Study Guide

Matilda Youth

By Roald Dahl

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Chapter 1

By the time she was three, Matilda had taught herself to read by studying newspapers and magazines that lay around the house. At the age of four, she could read fast and well, and she naturally began hankering after books. (1.9)

In case we hadn't realized it yet, Matilda is far from an ordinary, run-of-the-mill child. She is special. She's able far beyond her years, which makes her wiser than a lot of the less educated, less smart adults in her life. It's no wonder that she's a telekinetic wiz at the ripe old age of, oh, five.

Chapter 4

Most children in Matilda's place would have burst into floods of tears. She didn't do this. She sat there very still and white and thoughtful. She seemed to know that neither crying nor sulking ever got anyone anywhere. The only sensible thing to do when you are attacked is, as Napoleon once said, to counter-attack. (4.14)

Machiavelli, take note! Matilda's battle ready. Whereas most kids might mope or cry, she takes matters into her own hands. Sulk? No thank you. She'd rather strategize.

Chapter 7
Miss Honey

"Do you think that all children's books ought to have funny bits in them?" Miss Honey asked.

"I do," Matilda said. "Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh."

Miss Honey was astounded by the wisdom of this tiny girl. She said, "And what are you going to do now that you've read all the children's books?"

"I am reading other books," Matilda said. "I borrow them from the library. Mrs Phelps is very kind to me. She helps me to choose them." (7.116-119)

We can't help but wonder if Matilda might be speaking for the man himself, here—Roald Dahl. After all, all the books he wrote for children had funny bits, and that's what makes him such a memorable author. Kids love to laugh, and Roald Dahl loved to make kids laugh.

Chapter 8
The Trunchbull

"…I have discovered, Miss Honey, during my long career as a teacher that a bad girl is a far more dangerous creature than a bad boy. What's more, they're much harder to squash. Squashing a bad girl is like trying to squash a bluebottle. You bang down on it and the darn thing isn't there. Nasty dirty things, little girls are. Glad I never was one." (8.11)

How can the Trunchbull have never been a little girl? She's female, right, and she can't have been born at six feet tall and giant-size. And although she calls little girls nasty and hard to squash, we know that these adjectives apply to her just as much. She's the one who's awful and can't be squashed. And she squashes little girls all the time. Just look at poor Amanda Thripp.

Chapter 9
Miss Honey

"I'm sure you know," Miss Honey said, "that children in the bottom class at school are not expected to be able to read or spell or juggle with numbers when they first arrive. Five-year-olds cannot do that. But Matilda can do it all. […]" (9.27)

Miss Honey compares Matilda, the genius, against all the other five-year-olds there are. She says, very confidently, that there are things children that age simply are unable to do. The fact that she "can do it all" shows how exceptional Matilda is. She's young, sure, but she can do more than many adults (like, oh, her father).

"But does it not intrigue you," Miss Honey said, "that a little five-year-old child is reading long adult novels by Dickens and Hemingway? Doesn't that make you jump up and down with excitement?" (9.39)

In this moment, Miss Honey is the voice of reason. She's the one who is making sense. She's correct that if someone Matilda's age is doing such advanced things as reading Dickens and Hemingway, people should be amazed and excited. If Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood aren't excited, that shows they're the ones who are messed up, not Matilda.

Chapter 13
The Trunchbull

The children's eyes were riveted on the Headmistress. "I don't like small people," she was saying. "Small people should never be seen by anybody. They should be kept out of sight in boxes like hairpins and buttons. I cannot for the life of me see why children have to take so long to grow up. I think they do it on purpose." (13.68)

Boy, it's getting pretty clear just how unimportant and insignificant the Trunchbull thinks children are. It's hardly the attitude you'd expect from someone who's been entrusted with running an entire elementary school, but it's totally the attitude you'd expect from someone as mean as the Trunchbull.

Chapter 14
The Trunchbull

[The Trunchbull] said, "I have never been able to understand why small children are so disgusting. They are the bane of my life. They are like insects. They should be got rid of as early as possible. We get rid of flies with fly-spray and by hanging up fly-paper. I have often thought of inventing a spray for getting rid of small children. How splendid it would be to walk into this classroom with a gigantic spray-gun in my hands and start pumping it. […]" (14.1)

The Trunchbull really knows how to pay a compliment, doesn't she? Kids are about as useful to her as the pests that invade a farmer's crops. Why else would she be suggesting adults should spray them with poison? It's pretty nervy of her to say something like that in public, right? In any U.S. classroom today, a teacher who said something like that would be so fired, so fast.

Chapter 16
Miss Honey

"A precocious child," Miss Honey said, "is one that shows amazing intelligence early on. You are an unbelievably precocious child."

"Am I really?" Matilda asked. (16.19-20)

Just in case we were tempted to be jealous of our Matilda, here we get a reminder that she's also a really nice kid. She's too sweet and humble to boast and brag. And that means we can root for her when she puts her awesome smarts on display.

Chapter 17
Miss Honey

"You are so much wiser than your years, my dear," Miss Honey went on, "that it quite staggers me. Although you look like a child, you are not really a child at all because your mind and your powers of reasoning seem to be fully grown-up. So I suppose we might call you a grown-up child, if you see what I mean." (17.12)

It's one thing for someone to be identified as really smart or really good at math. It's another for someone to be identified as mature and grown-up. Matilda is only five. But she doesn't look at the world through a five-year-old's eyes. She sees it the way a fully grown-up person would. This means she's more advanced than your average, run-of-the-mill prodigy (if there is such a thing).

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