This theme is exemplified in the scene where Lavender pranks Ms. Trunchbull by placing a newt in her glass of water. Matilda takes the blame for the prank even though Lavender was the instigator. This willingness to defend her friend and prevent any harm from coming to her reflects Matilda’s selfless character and the lengths she goes to protect those she cares for. Matilda has few people in her life who truly stick by her side, so she is endlessly loyal to the ones that do.
Age vs. Youth
In this book, Dahl takes the common idea that adults are wiser and more rational than children and flips it on its head. As is true in most children's stories, the heroine of this book is a child, a young girl who is much smarter and kinder than most of the adults around her. This sends an important message about the innocence and uniqueness of childhood. Matilda and the other children at Crunchem Hall stage a constant battle against Miss Trunchbull, which shows that children have agency and can take a stand against maltreatment.
Love and Family
While Matilda is extremely smart, an important thing missing from her life before she began school was love. Matilda's parents did not love her the way parents should, and love and affection is essential to any child's development. Miss Honey finally gives Matilda the love she needs, proving that the ties of family go beyond simple blood relations.
This book makes a strong statement in favor of cleverness, intelligence, and the importance of cultivating the mind. From the beginning, books are lauded as better stimulation than television. None of the book's antagonists—Miss Trunchbull and Matilda's family—are particularly smart, and they often look down on Matilda because they do not understand her brilliance. Miss Honey's frequent insistence that clever people must be appreciated make it clear to readers that they should value knowledge and learning.
Control and Agency
One of the most frustrating things for children growing up is the feeling that they have no control over their own lives, that they cannot determine things for themselves. For Matilda, this feeling is especially prevalent, because she feels imprisoned by her neglectful parents. By playing tricks on her family and Miss Trunchbull, Matilda gains some agency and can outsmart the people that try to control her. Miss Honey has a similar experience; she has been controlled by Aunt Trunchbull her whole life, and has fought for the chance to escape and determine her own life, which she is finally able to to by the end of the book.
Reward vs. Punishment
Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey's sharply contrasted ways of teaching send a message about the most effective way to ensure that students learn. Not only are Miss Honey's compassionate, patient methods more successful, they also earn her the respect and admiration of her students. Miss Trunchbull, however, only manages to earn their fear. Clearly when working with children, reward is more effective than punishment, just like love is stronger than hate.
Ms. Trunchbull embodies the concept of greed throughout the book. There are no limits as to what she would do in order to gain power, money and respect. She always wants more and more. Indeed, she stole Ms. Honey’s rightful assets and forced her to leave her own house.
Matilda Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Matilda is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.