
Matilda is brilliant, but she is not arrogant. She is sweet and funny, and she has no trouble making friends with the other kids in her class. In her first few days, she befriends a girl named Lavender who, like Matilda, is full of mischief.
During the first week, Matilda and Lavender meet a ten-year-old girl named Hortensia on the playground. At first, Hortensia tries to scare them by telling stories about Miss Trunchbull. She warns them that the Headmistress hates little kids, many of whom “don’t survive” the first year at Crunchem Hall Primary School.
When Matilda and Lavender seem more interested than scared, Hortensia tells them all about Miss Trunchbull’s methods for punishing bad children. Apparently the Headmistress has a tiny closet that she locks kids into when they misbehave. This closet is called The Chokey, and the inside of it is lined with rusty nails and shards of broken glass. Because of this, kids who get locked in there cannot sit down or even lean on the walls. They have to stand perfectly straight for hours and hours, or they get cut to pieces.
Hortensia brags that she has been locked inside The Chokey several times, and Matilda and Lavender ask why. Pleased, Hortensia tells them all about the time she put sticky syrup on Miss Trunchbull’s chair. Apparently the Headmistress sat in it, and when she tried to stand up, she made the most awesome squelching sound ever. Unfortunately, Hortensia got caught and spent a whole day in The Chokey. Next, Hortensia brags about the time she put itching powder in all of Miss Trunchbull’s gym shorts. The Headmistress wore those shorts to the school’s morning prayer session, and she spent the whole prayer acting like “she had a wasp’s nest” in her pants.
Matilda and Lavender are highly impressed by Hortensia’s stories. They consider her “a master,” and even “a goddess.” To them, it is a sign of great bravery when someone is willing to risk her own life just to play a joke. Their open admiration pleases Hortensia, who decides she likes them.
Eager to soak up more attention, Hortensia launches into yet another story. She says that Miss Trunchbull used to throw the hammer in the Olympics. The hammer, she explains, is a huge, heavy object that athletes fling as far as they can. According to Hortensia, Miss Trunchbull practices by throwing little kids.
Moments later, Miss Trunchbull appears on the field and proves that Hortensia is telling the truth. The Headmistress shouts at a girl named Amanda Thripp just for wearing pigtails. In front of everyone, Miss Trunchbull grabs Amanda by the braids, swings her around in circles, and lets go. Amanda sails all the way to the farthest field. Everyone stares in awe as Amanda slowly gets up and wobbles back toward school.
This scene amazes Matilda, who asks if people’s parents complain about Miss Trunchbull’s behavior. Hortensia says no:
She treats the mothers and fathers just the same as the children and they’re all scared to death of her.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 635
Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cake
Lavender does not understand how Miss Trunchbull gets away with doing evil things like picking children up by their hair and throwing them across the schoolyard. She says her father would throw a fit if such a thing happened to her.
Matilda disagrees. Lavender's father would not believe a story about a headmistress who uses children for throwing practice. No adult would. According to Matilda, this is what makes Miss Trunchbull dangerous. It is also a lesson she and Lavender need to learn if they want to be truly great at practical jokes:
Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.
The next day, the girls see Miss Trunchbull in action again. The whole school gets called into an assembly, and the Headmistress stands in front of them holding a terrifying whip-like object called a riding crop. She glares at the crowd and then calls an eleven-year-old boy, Bruce Bogtrotter, to the stage.
Bruce Bogtrotter feels scared and confused as Miss Trunchbull calls him a series of awful names in front of everyone. He has no idea why she is mad at him. His only comfort—and it is a small one—is that Miss Trunchbull cannot legally hit him with the riding crop in her hands. However, he is pretty sure she will do something truly awful to him.
After a long time, Miss Trunchbull reveals why she is angry at Bruce. Yesterday morning, he sneaked into the kitchen and ate a piece of cake that was meant for her. He denies this at first, but under pressure he slips up and says the cake was good.
At Trunchbull’s signal, the school cook comes onto the stage with an enormous chocolate cake. She sets it down on a table in front of Bruce, and the Trunchbull orders him to taste it. The other children look on, horrified, certain that the cake is full of something disgusting or perhaps even poisonous. Bruce, who is thinking along the same lines, timidly says he is not hungry.
“Taste it, you little brat,” says the Trunchbull, and Bruce is too scared to do anything except obey. He cuts himself a small slice of cake and eats it slowly, but it tastes fine. When he finishes, the Trunchbull makes him eat another slice, and then another. Eventually her plan becomes clear: she is going to force Bruce to try to eat the entire enormous cake by himself.
In the audience, Matilda and Lavender predict that Bruce will eat about half of the cake and then throw up. Around them, everyone else seems to think the same thing. The mood in the room is tense as Bruce eats slice after slice. People keep expecting him to stop and “beg for mercy.” Even Bruce seems to expect the Trunchbull to win.
Halfway through the cake, Bruce slows down. But then he lets out a huge belch and manages to keep going. By the time he makes it three-quarters of the way through the cake, he decides that he should be able to win this thing after all. In fact, he begins to enjoy the challenge: “He had a mountain to climb and he was jolly well going to reach the top or die in the attempt.”
When Bruce finishes the last bite of the cake, the rest of the kids erupt into cheers. Outraged, Miss Trunchbull grabs the plate and breaks it on Bruce’s head—but he is so stuffed he is “like a sackful of wet cement,” and Miss Trunchbull cannot hurt him. She storms out of the room in disgrace, leaving a room full of thrilled kids behind her.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430
Soon after the cake incident, Miss Honey explains to her class that Miss Trunchbull takes over every classroom in the school for one hour each week. The Headmistress uses this time to quiz the children on what they are learning. Their classroom will receive their first visit tomorrow, Thursday, at two o’clock in the afternoon. Gravely, Miss Honey advises everyone to be on their best behavior at that time:
Never argue with her. Never answer back. Never try to be funny. If you do, you will make her angry, and…you had better watch out.
Miss Honey also advises the children to study hard and make sure they arrive at school tomorrow knowing everything they were supposed to learn this week. Otherwise there is no telling what the horrible old headmistress will do to them.
At the end of this announcement, Miss Honey mentions that Miss Trunchbull drinks a lot of water. The class needs to have a pitcher of water and a glass ready in case she gets thirsty during the lesson. She asks for a student volunteer to fetch these things from the kitchen just before the Headmistress’s visit, and Lavender quickly raises her hand. To Lavender, the job of carrying water for the Trunchbull seems like a perfect opportunity to become a hero like Bruce Bogtrotter. She resolves to do something awful to that water pitcher to humiliate and annoy the Headmistress.
That afternoon, Lavender goes out to a little pond in her backyard, where she captures a small animal called a newt in her school hat. A newt does not bite or otherwise do harm, but it is scary-looking, like a tiny crocodile. Carefully, Lavender transfers the animal into a pencil box lined with swamp weeds, propping it open just slightly so that it will be able to breathe until tomorrow afternoon.
The next day, Lavender brings the newt to school and hides it in her desk. By lunchtime, she is so excited that she can hardly eat. Miss Honey notices this and asks about it, but Lavender claims that she had a big breakfast.
As soon as Lavender is released from the lunch table, she rushes to enact her plan. She runs to the school kitchen for a pitcher of water and a glass, and then she carries them to the classroom, which is empty because all the kids are out at recess. Hurriedly, Lavender tips the newt and its swamp weeds into Miss Trunchbull’s pitcher.
After that, there is nothing left to do but wait for the lesson to begin.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598
The Weekly Test
At two o’clock, Miss Trunchbull marches into Miss Honey’s classroom and leers at the children. She calls them “a bunch of nauseating little warts” and claims that she is going to expel as many of them as she can.
The Headmistress tells the children to stand up and stick out their hands. Everyone obeys, and she walks up and down the rows to make sure they have all washed. She stops in front of Nigel Hicks, a smart little boy with visibly grubby fingers. He admits that he has not washed since yesterday at least, and he does not seem sorry. He explains that his father is a doctor who says that “we’re all so covered with bugs anyway that a bit of extra dirt never hurt anyone.”
This horrifies Miss Trunchbull, who declares Nigel “disgusting” and orders him to stand on one foot with his nose in the corner until the end of the class period. While he is there, she tells him to spell “write,” and he does so correctly. This clearly annoys her.
Pleased by his victory, Nigel goads Trunchbull by telling her that everyone in the class can spell hard words like “difficulty.” Miss Trunchbull tests a girl at random and finds out this is true. When the Headmistress seems upset by this, the children cheerfully explain that Miss Honey uses songs to help them remember spelling words. Trunchbull declares this “perfectly ridiculous” and orders Miss Honey to stop using fun teaching methods.
Next, Miss Trunchbull tests a boy named Rupert on multiplication, and the poor kid gets her question wrong. As punishment, Miss Trunchbull picks him up by the hair and shouts that he is “an ignorant little slug.” She tells him the right answer, promising to put him down when he says it properly. He does so, and she drops him. He falls hard and bounces “like a football” before shakily returning to his seat.
The class watches this scene with equal parts amusement and fear. To them, it is sort of like watching an action-packed movie, except with the knowledge that they are personally at risk.
Miss Honey, for her part, hates it when Miss Trunchbull treats the children roughly. She protests when Rupert gets picked up by the hair and also later when a kid named Eric gets plucked out of his chair by the ears. However, Miss Trunchbull insists that her methods are the best way to make children remember what they are supposed to know. “You take it from me, it’s no good just telling them. You’ve got to hammer it into them,” she says.
According to Miss Trunchbull, Miss Honey could greatly improve her teaching skills just by reading the Charles Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby. The teacher in that book beats the schoolchildren so often he could fry “eggs and bacon” on their rear ends. This idea is obviously appealing to Miss Trunchbull, who sighs and says it is too bad that no child at her school is smart enough to read great books like that.
Matilda, who is sitting in the second row, quietly says that she has read Nicholas Nickleby. Trunchbull calls this a lie, especially after she learns that Matilda is the daughter of Mr. Wormwood. Just this morning, the car Miss Trunchbull bought from Matilda’s father broke down, and the engine turned out to be full of sawdust. According to Miss Trunchbull, the child of a “thief and a robber” is sure to be trouble. She threatens to watch Matilda closely from now on.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521
The First Miracle
By now, Trunchbull is completely annoyed at Matilda's class. She grumbles that small children are the worst kind. They should not exist at all. Someone should invent a spray to kill them off, or maybe a new kind of sticky fly-paper that catches them so they can be thrown away. “My idea of a perfect school…is one that has no children in it at all,” the Trunchbull says.
Miss Trunchbull pours herself a glass of water, and Lavender’s newt plops into her glass. The Headmistress screams and leaps up, shaking like a jellied dessert. Not being well schooled in science, she does not recognize a newt when she sees one. However, she does recognize that she is angry. Somebody tricked her and made her scream. This makes her seem weak, and she hates that.
In cases like this, Miss Trunchbull’s first impulse is to blame the child who has annoyed her most recently. She tells Matilda to stand up, and the little girl protests that she is innocent. Miss Trunchbull ignores this and threatens to expel Matilda. She will have Matilda chased out of the building with hockey sticks and then sentenced to a home for juvenile delinquents for at least forty years.
This speech makes Matilda furious. Personally, she would not mind getting in trouble if she had really played the trick, but she refuses to accept harsh treatment for a crime she did not do. She shouts several times that she did nothing wrong; her protests, of course, do no good. Trunchbull is in charge, and she says Matilda is guilty.
This experience leaves Matilda so angry she is shaking all over. She feels energy building up inside her, and her eyes get hot. She has an odd feeling, as if her eyes can reach out and move things. Matilda focuses on Trunchbull’s water glass and wills it to spill.
Amazingly, Matilda’s thoughts actually cause the glass to tip over. Water splashes all over Trunchbull’s jacket, and the newt lands on her big bosom. The terrified animal digs in with its little claws until Trunchbull—shrieking in horror—manages to fling it away. It lands near Lavender, who quickly scoops it back into her pencil box.
Naturally, Miss Trunchbull wants to blame someone for tipping over the glass. She shouts at Matilda again, but this time the little girl does not mind. In fact, she feels pretty good. After all, if she can spill a newt on a headmistress with the power of her eyes alone, then she is probably going to be okay. Calmly, she tells the Headmistress that she has not left her desk. Miss Honey, who has been watching this whole scene from the back of the room, leaps to the little girl’s defense. She insists that no child was anywhere near the water glass when it spilled.
Miss Trunchbull is too upset to go on with the weekly test. She storms out of the room, leaving the kids in surprised silence. Miss Honey smiles at them and says that they can go home early today.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421
The Second Miracle
Matilda is so amazed at what she has done that she does not know what to think. As the other kids rush out of the classroom, she sits still and wonders what to do next. After a moment’s consideration, she decides that she needs the help of an adult. Obviously her parents are no good, so she opts to talk to Miss Honey instead.
When Miss Honey sees Matilda’s odd expression, she immediately agrees to a private chat. Ever since those awful meetings with the Headmistress and Matilda’s parents, Miss Honey has been feeling sorry for this little girl. It is the teacher’s impulse to help the child in any way possible.
First, Matilda asks if she will really be expelled. Miss Honey says that it is unlikely. Miss Trunchbull was just upset and will probably forget all about it. This comes as a relief to Matilda, who likes school in spite of the awful Headmistress.
When the conversation turns to the water glass that spilled, Miss Honey says that Miss Trunchbull was obviously wrong to accuse Matilda of tipping it over. Matilda hurriedly says that she did tip it over, but that she used her eyes to do it. This is such a strange claim that Miss Honey at first fails to understand. When she finally grasps the idea, she thinks Matilda is imagining things. However, Miss Honey does not call Matilda silly or accuse her of lying. Instead, Miss Honey sets the water glass back on the table and invites the little girl to repeat her trick.
Calmly, Matilda focuses her eyes on the glass. This time, the hot feeling comes upon her more quickly, and it does not take long for her to knock the glass over using just her mind. Afterward, she has a wonderful feeling, like “flying past stars on silver wings.”
Miss Honey is shocked when the glass tips over, and she is scared when Matilda gets the funny, faraway look on her face. But above all, Miss Honey is full of wonderment. She has never believed that any human being could move objects with the power of the mind alone—but her eyes tell her that Matilda has just done so.
After a moment’s hesitation, Miss Honey invites Matilda to come over for tea so that the two of them can talk more about this strange power. Matilda accepts but asks the teacher not to tell anyone. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Miss Honey says.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
Miss Honey’s Cottage
On the walk to Miss Honey’s cottage, Matilda’s excitement about her new power fills her with energy. She skips and hops along, chattering about what she can do:
I only have to take a moment to get my eyes strong and then I can push it out, this strongness, at anything at all so long as I am staring at it hard enough....
Eventually Miss Honey warns Matilda to slow down. Miss Honey is amazed by the power as well, but she warns that they are “playing with mysterious forces.” This is not necessarily bad, but it may have a bad or painful side to it. They will need to be careful.
Matilda is “too steamed up” to agree. She says that her power is awesome and makes her feel good. She cannot imagine why she should have to be wary of using it. However, she seems willing to go along with what Miss Honey wants for now.
During this conversation, Miss Honey calls Matilda precocious. When Matilda asks what the word means, the teacher explains that a precocious person is especially smart at a young age. This comment surprises Matilda, who has never thought of herself as special.
As they approach the tiny cottage where Miss Honey lives, the teacher warns Matilda not to “expect too much of it.” Her little house was built long ago as a place for farm workers to live. It is tiny, with no modern conveniences. However, it is pretty, and it is set along a wild-looking road. On the way to the door, Miss Honey recites a few lines from a romantic poem. The words are impressive but also frightening, and they leave Matilda feeling shaken.
Inside, Miss Honey leads the way to a kitchen that is as small as a cupboard. There is no running water, so she sends Matilda outside to draw water from a well. When this task is done, Miss Honey boils the water over a small camp stove for tea. For Matilda’s snack, the teacher gets out two pieces of brown bread, which she spreads thinly with margarine. Matilda does not say so out loud, but this is a much less appetizing snack than the one she always eats at home. All this is strange and fascinating to Matilda, who asks Miss Honey if she is poor. “Yes,” the teacher replies.
She then leads Matilda into a living room that is furnished with two wooden crates for chairs and another for a table. Otherwise, the room is completely bare. Matilda is curious to know why her teacher lives like this, and she resolves to find out.
Meanwhile, Matilda eats the bread and margarine that Miss Honey offers, and the two of them chat about the power. Miss Honey says that Matilda may be the only person in the history of the world who has ever moved objects with her mind.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
Miss Honey’s Story
Unable to hold in her curiosity, Matilda asks a series of questions about Miss Honey’s life. Timidly, Miss Honey says that her salary is fairly low, but not so low that she should have to live as she does. Matilda suggests that it might be nice to live simply and save the trouble of shopping and housecleaning, but Miss Honey does not reply. Instead she goes red all over, and the room falls silent.
After a pause, Matilda apologizes for prying. The teacher shakes her head and says that it is natural to be curious. Matilda is as wise as many adults, and Miss Honey should have expected the questions. Quietly, the teacher admits that she has never told anybody the story she is about to tell. She was afraid to. “Any courage I had was knocked out of me when I was young,” she says. However, she has lately developed a desire to speak up. So she takes a deep breath and begins.
When Miss Honey was a toddler, her mother died, and a horrible old aunt moved in. Miss Honey hated the woman, who was very cruel whenever the two of them were alone. She was much nicer in the rare moments when Miss Honey’s father, a busy doctor, was at home. Then he died suddenly, and people said he had killed himself—but nobody could believe he would have done such a thing.
Here Matilda interrupts the story and guesses that the mean aunt murdered Miss Honey’s father. Miss Honey tells Matilda that it is wrong to make accusations without evidence. However, it seems possible that Matilda could be right.
Continuing the story, Miss Honey explains that her aunt was “a demon” who made life “a nightmare." The teacher refuses to give too many details, but she says that after her father's death, she lived as a “slave.” She did all the housework, and she learned to obey her aunt's orders instantly. Unlike Matilda, she was not brave enough to rebel or take revenge.
At school, Miss Honey was a good student, and she could have gone on to study at a university. However, the aunt would not allow it. She allowed Miss Honey to attend a nearby teacher's college but ordered her to continue living at home and doing all the housework. When Miss Honey graduated and got a job, her aunt insisted on receiving Miss Honey's paychecks for ten years as repayment for her childhood clothes and food. By then, Miss Honey was an adult, but she was used to being controlled. She did not fight back.
At the end of this story, Miss Honey reveals her one small victory: her decision to move into the little cottage where she now lives. She found it while taking a walk one day, and she convinced its owner to rent it to her. He thought she was crazy to want to live in such a place, and he only asked for a few pence per week. Miss Honey receives an allowance of one pound per week from her aunt. With it, she pays her tiny rent and buys a little food and fuel. She does not even have a bed. “But they say it’s very healthy to sleep on a hard surface,” she says.
Matilda asks if the aunt still lives in Miss Honey’s father’s house, and Miss Honey says yes. Her father’s will was never found after his death, and the old woman managed to get the deed to the house changed into her own name. This was probably accomplished with forged papers, but Miss Honey cannot afford a lawyer to prove it. Besides, her aunt is widely respected, and it is unlikely that anyone would believe accusations against her.
Hearing this, Matilda asks curiously who the aunt is. Miss Honey looks sad. “Miss Trunchbull,” she says.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
Matilda finds it upsetting to think about Miss Trunchbull being Miss Honey’s aunt. Quietly, the little girl says that she saw Miss Trunchbull throw a child over a fence. But according to Miss Honey, that was nothing. Miss Trunchbull used to hold Miss Honey’s head underwater in the bathtub, making her feel like she was drowning. But halfway through this story, Miss Honey stops herself and says that she does not want to talk about what her aunt did to her. It does not help to dwell on such things.
Suddenly Miss Honey apologizes for talking so much about herself. After all, she invited Matilda over to talk about the little girl’s power to move things with her mind. Hoping to salvage the afternoon, the teacher suggests trying a few experiments, but Matilda shakes her head and says she does not want to experiment any more today. She is feeling tired and would rather go home and think things over.
On the way home, Matilda is so silent that Miss Honey begins to worry. She asks the little girl to “forget everything,” but Matilda refuses. She promises not to share Miss Honey’s story with anyone, but she does not want to stop thinking about it. After all, somebody has to help Miss Honey.
Miss Honey thinks it is sweet that Matilda wants to help her, but she does not believe anyone can—least of all a five-year-old girl. The teacher says firmly that it is too difficult and dangerous to try anything. But nothing is too difficult or dangerous for Matilda. She says she is already forming a plan, and she needs three important pieces of information.
Warily, Miss Honey says she cannot promise to answer Matilda’s questions. However, the questions turn out to be simple and so impersonal that the teacher can think of no reason not to answer them. All Matilda wants to know is what Miss Honey, her father, and her aunt used to call each other when they all lived together. Bemused, Miss Honey says that her father’s name is Magnus, Miss Trunchbull’s first name is Agatha, and her own first name is Jenny. Matilda repeats this information solemnly.
By now, Miss Honey is seriously regretting her decision to share her life story with Matilda. Unfortunately, she cannot take it back. “Don’t do anything silly,” she says.
Matilda laughs at this. She says good-bye, and she thanks her teacher for the tea. However, she conveniently forgets to promise not to do anything silly.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414
Nobody else is home when Matilda enters her house. Her father is still at work, and her mother is probably off playing Bingo. As for her brother, who knows where he is? Matilda is glad to be home alone because now she has a chance to start working right away on her plan to help Miss Honey.
Matilda sneaks into the living room and steals one of her father’s cigars. She wants to practice moving it with her mind. It is a bit bigger and heavier than the thing Matilda will need to move to make her plan work, but that is probably okay.
Taking the cigar to her room, Matilda puts it on the table and sits down on her bed. Concentrating hard, she moves it with her mind. It falls to the floor, and she feels pleased as she enjoys the funny sensation that follows the use of her power.
However, there is little time for celebrating. Matilda needs to be able to move a cigar-sized object in some very specific ways. The first and most important part is that she cannot just push it. She needs to learn how to lift it off the table. After concentrating extra hard for a few minutes, she manages to pick up one end of the cigar and hold it above the table for a few seconds. It is very hard, and she soon has to let it fall back down again.
After a little rest, Matilda continues practicing for another hour. Eventually she can use her brain power to pick up the whole cigar and hold it a few inches above the table. However, the effort exhausts her so much that she eventually flops down on the bed and falls asleep. Later, when Mrs. Wormwood gets home, she finds Matilda sleeping and demands to know if the little girl is sick. Matilda says no and claims she is just tired.
After that, Matilda spends every afternoon practicing with the cigar. Soon she can do much more than lift it. She can twist it, turn it, and move it in very specific ways. By the following Wednesday evening, she is ready. She is so excited that she congratulates herself out loud:
I can really do it! I can pick the cigar up with just my eye-power and push it and pull it in the air any way I want!
With that, Matilda decides that she will put her plan into action tomorrow.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494
The Third Miracle
On the following day at two o’clock, Miss Trunchbull is scheduled to come to Miss Honey’s classroom for her weekly visit. When she marches in “like some giant of doom,” her first action is to check the water pitcher. This time there are no newts awaiting her. This pleases her, and she warns the children that she will make them pay if such a thing happens again.
When the test begins, Miss Trunchbull orders a boy named Wilfred to recite the number 3 multiplication table backwards. Terrified, he stammers that he has not learned to do it that way, and Miss Trunchbull says triumphantly that the children are not learning anything. Miss Honey protests:
There is little point in teaching anything backwards. The whole object of life…is to go forwards.
Miss Trunchbull does not argue. Instead, she turns back to Wilfred and barks a difficult multiplication word problem. Unfortunately for him, he is too scared and confused to produce an answer. Miss Trunchbull insults him loudly and performs “an amazing gymnastic trick” that causes him to somersault through the air in front of her. She catches him by the ankle and holds him “dangling upside down like a plucked chicken in a shop-window.”
Before Miss Trunchbull can hammer her multiplication problem into Wilfred’s head, Nigel leaps from his seat and shouts that the chalk is moving by itself. Miss Trunchbull whirls around and sees a piece of chalk writing her name on the blackboard. She drops Wilfred and shouts, “What the blazes is this?”
Nobody except Miss Honey and Matilda—who is controlling the chalk with her mind—knows what is happening. Naturally, neither of them explains the situation to the Headmistress. Slowly, Matilda makes it seem like the ghost of Miss Honey’s father is using the chalk to write a note to Miss Trunchbull:
Agatha, this is Magnus…
Agatha, give my Jenny back her house
Give my Jenny back her wages…
If you don’t, I will come and get you…
Like you got me.
When the note is complete, Miss Trunchbull faints, and the class erupts into chaos. A few children run for the “matron,” who is basically a school nurse. Nigel dumps a whole pitcher of water on Miss Trunchbull’s face. But Matilda just sits still, feeling her power surge through her. She is pretty sure she has won the battle with Miss Trunchbull forever, and she is thrilled.
When the matron comes in, accompanied by some teachers, she asks who threw the water on the Headmistress. When Nigel claims credit, one of the teachers congratulates him and eagerly asks if they should do it again. The matron waves off this silliness and makes the other teachers help her carry Miss Trunchbull out of the room.
Once again, Miss Honey releases the class early for the day. As Matilda leaves with the other children, Miss Honey gives her a kiss on the head.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682
A New Home
The next day, Miss Trunchbull does not show up at school, and she does not call in sick either. When a few school officials decide to find out if she is okay, they find her front door unlocked and her house empty. The furniture is still there, but her possessions have been removed from the cupboards and closets. The school officials conclude that the Headmistress has skipped town.
The day after that, Miss Honey receives a letter from a local law firm. It informs her that her father’s will has suddenly been found. The document declares Miss Honey the true owner of her dead parents’ house, and it also gives her access to a large sum of money that belonged to her father. Within a few weeks, Miss Honey has moved into her childhood home, which now belongs to her. Naturally, Matilda is always welcome to visit.
Meanwhile, at school, an “excellent” teacher named Mr. Trilby is placed in charge. Soon Matilda is moved to the highest class with the oldest students. Matilda’s new teacher soon comes to agree with Miss Honey’s assessment that the little girl is a genius.
One afternoon during a visit to Miss Honey’s house, Matilda comments that she recently tried using her power just for fun. To her surprise, she found that she could not make objects move with her mind anymore.
Miss Honey does not share Matilda's surprise. She says that Matilda’s power was probably her brain’s way of using up mental energy. She did not have any challenges in the lowest class at school, so her mind found another way to keep itself busy. Now that Matilda is competing with kids who are older and more capable, her brain is using its energy in the normal way.
Whether or not this explanation is correct, Matilda thinks it is okay not to have the power anymore. “I wouldn’t want to go through life as a miracle-worker,” she says. Miss Honey replies that Matilda has worked enough miracles already.
That afternoon, Matilda returns home to find her parents and brother throwing things into suitcases. Mr. Wormwood shouts at Matilda to go to her room and pack right away. The whole family is getting on a plane to Spain in half an hour, and they are never coming back to England.
Instead of obeying, Matilda runs back to Miss Honey’s house and explains what is going on. Miss Honey says she is “not very surprised.” According to local rumors, Mr. Wormwood has been working with a ring of car thieves for a long time. People say that the thieves bring him stolen cars, which he disguises with paint jobs and new license plates before reselling them as ordinary used cars. He is probably going to Spain to flee the reach of England’s police.
Matilda asks if she can stay and live with Miss Honey. Sadly, Miss Honey says that she would love to adopt Matilda, but that children have to do what their parents tell them to do. This does not deter Matilda, who says that her parents would probably prefer to get rid of her anyway. She grabs Miss Honey’s hand, and the two of them run to her house to ask permission.
When Matilda and Miss Honey arrive, the Wormwoods are packing up the car. Matilda breathlessly explains that she wants to stay and live with her former teacher. Miss Honey adds that she loves Matilda and can afford to pay for everything the little girl needs.
During this conversation, Mrs. Wormwood is already shoving a suitcase into Matilda’s spot in the backseat. Mr. Wormwood barely hesitates. “I’ve got a plane to catch. If she wants to stay, let her stay,” he says. And with that, Matilda’s family gets into the car and drives away. As the car speeds off, her brother is the only member of the family who bothers to wave good-bye.
As the novel ends, Matilda leaps into Miss Honey’s arms and watches her family leave.