Matilda Summary

Roald Dahl


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Matilda Summary

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Matilda is a children’s book by author Roald Dahl published in 1988. It tells the story of a precocious little girl who is ignored by her parents and bullied by the headmistress of her school. She discovers an amazing ability and turns her fortunes around.

Six-year-old Matilda is intelligent and high-spirited but is often neglected by her parents. As a result, she plays pranks on them such as gluing her father’s hat to his head or hiding a parrot on the chimney to simulate a ghost. She has read many books and is advanced for her age. At school, she meets Jennifer Honey, a teacher who is astonished at Matilda’s ability. She wants Matilda to move to a higher class, but this request is denied by the headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull. Miss Honey also tries to talk to her parents about Matilda’s ability, but in typical fashion, they simply ignore anything to do with Matilda.

Matilda and Miss Honey develop a bond that turns into a friendship. Matilda’s friend Lavender decides to play a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull. She places a newt in her jug of water. Much to her surprise, Matilda uses an unknown telekinetic power to tip the glass over onto Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda tells Miss Honey. She finds out that Miss Honey was raised by an abusive aunt and that the circumstances of her father’s death are suspicious. That aunt is Miss Trunchbull, and among other things, she is withholding Miss Honey’s inheritance, so she has to live in poverty in an old farmhouse. Matilda decides to avenge Miss Honey. She practices her powers at home until she is really good. During class one day, she uses her powers of telekinesis to lift a piece of chalk and write on the board. She pretends to be the ghost of Miss Honey’s late father, telling Miss Trunchbull to hand over Miss Honey’s inheritance and house and to leave the town forever.

Miss Trunchbull is replaced by a nicer head teacher, Mr. Trilby, and Matilda is moved up to a higher class. Once there, she is relieved to find that she no longer has the gift of telekinesis. Miss Honey attributes the loss to her using more of her intelligence in the higher level classes.

Matilda continues with school and visiting Miss Honey, but one day she comes home to find her parents packing. They are running from the police because her father stole some cars. Matilda asks if she can live with Miss Honey, and without much thought, they say yes. Matilda is able to finally have the mother she’s always wanted.

In many of Roald Dahl’s stories, schools are dark places full of terrifying things. Matilda’s school is no different. In it, teachers throw students through windows or scream insults at them. This is a way for Dahl to highlight how resilient we can be when surrounded by a few good people. For Matilda, this is Lavender and Miss Honey. It also explains how real, substantial learning does not happen inside the school building. Matilda is so far ahead of her class that for a while school means nothing to her but boredom and abuse. However, she is able to teach herself things that she misses from a challenging school environment.

Another theme is the idea of relationships. Families in Matilda are not indicative of positive relationships; they are abusive, neglectful, and unstable. Miss Honey’s relationship with her aunt has the same characteristics. Family, then, is something that you make for yourself. Matilda forges relationships with Lavender and Miss Honey that mirror what a supportive family structure looks like. At the end of the book, this relationship is confirmed through the ease her biological family has in letting her go. When Matilda finally goes to live with Miss Honey, she finds the family she has been looking for.

Everything in the book is over the top from what we’d expect of normal behavior. Miss Trunchbull is not just mean; she hurls insults and grabs students by the ears. Matilda’s parents are not just distant; they are actively neglectful, driving her to great lengths to be noticed. The book is not supernatural, except that, for a brief while, Matilda develops telekinesis through her boredom and her anger at the way some adults treat her. Nothing in the book is exactly what you’d expect; that’s a Roald Dahl specialty.

In Matilda, good and evil are locked in battle in this childlike world that is not very childlike. The book examines the types of worries children face during childhood years, and to some extent, the types of things that children would like to do to retaliate. Matilda’s pranks on her parents are certainly naughty, but we quickly realize that because her parents are so mean, they deserve what happens to them. This is the same with Miss Trunchbull. When all the bullies are vanquished, Matilda returns to being a normal girl.

Roald Dahl’s story is a classic. With tenacity, we can overcome terrible circumstances, and we can create the kind of family we want even if we were not born into it. Matilda is a reminder that it only takes a little gumption to overcome whatever obstacles we might be facing.