Chapters 4–6

Summary: Chapter 4: The Ghost

The next week, Matilda’s father does not bully her. After a bad day at work, however, he comes home and becomes angry that Matilda is reading a book instead of watching the television. Matilda wonders if he is angry because she is enjoying something that he does not. He takes her book and tears its pages out. She tries to tell him that it is a library book, and she must return it, but he does not care. Matilda devises her next revenge plan instead. She borrows a talking parrot from her neighbor, Fred. She hides the parrot in the chimney and waits for everyone to eat dinner in front of the TV. The parrot starts speaking, and the family becomes scared. Matilda’s father suggests that they investigate together. The whole family enters the dining room holding various objects as weapons. The parrot speaks again, but in a spooky voice, and Matilda convinces them that the voice is a ghost and that the room is haunted. Her parents are terrified. When Matilda returns the parrot to Fred, she tells him, “My parents adored it.”

Summary: Chapter 5: Arithmetic

Matilda wants her parents to be good, loving, smart, and understanding. Her parents’ behavior improves after Matilda has punished them with pranks, but overall, they have not changed. Matilda’s only relief is in planning out her next revenge. Matilda’s father comes home from work bragging about how much money he made. He tells Matilda’s brother, Michael, to get a paper and pencil. He then lists the amounts he paid for five different cars and the prices that he sold them for that day. He asks Michael to work out the total profit that he made. While Michael is working, Matilda tells her father the total profit. Her father tries to ignore her, but she insists. He checks the total on a slip of paper in his pocket and is immediately angry. He accuses her of having already looked at the paper in his pocket. Matilda protests, saying that she could not have seen the paper. Her father tells her that she is a cheat and a liar.

Summary: Chapter 6: The Platinum-Blond Man

Matilda plots revenge against her father before she goes to bed that night. In the morning, she goes to the bathroom and locates two hair products. The first is “platinum blonde hair-dye extra strong” that her mother uses to keep her hair blonde. The second is “oil of violets hair tonic” that Matilda’s father uses every morning, and he claims that it keeps his hair strong. Matilda empties most of her father’s hair tonic out and fills it with her mother’s blonde hair-dye. While the family eats breakfast, Mr. Wormwood goes through his morning routine, applying his hair tonic. When he enters the room, Mrs. Wormwood drops the breakfast tray. She tells him that his hair looks “horrendous” and that he “looks like a freak.” His hair is a dirty silver color. Mr. Wormwood panics. Matilda tells him that he must not have looked closely at the labels of hair products in the bathroom. He goes to wash the dye out and commands his wife to make an appointment with her hairdresser, so he can dye his hair back to black. When he is out of the room, Matilda’s mother tells Matilda that “men are not always quite as clever as they think they are.”


Chapters 4–6

While Matilda’s home life is stressful, she doesn’t react to stressful situations as an ordinary child might. She appraises situations in which she finds herself then implements creative and clever plans in the hopes of exacting revenge on her father for his cruelty. She isn’t afraid to turn the family dynamics upside down, but her eventual hope is that her actions will change her father’s behavior. The hat and superglue incident keep Mr. Wormwood calm for about a week, but soon Matilda’s father is back to his old bullying self. When Mr. Wormwood grabs The Red Pony from Matilda and tears it up, it hurts Matilda deeply. Books are her escape. They are a window into the world outside her ignorant family, and her lifeline to life as it should be. A “normal” child would likely react to Matilda’s father’s actions by yelling or throwing a tantrum, but Matilda possesses maturity beyond her years and shows a different emotional response. She’s able to understand that a childish rant will not solve the problem. Instead, she devises methods to get back at her parents, not to physically hurt them but to shake them up and influence them to change their ways.

When Matilda borrows Fred’s parrot to frighten her parents by tricking them into thinking that there is a ghost haunting the house, their reactions reveal that they do not feel secure, even in the environment of their own home. Mr. Wormwood’s shady business dealings prompt him to assume that the noises they hear are coming from intruders. His unethical activities keep him on constant alert for payback from others. As the family searches for the source of the noise, wondering if it is a ghost, Matilda maintains her composure, while her father loses his. Mr. Wormwood acts like one would expect a child to act, whereas Matilda acts with the maturity of an adult.

Matilda’s intelligence and cunning equip her with the tools she needs to retaliate and exact revenge on her father for his omnipresent cruelty. Matilda is typically the family scapegoat and is treated as inferior to her family members, but a subtle shift in the family dynamics occurs when Mr. Wormwood dyes his lush black hair blonde as a result of Matilda’s trickery. Mr. Wormwood looks utterly foolish, and Mrs. Wormwood shows her own vile character when she mocks him and laughs at his misfortune and embarrassment. This is a rare moment when Matilda and her mother share a common bond. For once, the target of ridicule in their home is someone other than Matilda and it feels good to her.