Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
In formal reviews of Matilda, like those that appear in Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal, the book's ending gets the most disses. The Publishers Weekly review says that "Children […] will sail happily through the contrived, implausible ending" (source), while Heide Piehler, writing in the School Library Journal, says that "the conclusion is a bit too rapid […but] young readers won't mind" (source). So, what's going on with this ending? Do you think everything goes down too quickly? Let's take a look.
At the end of the book, Matilda's family announces they're moving to Spain. They have to move because Matilda's dad is a criminal whose number's coming up. He has to get away from the British legal system. But this potential move, which is sprung on Matilda out of nowhere, horrifies her:
"I want to live here with you," Matilda cried out. "Please let me live here with you!"
"I only wish you could," Miss Honey said. "But I'm afraid it's not possible. You cannot leave your parents just because you want to. They have a right to take you with them." (21.61-2)
See, things have just started getting good, now that the Trunchbull's gone for good. Miss Honey lives in this great new house and Matilda visits her every day—and Matilda's in the highest grade at her school, so she's learning cool new things and being challenged all the time. It's no wonder Matilda doesn't want to leave.
So, frantically, she asks first Miss Honey and then her family if she can abandon the Wormwood clan and live with Miss Honey forever. Miss Honey loves Matilda and welcomes her with open arms; the Wormwoods, who have treated Matilda like a "scab" (1.7) since day one, don't really have any problem with letting her go.
The book ends with the Wormwoods driving away, and Matilda and Miss Honey watching them go. Both Miss Honey and Matilda's old families, such as they were, are gone. They're left with each other to start a brand new, way more awesome, family:
Matilda leapt into Miss Honey's arms and hugged her, and Miss Honey hugged her back, and then the mother and father and brother were inside the car and the car was pulling away with the tyres screaming. The brother gave a wave through the rear window, but the other two didn't even look back. Miss Honey was still hugging the tiny girl in her arms and neither of them said a word as they stood there watching the big black car tearing round the corner at the end of the road and disappearing for ever into the distance. (21.75)
Here's that happy ending we've been waiting for. Matilda's parents leave her behind for good. There's none of that pesky worrying about papers or formal adoptions or anything like that. Maybe that's where the concerns about rapidity and implausibility come from in the reviews discussed above. We don't get a word for what Miss Honey and Matilda are to each other. Roomies? Mom and daughter? Sisters? Besties?
The ending also leaves us with some other unanswered questions. Is Matilda sad that her family gave her up so easily, even though she wanted to live with Miss Honey? In the years to come, will she regret her decision at all? Or will she, like her parents, refuse to look back?
But here's the thing. As frustrating as those questions might be, and as unrealistic as this ending might seem to some, it's really the only way such an outrageous, fantastical novel could end. Remember, this is a book filled with telekinesis and hurling kids by their hair. This is not a book where plausibility matters. So our advice, Shmoopers, is to let the ending sweep you off your feet. Go ahead, it's okay to weep some tears of joy. Matilda finally got the family she deserves, so why not celebrate?