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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
In one of the early events in the story, Matilda is set on exacting revenge against her father for his bullying behavior in the hopes that it might change him. Matilda borrows her neighbor’s parrot and puts the bird in the chimney where his voice echoes. Mr. Wormwood hears the bird and thinks that there is a ghost in the house. Duly frightened, his behavior changes briefly before he is back to his same cruel, demeaning self. The image of a “ghost,” which Dahl also refers to as “The First Miracle” reappears when Matilda, angered by Miss Trunchbull’s treatment of the children in the newt incident, discovers her telekinetic powers and topples the glass of water, spilling it and the newt onto Miss Trunchbull. The “ghost” or miracle reveals Miss Trunchbull’s ignorance of newts, and also her fear of a tiny salamander. The “ghost” reappears at the story’s climax, which Dahl titles “The Third Miracle.” Matilda once again uses her powers to write on the chalk board as if she is Magnus, Miss Trunchbull’s brother. In Matilda, Dahl’s motif of ghosts and miracles serves to spotlight the brilliance of his protagonist and expose the truth about the story’s antagonists.
Until Matilda goes to school, she does not have the opportunity to develop friendships with other children. Her world is limited to the time she spends at home and in the library. Matilda’s only friendships are those that she is able to imagine through the characters in the books she reads. It is evident that she is learning positive virtues and values, and good habits from the characters she relates to in her books. At school, she makes friends easily, not because she shares anything in common with the children in terms of her intellect, but because she is a humble, caring young child. The friendships woven throughout Matilda’s story are marked with bravery and courage. The friends she makes unite with her against their common enemy, Miss Trunchbull. The most significant friendship in the book, and Matilda’s most valuable one, is her friendship with Miss Honey. In the end, it is this friendship that provides Matilda with the loving and caring family she has always wanted.
Throughout most of Matilda, the narrator simply tells the story. However, significant moments occur where the narrator offers commentary or opinion about what has or is about to happen. The narrator’s perspective is most usually directly related to one of the book’s major themes. For example, the book’s opening is a rant about parenting—the narrator rails about over-solicitous and over-indulgent parents on the one hand, but even worse are parents who totally ignore and even show disdain toward their children. The narrator’s opinion leads directly into the introduction of the Wormwoods and sets up Matilda’s conflict with one of the story’s antagonists, her father. In commenting about Matilda’s parents, the narrator tells the reader, “To tell the truth, I doubt they would have noticed had she crawled into the house with a broken leg.” Later, in Chapter 7, the narrator weighs in about Miss Trunchbull: “Thank goodness we don’t meet many people like her in the world, although they do exist and all of us are likely to come across at least one of them in a lifetime.” The narrator’s ongoing commentary reveals that he detests non-caring parents and the dreadful family life they create, and loves brave, courageous, and resilient children.