Study Guide

Matilda Chapter 4

By Roald Dahl

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Chapter 4

The Ghost

  • Matilda's hat trick (come on, we've gotta get our puns in when we can) works to keep her dad calm for seven days or so. He doesn't bother her as much as he normally does.
  • But then something has to happen, we don't know what, because he comes home in a foul mood. 
  • Matilda's in the living room reading, and Mr. Wormwood comes in to watch TV. He picks a fight with her because she doesn't notice him. 
  • He grabs her book, which is The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, and tears it apart. Literally. He pulls out all the pages. 
  • Sure, this crime against books is heinous enough, but to make things worse, the book isn't Matilda's to ruin—it's a library book. She's worried about her responsibility to give it back to the library in good shape.
  • Of course her father acts like it doesn't matter.
  • He storms out, and Matilda's left alone. Instead of crying or getting really upset, she decides that this next time, she'll really have to get her dad back. She has to teach him another lesson.
  • Never fear, our heroine is way too clever to lack ideas. She has the beginning of a plot going. It involves her friend Fred's parrot.
  • Matilda can't take action until the next day. But then she goes to hit up Fred for a favor. Can his parrot talk?
  • A little, says Fred.
  • At this point, we might be lost, but Matilda's not. She asks if she can borrow the parrot, and when Fred says no, she offers a week's worth of allowance in exchange.
  • Fred is up for that deal, so Matilda takes his parrot with her.
  • When she gets home, nobody else is there. So she stuffs the parrot, cage and all, up the chimney in the family's dining room. This doesn't seem to hurt the parrot, and it's like he was never there. 
  • Fast forward to dinnertime. The Wormwoods are eating in the room with the TV in it. 
  • Then the parrot starts talking, saying "Hello!"
  • Matilda is the only one who knows that it's the parrot and not a person—it sounds so human. 
  • Everyone else is worried, and Matilda pretends to be worried.
  • Mrs. Wormwood wants Mr. Wormwood to jump into the dining room, defend them, and save the day, but he's way too much of a coward for that. 
  • So, each family member grabs a weapon of some kind, and Matilda leads her family across the hall to the dining room.
  • When they get there, it's empty. Matilda acts extra brave. 
  • Then, almost like it's on cue, the parrot says his other line: "Rattle my bones!"
  • Everyone is freaked out, and Matilda encourages everyone else to think it's a ghost.
  • Her parents are terrified.
  • Matilda has to wait till the coast is clear, which is not until her parents are at work again and it's a whole new day. Then she takes the parrot back to Fred and doesn't tell him what really happened.
  • Genius.

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