Study Guide

Matilda Freedom and Confinement

By Roald Dahl

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Freedom and Confinement

Chapter 1

The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on 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. (1.54)

Books take Matilda out of her home and away from her ridiculous family. If she feels like it, she can hit up India or Africa, or the high seas… it's just a matter of picking the right book. So, the fact that her parents ignore her begins to matter less and less to Matilda. And even though she's pretty much confined to her house, as long as she has books the house never feels like a prison.

Mrs. Phelps

During the first week of Matilda's visits Mrs Phelps had said to her, "Does your mother walk you down here every day and then take you home?"

"My mother goes to Aylesbury every afternoon to play bingo," Matilda had said. "She doesn't know I come here." (1.34-5)

While it might seem like a very bad thing (and it actually is, to be fair), the Wormwoods' lack of interest in their daughter frees her. Matilda can do what she wants in the afternoons because her parents are too busy with their own lives to care. It's sad, but awfully convenient for our budding young reader.

Chapter 8
Miss Honey

Miss Honey stood there helpless before this great red-necked giant. There was a lot more she would like to have said but she knew it was useless. She said softly, "Very well, then. It's up to you, Headmistress." (8.36)

It's not like Miss Honey is being put in The Chokey or dangled upside down by an ankle. The Trunchbull doesn't make grown-up teachers go through such indignities. But the Trunchbull imprisons Miss Honey all the same. Miss Honey is helpless because nothing she can say or do will change the giant's mind. Miss Honey is trapped with the worst boss ever.

Chapter 10

"The Chokey," Hortensia went on, "is a very tall but very narrow cupboard. The floor is only ten inches square so you can't sit down or squat in it. You have to stand. And three of the walls are made of cement with bits of broken glass sticking out all over, so you can't lean against them. You have to stand more or less at attention all the time when you get locked up in there. It's terrible." (10.11)

Um, this is just terrifying. Also, illegal. Seriously, kids, if your headmistress ever tries to put you in the Chokey, head for the nearest phone and call the cops. Hopefully, at the end of the novel, the Trunchbull will find herself in a cell all her own.

Chapter 11

"He wouldn't [believe you]," Matilda said. "And the reason is obvious. Your story would sound too ridiculous to be believed. And that is the Trunchbull's great secret."

"What is?" Lavender asked.

Matilda said, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable. No parent is going to believe this pigtail story, not in a million years. Mine wouldn't. They'd call me a liar." (11.4-6)

Oh so that's why the Trunchbull gets away with her outrageous abuse. She can use punishments like The Chokey to imprison kids because she knows no one would believe the youngsters if they ever complained.

Chapter 13
The Trunchbull

"You are disgusting!" the Trunchbull bellowed. "You are a walking germ-factory! I don't wish to see any more of you today! Go and stand in the corner on one leg with your face to the wall!" (13.30)

Oh now there's a fair punishment. Didn't wash your hands? Go stand on one leg. The Trunchbull seems to get some sort of sick pleasure from trapping kids in various gnarly situations.

Chapter 14
The Trunchbull

"You are finished in this school, young lady!" she shouted. "You are finished everywhere. I shall personally see to it that you are put away in a place where not even the crows can land their droppings on you! You will probably never see the light of day again!" (14.18)

Never see the light of day again? The Trunchbull clearly wants to put this kid in the super Chokey. Here's hoping that's where she ends up when the authorities catch up with her after the end of the novel.

Chapter 16

On either side of the path there was a wilderness of nettles and blackberry thorns and long brown grass. An enormous oak tree stood overshadowing the cottage. Its massive spreading branches seemed to be enfolding and embracing the tiny building, and perhaps hiding it as well from the rest of the world. (16.39)

Strangely enough, this podunky little house represents a little slice of freedom for our Miss Honey. Here, sheltered by the huge oak tree, she is blissfully out of reach of the money-grubbing, evil Trunchbull. Phew.

Chapter 17

"You could have just packed up and walked away," Matilda said.

"Not until I got a job," Miss Honey said. "And don't forget, I was by then dominated by my aunt to such an extent that I wouldn't have dared. You can't imagine what it's like to be completely controlled like that by a very strong personality. It turns you to jelly." (17.62-3)

Miss Honey's predicament just goes to show that while physical imprisonment is awful, it's the mental prison that really counts. Sure, with a job and a house, she's physically free of the Trunchbull. But it's clear that her aunt's emotional abuse has kept her mentally confined for years. It's only with Matilda's help that she can finally be set free.

Chapter 21
Miss Honey

"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)

Even though Matilda wants something that would be best for her and Miss Honey (and, honestly, for the Wormwoods too), because she's only five years old, she's not free to follow through on it. She's a kid, and she doesn't have any say. Harrumph.

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