Introduction: Matilda by Roald Dahl – A Tale of Child Bullying and Child Abuse
Children’s author, Roald Dahl often used his skill as a writer, to speak up against injustices in the world. He is best known for children’s classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. Over his career, Road Dahl penned 19 children’s books, nine short story collections, and several television and movie scripts.
According to BBC news, “His stories are available in 59 languages and with more than 200 million book sales worldwide.” In the two of his books that I have read so far – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda – the underdogs prevail. In Matilda, Dahl tackles bullying and child abuse, and he was often criticized for allowing children to get back at adults in his books.
Matilda is among 100 books listed in The Big Read Book of Books, a list of books chosen by the British public. The BBC asked the British public on April 5, 2003,
“What is your best loved book? The one that feels like an old friend; the one you grew up with; the one that gets you through hard times; even the one that changed your life?”
The Big Read Book of Books is the result of that poll.
UPDATE: First Published in April 2016
Related Post: A Journey into Kids’ Reading Books
The Story: Matilda by Roald Dahl – A Tale of Child Bullying and Child Abuse
Mr and Mrs Wormwood has two children, Michael five years older than his sister, Matilda, who is just over four years old and a gifted child. The parents are very self-absorbed and don’t have much interest in their children’s development and well-being. Mr Wormwood, a disreputable used car salesman, brags about the steps he takes to cheat his customers, and is grooming his young son to take over the business from him some day.
Even though she is so young, Matilda knows that what her father does is wrong, and is not afraid to tell him so. Mrs Wormwood will never win any “Mother of the Year Awards.” She plays bingo every afternoon at a location eight miles away from home, leaving her daughter to fend for herself. If that’s not child abuse, then what is?
Matilda develops the joy of reading from when she is a toddler and read anything in sight, including the newspaper. Here is a passage from Matilda by Roald Dahl that made an impression on me because it describes the little girl’s situation. And although this is a story, the sad reality is that things like this do happen in real life.
“‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘do you think you could buy me a book?’
‘A book?’ he said. ‘What d’you want a flaming book for?’
‘To read, Daddy.’
‘What’s wrong with the telly, for heaven’s sake? We’ve got a lovely telly with a twelve-inch screen and now you come asking for a book! You’re getting spoiled, my girl!’
Nearly every weekday afternoon Matilda was let alone in the house. Her brother (five years older than her) went to school. Her father went to work and her mother went out playing bingo in a town eight miles away. Mrs Wormwood was hooked on bingo and played it five afternoons a week. On the afternoon of the day when her father had refused to buy her a book, Matilda set out all by herself to walk to the public library in the village. When she arrived, she introduced herself to the librarian, Mrs Phelps. She asked if she might sit awhile and read a book. Mrs slightly taken aback at the arrival of such a tiny girl unaccompanied by a parent, nevertheless told her welcome.’”
Every afternoon, as soon her mother leaves the house to play bingo, Matilda walks the 10 minutes to the library to read. In no time, she reads all the children’s books. Mrs Phelps is surprised that such a young girl can actually read. The librarian recommends Great Expectations, and after a week of reading the book, Matilda finishes it. She admits to Mrs Phelps that she enjoyed the book, although she didn’t understand everything. That’s expected because Matilda is not quite five.
Over the next six months, while the librarian keeps an eye on her, the little girl reads a lot more books. One day Mrs Phelps explains to Matilda that public libraries allow people to take home books with them. From then on, Matilda visits the library once a week to return books and to borrow more. While at home in the afternoons, alone with her books, Matilda makes herself some Ovaltine or Bovril, and takes it to her room to drink.
“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on an olden day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
Books Mentioned in Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Red Pony The Good CompanionsThe Grapes of WrathThe Invisible ManKim Gone to EarthThe Secret Garden Great ExpectationsNicholas Nickleby Oliver Twist Jane Eyre Pride and PrejudiceTess of The D’ubervilles
Because her mother is busy playing bingo in the afternoons, she seldom has time to cook, so the family feasts on TV dinners, except on occasion when Mrs Wormwood buys fish and chips. And family time in the Wormwood household is sitting in front of the telly, dinner plate in lap, eating dinner while watching the television – no deep, enriching conversations. It is during these times that the father brags about how he cheats others.
“’Can you really turn the mileage back with an electric drill? young Michael asked.
‘I’m telling you trade secrets; the father said. ‘So don’t you go talking about this to anyone else. You don’t want me put in jug, do you?’
‘I won’t tell a soul,’ the boy said. ‘Do you do this to many cars, Dad?’
‘Every single car that comes through my hands gets the treatment’ the father said. ‘They all have their mileage cut to under ten thou before they’re offered for sale. And to think I invented that all by myself’ he added proudly. ‘It’s made me a mint. ‘
Matilda, who had been listening closely, said, ‘But Daddy, that’s even more dishonest than the sawdust. It’s disgusting. You’re cheating people who trust you.’
‘If you don’t like it then don’t eat the food in this house’ the father said. It’s bought with the profits.’
‘It’s dirty money’ Matilda said. ‘I hate it.’
Two red spots appeared on the father’s cheeks. ‘Who the heck do you think you are’ he shouted, ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury or something, preaching to me about honesty? You’re just an ignorant little squirt who hasn’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about!’
‘Quite right, Harry,’ the mother said.”
The parents often abuse Matilda like that and she thinks of creative ways to get even. In one instance, she glues her father’s hat with superglue, so he cannot take it off without pulling out his hair. Another time she adds peroxide to his hair tonic, which bleaches his hair platinum blond, and will inevitably cause some of his hair to fall out.
When Matilda is five-and-a-half years old, her mother finally gets around to registering her in school. On the first day at Crunchem Hall Primary School, Matilda meets her teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey. The teacher tests the children to see where they are at, asking a number of questions. In no time, Miss Honey discovers that Matilda is very gifted and should be in a much higher class.
Discovering this about her new pupil, the teacher goes to the headmistress asking her to place Matilda in a higher grade. The headmistress, Miss Trunchbull is described as a “gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of pupils and teachers alike.”
Miss Trunchbull has been warned by Matilda’s father that his daughter is a troublemaker, so when Miss Honey approaches her about placing the child in a higher class, the headmistress is having none of it. Feeling frustrated, Miss Honey visits Mr and Mrs Wormwood in the evening after Matilda has gone to bed, to plead her case. The parents have no interest in their daughter’s well-being, are shallow, and the teacher leaves feeling even more frustrated than when she arrived.
To help Matilda, Miss Honey gets some books for children at a higher grade, so that she can read them while the teacher is teaching the other students in the class. Although she is smarter than her classmates, they do not hold it against her because she doesn’t brag about it.
Once a week Agatha Trunchbull teaches each class. It is her way of testing if the students are learning and if the teachers are doing a good job. She demands that there is a jug of water for her. Lavender, one of Matilda’s classmates offers to take care of the jug and water, but she adds a newt in the jug. The newt ends up in Mrs Trunchbull’s clothing and poor Matilda gets blamed for the mischief.
As I have said before, the headmistress is described as a monster and terror, so to put things into perspective, she throws the kids like a discus ball, and holds them by their ears and hair as a way to discipline them. Like most of the teachers, Miss Honey is terrified of Miss Trunchbull.
One day, Matilda discovers that she can move things using her mind. After an incident in class, the girl confides in her beloved teacher that she is the one who cause the glass of water to topple over and wet Miss Trunchbull. The teacher takes home the five-year-old with her for tea, and to conduct some tests. The place is very sparse, and being very observant, Matilda realizes that her teacher is very poor.
The teacher relates her story, and the reader discovers that Miss Trunchbull is actually Miss Honey’s aunt. When Miss Honey’s mother died, Miss Trunchbull moved into the household, and when her father dies mysteriously, the headmistress takes over the house for herself, giving new meaning to cruelty.
Miss Honey moves out, but has to give over most of her salary to this wicked woman, leaving her with not enough to live on. When Matilda hears this, it makes her livid.
After hearing about Miss Honey’s suffering, Matilda works hard to develop the new skill. The next time Miss Trunchbull comes to teach Matilda’s class, Matilda uses her mind to cause the chalk to levitate, writing a message to the headmistress.
“”Agatha, this is Magnus…. And you’d better believe it…. Agatha give my Jenny back her house. Give my Jenny her wages. Give my Jenny the house. Then get out of here. If you don’t I will come and get you… I am watching you Agatha””
The message terrifies the headmistress and she disappears without a trace. The house is returned to Miss Honey – her father’s will miraculously appears and she now has all of her salary. It also turns out that Matilda’s father has been selling stolen vehicles, and is going to be arrested. But someone tells him, so the family is quickly packing to leave the country. Matilda doesn’t want to leave with them, so she asks permission to live with Miss Honey. When her parents drive off, the only person who looks behind to wave is her brother Michael.
Conclusion: Matilda by Roald Dahl – A Tale of Child Bullying and Child Abuse
I recommend Matilda by Roald Dahl because it raises awareness to two important topics – bullying and child abuse. According to the organization Do Something,
“Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.”
And Child Help reports that
“Every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children (a referral can include multiple children). The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.”