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She gave the hat a sharp yank. Mr Wormwood let out a yell that rattled the window-panes. "Ow-w-w!" he screamed. "Don't do that! Let go! You'll take half the skin off my forehead!" (3.5)
Although Mrs. Wormwood is trying to help her husband, we're thinking she probably could have done so a bit more gently. To be honest, though, Mr. Wormwood's reaction is equally ridiculous and extreme (although, to be fair, he probably wasn't expecting it to hurt so much). Do you think it's more likely that Mrs. Wormwood is surprisingly strong, or that Mr. Wormwood is a total wimp?
"I don't want to know what it's about," Mr Wormwood barked. "I'm fed up with your reading anyway. Go and find yourself something useful to do." With frightening suddenness he now began ripping the pages out of the book in handfuls and throwing them in the waste-paper basket. (4.10)
Ack! To any self-respecting nerd, this scene of a poor, innocent book being torn to shreds by the cruel Mr. Wormwood is absolutely terrifying. What did the book ever do to him? Why does he have such a violent, physical reaction to Matilda's reading? The one good thing here, though, is that he takes it out on the paper, not the person.
"Don't give me that rubbish!" the father shouted. "Of course you looked! You must have looked! No one in the world could give the right answer just like that, especially a girl! You're a little cheat, madam, that's what you are! A cheat and a liar!" (5.36)
Although Mr. Wormwood doesn't touch Matilda, this scene is still really violent. His words and actions are brutal and cruel, and he accuses his daughter of some really nasty things. Don't forget the "especially a girl" comment, either, which shows that Mr. Wormwood thinks men are better than women. So he's belittling Matilda's intelligence in several ways, and you know what that means, folks? This is emotional abuse.
"But the lying didn't help me in spite of the great performance I put on. The Trunchbull simply grabbed me by one ear and rushed me to The Chokey at the double and threw me inside and locked the door. That was my second all-day stretch. It was absolute torture. I was sliced and cut all over when I came out. (10.34)
Hearing her story is one of the first times we start getting a sense of what the Trunchbull is capable of. And what she's capable of, it sounds like, is Medieval Era-like torture. Being trapped in The Chokey is certainly not your typical time-out. This is something much more sinister, much more painful, and much more violent. Yikes.
"Only yesterday the Trunchbull caught a boy called Julius Rottwinkle eating Liquorice Allsorts during the scripture lesson and she simply picked him up by one arm and flung him clear out of the open classroom window. Our classroom is one floor up and we saw Julius Rottwinkle go sailing out over the garden like a Frisbee and landing with a thump in the middle of the lettuces. […]" (10.42)
It's almost like the Trunchbull is a legend, rather than a person. Hortensia's stories about what the Trunchbull has done to other kids make a terrifying background for the character, and they set up what will happen when the Trunchbull actually enters. Until then, it's almost like she's a mythic monster that the kids tell ghost stories about. Surely her violence can't be that bad.
Rupert got up and went back to his desk massaging his scalp with both hands. The Trunchbull returned to the front of the class. The children sat there hypnotized. None of them had seen anything quite like this before. It was splendid entertainment. It was better than a pantomime but with one big difference. In this room there was an enormous human bomb in front of them which was liable to explode and blow someone to bits any moment. (13.68)
Depending on how you choose to interpret the Trunchbull's behavior, it's either unbelievably hilarious, or utterly terrifying. In fact, the more hilarious she seems, the more terrifying she is. Imagine what she might do if she caught you laughing at her. That would be no laughing matter.
"I don't want to talk about it," Miss Honey said. "It's too horrible. But in the end I became so frightened of her I used to start shaking when she came into the room. You must understand I was never a strong character like you. I was always shy and retiring." (17.43)
This is one scene in the book in which the Trunchbull's violent abuse takes a turn from the hilarious to the horrible. Her treatment of Miss Honey is in no way funny. It's tragic, sad, and has left Miss Honey severely damaged, maybe for life.
"What happened when you were left all alone with the aunt? Wasn't she nice to you?"
"Nice?" Miss Honey said. "She was a demon. As soon as my father was out of the way she became a holy terror. My life was a nightmare." (17.40-1)
How sweet. Even though Matilda has a rough family life, she still looks for the good in other people. Her default setting is good. That's why her first impulse is to think that an adoptive aunt would be nice to Miss Honey. Unfortunately, as Miss Honey quickly explains, her aunt was a demon. Of course this makes the Trunchbull's violent abuse all the more terrible. How could she be so awful to sweet little Miss Honey?
"After my father died, when I was five and a half, she used to make me bathe myself all alone. And if she came up and thought I hadn't washed properly she would push my head under the water and hold it there. But don't get me started on what she used to do. That won't help us at all." (18.4)
We get a lot of hints about how dreadful the Trunchbull's abuse of Miss Honey was, like the fact that she would push the teacher's head under the water and hold it there, but we don't get many details beyond that. Nevertheless, when you stop to think about it, you realize just how incredibly violent the Trunchbull was (and still is!). Just imagine how terrible the other things she did must have been, if Miss Honey doesn't even want to talk about them at all.
"I am glad to see," she said, "that there are no slimy creatures in my drinking-water this time. If there had been, then something exceptionally unpleasant would have happened to every single member of this class. And that includes you, Miss Honey." (20.15)
When people play pranks on her, the Trunchbull becomes even more determined to be violent and evil. She just takes them as excuses that let her punish other people. She'd be mean anyway, but when someone plays a prank, that makes it even easier for her to unleash her violent side and lash out.
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