The Importance of Love in a Family

They had a son called Michael and a daughter called Matilda, and the parents look upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.

In Chapter 1, “The Reader of Books,” the narrator introduces Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda’s parents, as parents who show no interest at all in Matilda. In fact, they are looking forward, or so the narrator tells us, to the time when they can move on without her. Within the first pages of the book, it is clear that the Wormwood’s meaning of family is quite different from most everyone else’s, and that this will no doubt emerge as one of the book’s major themes. Matilda’s brother, Michael, was considered to be “a perfectly normal boy,” but Matilda was brilliant, and, possibly because of this, her parents had no desire to nurture or support her. Matilda’s family is a family absent of the love and affection necessary for any child’s development.

Matilda longed for her parents to be good and loving and understanding and honourable and intelligent. The fact that they were none of these things was something she had to put up with. It was not easy to do so.

This quote begins Chapter 5, titled “Arithmetic.” Not all families are positive, loving, secure, or nurturing, as the narrator has previously observed, but Matilda’s family is the extreme. Apparently, from the time she was born, Matilda has experienced nothing of the type of family that is warm and loving. Rather, her home is a dreadful, unhappy place. Deep down, Matilda recognizes that it is not supposed to be this way. She has likely learned about happier families in the many books she reads. Matilda’s parents don’t remotely show that they love her, and it is a sad commentary that she realizes this fact, and “had to put up with it.” Readers might find themselves rooting for Matilda, hoping that somehow she will find family in the best sense of what that word means.

I would look after her with loving care, Mr. Wormwood, and I would pay for everything. She wouldn't cost you a penny.

At the end of the story, in Chapter 21, Miss Honey tells the Wormwoods that she will take care of Matilda if they want to leave without her. She mentions money that they won’t have to pay (likely because she knows what motivates Mr. Wormwood) and promises to love and care for Matilda. Finally, Matilda has somebody who will truly provide for her, in all ways, most importantly with the love she needs. The story’s ending proves that family is more than blood. Miss Honey and Matilda have created their own, new family. This new family will be one based on love and respect for each other, something neither Miss Honey nor Matilda have experienced up until now.  

Gaining Independence Through Bravery and Resiliency

She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another. A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocies and would stop her from going crazy.

This excerpt appears in Chapter 2, “Mr. Wormwood, the Great Car Dealer.” Matilda resents her father calling her stupid when she knows she is not. This scene is the first that spotlights the bravery and resilience of Matilda that will carry throughout the book. Though hardly five years old, she has determined that she will “score points against an all-powerful grown-up.” Already she is gaining agency and taking control of her own destiny, at least in terms of her relationship with her father. The next scene, in which Matilda superglues the rim of her father’s hat, and he puts it on and is unable to remove it, is an example of one of Matilda’s small victories.

We are the crusaders, the gallant army fighting for our lives with hardly any weapons at all. … It’s a tough life. We all try to support each other.

This quote by Hortensia appears in Chapter 10, “Throwing the Hammer.” Hortensia, a senior student at the school, is describing Miss Trunchbull’s many cruelties toward the students. She reassures Matilda and Lavender that the students are in a war against Miss Trunchbull, the Prince of Darkness, the Foul Serpent, the Fiery Dragon with all the weapons at her command. Lavender bravely speaks up and says that the other students can rely on her and Matilda. Hortensia worries that they are too young, “only shrimps,” but agrees that some use might be found for them in the battle they are waging. This excerpt is an example of young people gaining control and independence through bravery and resiliency. They refuse to allow Miss Trunchbull to hold power over them.

The boy cut himself another thick slice and started eating it fast. There were still no signs of flagging or giving up. He certainly did not look as though he was about to stop and cry out, ‘I can't, I can't eat anymore! I'm going to be sick!’ He was still in there running.

This scene appears in Chapter 11, “Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cake.” Bruce is a rather obese boy who Miss Trunchbull is attempting to humiliate by forcing him to eat an entire chocolate cake. She knows, or at least thinks, that this will be impossible, that he can’t possibly eat the whole thing. But he does, as his classmates who are watching cheer him on, “Come on, Brucie! You can make it!” When he finishes the cake, the students erupt in cheers, and despite the Trunchbull’s violent response in breaking the cake platter over Bruce’s head, he simply stands there, grinning. Clearly, the students are gaining control through their resilience.

The Value of Knowledge and Education

Miss Honey could hardly believe what she was hearing. She had heard that parents like this existed all over the place and that their children turned out to be delinquents and dropouts, but it was still a shock to meet a pair of them in the flesh.

Here, in Chapter 9, “The Parents,” Miss Honey is trying desperately not to lose her temper as she listens to Mr. Wormwood discount smart people and tell her that a university degree is useless. He has just told Matilda that she’d never make a living reading storybooks and seems proud that they don’t have any books in the house. Miss Honey tells him that he shouldn’t despise clever people, as he might need the help of one someday. But Mr. Wormwood does despise intelligent people, and the irony is he thinks he is clever, by swindling and cheating his customers in his used car business. Books, knowledge, and intelligence are an important theme in Matilda. They are tools for bettering one's life, which is something that Matilda will most certainly prove true by the end of her story. Miss Honey carries the banner for Matilda that education is valuable and educated people should be valued.

There is little point in teaching anything backwards. The whole object of life, Headmistress, is to go forwards.

This quote of Miss Honey’s appears in Chapter 20, “The Third Miracle.” She is addressing Miss Trunchbull immediately before Matilda performs the “third miracle” by making the chalk write a message to Miss Trunchbull on the board. The headmistress is ridiculing a child who cannot recite the three-times tables backward. This quote encompasses or summarizes Miss Honey’s philosophy of education. For her, knowledge and education broaden one’s horizons and helps one grow in knowledge of oneself and the world. Knowledge and education are future and growth centered. This is an alien concept to Miss Trunchbull.

All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.

This excerpt appears in Chapter 2, “Mr. Wormwood, the Great Car Dealer.” Matilda has just asked permission to eat her supper in the dining room so that she can read her book while eating. Ironically, her father tells her that no one leaves the table until supper is over; it’s family time. Matilda explains that they are never at the table when they eat, rather they are in front of the telly. Mr. Wormwood comments that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that and Matilda tries to maintain her calm. Inside she’s roiling with anger at her parents’ stupidity. The television is a symbol of ignorance, while Matilda’s books are symbols of knowledge and education.