Study Guide

Matilda Family

By Roald Dahl

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Chapter 1

It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful. (1.1)

Of course the first line of the book is immediately undercut by everything we learn about Matilda's no-good parents. Most parents are like this. But Matilda's aren't. They're as extraordinarily awful as she is extra great. For once, the kid actually is wonderful. Yet there's no danger of Matilda's own parents acknowledging that.

[Matilda's] mind was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted of parents. But Mr and Mrs Wormwood were both so gormless and so wrapped up in their own silly little lives that they failed to notice anything unusual about their daughter. To tell the truth, I doubt they would have noticed had she crawled into the house with a broken leg. (1.7)

Just what kind of family is this? They have this totally awesome daughter, and yet totally ignore her. Every little kid needs a family, but with parents like this, Matilda might have to go out and find her own. What she's stuck with at home doesn't seem too promising.


"She [my mother] doesn't really care what I do," Matilda said a little sadly. (1.41)

Okay, Matilda might not be sitting up in her room sobbing over it every night, but that doesn't mean she doesn't care that her mom totally ignores her. In fact, we think Matilda probably cares a great deal (what kid wouldn't?), and this little line goes a long way to show it. But the fact that she says it only "a little sadly" shows she's resigned to her parents' behavior. They've always been like that and probably always will be.

Chapter 9

In any event, parents never underestimated the abilities of their own children. Quite the reverse. Sometimes it was well nigh impossible for a teacher to convince the proud father or mother that their beloved offspring was a complete nitwit. Miss Honey felt confident that she would have no difficulty in convincing Mr and Mrs Wormwood that Matilda was something very special indeed. The trouble was going to be to stop them from getting over-enthusiastic. (9.8)

Oh, Miss Honey. Forgive us for calling you a bit naïve. Like the narrator at the beginning of the book, she expects most parents to be naturally interested in their kids and think the best of them. But she hasn't met the Wormwoods. She has no idea just how uninvolved and uncaring parents can be.

Chapter 16

Do any of us children, she [Matilda] wondered, ever stop to ask ourselves where our teachers go when school is over for the day? Do we wonder if they live alone, or if there is a mother at home or a sister or a husband? "Do you live all by yourself, Miss Honey?" she asked. (16.34)

In this mini-epiphany, Matilda realizes she never thought about people like teachers having families before. While we're betting that most kids don't think about this either, Matilda isn't most kids. Maybe it wasn't on Matilda's radar because her own family is so awful. She'd probably forget them if she could, so why try thinking about other people's families, too?

Chapter 17
Miss Honey

"[…] I hated her [my aunt] right from the start. I missed my mother terribly. And the aunt was not a kind person. My father didn't know that because he was hardly ever around but when he did put in an appearance, the aunt behaved differently." (17.25)

Miss Honey could've told her dad about the aunt, but chances are he wouldn't have believed her—and then the aunt would probably have gotten even worse as a result. Sometimes it's tough being a kiddo, and not having much of a voice.

"I think what I am trying to explain to you," she said, "is that over the years I became so completely cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave me an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly. That can happen, you know. And by the time I was ten, I had become her slave. I did all the house-work. I made her bed. I washed and ironed for her. I did all the cooking. I learnt how to do everything." (17.47)

Miss Honey had to grow up before her time. In a different way, so did Matilda. But boy, did Miss Honey have it particularly rough. As terrible as Matilda's parents are to her, they're nowhere nearly as awful as this aunt is to Miss Honey. Frankly, if this were a true story, Shmoop would be calling the authorities right about now.

Chapter 18
Miss Honey

"I have kept you here far too long. Your mother will be starting to worry."

"She never does that," Matilda said, smiling. "But I would like to go home now please, if you don't mind." (18.10-11)

Miss Honey insists on thinking the good of people. She's met Mrs. Wormwood, so she knows what a waste of space Matilda's mother is. Yet she still thinks Mrs. Wormwood will miss her daughter or worry about her. Matilda knows better. But hey, at least Matilda's able to smile about it now, rather than talk about it sadly, like she did in "The Reader of Books."

Chapter 21

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)

It's a last insult that her parents don't even look back to say goodbye as they leave Matilda behind forever. But even that can't spoil the triumph of Matilda finally getting the mom she deserves in Miss Honey.


"Mummy," Matilda said, "would you mind if I ate my supper in the dining-room so I could read my book?"

The father glanced up sharply. "I would mind!" he snapped. "Supper is a family gathering and no one leaves the table till it's over!"

"But we're not at the table," Matilda said. "We never are. We're always eating off our knees and watching the telly." (2.35-6)

In the Wormwood household, dinnertime is family time in name only. Really, it's just an excuse for these lazy-bones parents to watch TV. It's not like they're chatting up their kids or talking about their days. So Mr. Wormwood's high and mighty rant is really just a cover-up for the fact that he'd rather stare at a screen all night than have a conversation with his own daughter.

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