by Roald Dahl
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Both the narrator and Miss Honey refer to what Matilda can do with her powers as "miracles." When Miss Honey first hears Matilda explain that she tipped over a glass with her mind, she says, "'If you did that, then it is just about the greatest miracle a person has ever performed since the time of Jesus'" (15.31). This might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but she has a point, and she's not alone.
The narrator, too, seems to think that what Matilda does is miraculous. Three of the chapter titles have the word "Miracles" in them. We could say that in a more plain-speaking way, what Matilda is doing is called telekinesis: she is moving objects with only her mind.
Of course, whether skeptical readers believe in telekinesis is a whole other story. The closest explanation we get for Matilda's powers is the one provided by Miss Honey, who says that Matilda develops powers to use up all her extra brain juice, which has built up since she's not being challenged enough. That doesn't sound so miraculous, although it is a bit incredible.
While it's hard to say for sure whether what Matilda's doing is miraculous or not, we should remember that in the Catholic tradition, a person has to perform miracles before becoming a saint. In fact, some traditions specify that the saint must complete three miracles.
Sound familiar? It's pretty clear from the chapter titles that we're supposed to think Matilda performs three miracles. So, is she a saint? Is that what her extra-specialness is all about?
First, let's take a look at how Miss Honey describes Matilda looking after the second miracle is performed: "She saw the child white in the face, as white as paper, trembling all over, the eyes glazed, staring straight ahead and seeing nothing. The whole face was transfigured, the eyes round and bright, and she was sitting there speechless, quite beautiful in a blaze of silence" (15.41). Matilda is "transfigured"; she's "beautiful," "trembling," and swept up in a "blaze of silence." And what does that all feel like? Well, Matilda says using her powers is like reaching the stars, or the heavens. Sounds pretty saint-like to Shmoop.
Why So Saintly?
Even though we've got references to religion, Madonnas, and miracles, her miracles aren't of the religious sort. Matilda's miracles don't come from God; they come from within herself. She makes them happen. She saves Miss Honey, and she humiliates the Trunchbull. In other words, Matilda doesn't wait around and pray for a rescue or an intervention. She creates that intervention on her own. She's a rainmaker.