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Matilda goes to school for the first time. Her teacher is Miss Honey, who is nice and adored by her students. The frightening headmistress of the school, Miss Trunchbull, is the opposite. Miss Honey warns her students that they should always obey Miss Trunchbull, who insists on strict discipline. Miss Honey then asks if the students know any multiplication tables. Matilda answers a series of multiplication problems correctly. The last few are very difficult. Miss Honey thinks that Matilda is probably a child genius. Miss Honey then asks how much the students can read, and Matilda impresses her again. Matilda reads a difficult sentence on the blackboard and a poem from a book. Matilda even knows that the poem is called a “limerick.” Miss Honey is amazed. Matilda recites a limerick to the class that she has made up about Miss Honey. The limerick is about Miss Honey’s beauty. When Miss Honey asks what else Matilda has read, Matilda says that she liked C. S. Lewis and Tolkien very much, but that their books didn’t have enough “funny bits.” She also tells Miss Honey that she likes Charles Dickens. Before Miss Honey can react, the bell rings, ending the class.
Miss Honey leaves the classroom and heads for Miss Trunchbull’s office. Miss Trunchbull is described as not having any of the qualities that would make someone a good headmistress: fairness, sympathy, understanding. Miss Honey tries to tell Miss Trunchbull about Matilda. Miss Trunchbull recalls that she bought a car from Matilda’s father and found him trustworthy. She also remembers that he told her to watch out for Matilda, because she was always causing problems. Miss Honey disagrees and says that Matilda is a genius, but Miss Trunchbull doesn’t believe her. Miss Honey argues that Matilda should be moved up to the highest grade level in the school. Miss Trunchbull thinks that Miss Honey is just trying to get rid of Matilda. Miss Trunchbull tells Miss Honey that “all children remain in their own age groups regardless of ability.” This makes Miss Honey sad, but she is not defeated. She promises herself that she will find a way to help Matilda.
Miss Honey gives Matilda senior class books on subjects like algebra and geometry. Miss Honey decides that she should visit Matilda’s parents. She goes to Matilda’s home in the late evening, so that Matilda will be asleep. When Mr. Wormwood answers the door, he is annoyed that Miss Honey has interrupted his television show. She explains who she is and that she wants to talk about Matilda. Mr. Wormwood tells her that it is a great inconvenience. Miss Honey tells him that he should not be a parent if he thinks that watching television is more important than talking about his daughter’s future. Mr. Wormwood is shaken by this and allows her in. Mrs. Wormwood objects to interrupting her television show and tells Miss Honey that men are not interested in brainy girls. She goes on to compare herself to Miss Honey, pointing out that she, herself, is married and comfortable while Miss Honey is single and a teacher. Miss Honey tries to tell them that Matilda could go to university, stressing the value of doctors and lawyers. When she realizes the Wormwoods will never agree with her, Miss Honey eventually gives up and leaves.
The fact that Matilda is not enrolled in school until she is five and a half, reveals how little her parents value education. Her parents show little regard for what is best for Matilda. Even the brightest child needs to go to school to expand their knowledge and develop diverse social relationships. Up to this point in her life, Matilda has experienced little social interaction with other children. Surprisingly, Matilda's first experiences at school show her to be very well rounded and socially adjusted despite her limited outside interactions. Her classmates appreciate her intelligence as opposed to being threatened by it as her parents are.
Miss Honey commits to finding ways to encourage Matilda’s brilliant mind and shows the potential to act as a nurturing mother figure to her. To this point in the story, Matilda has had limited interactions with adults other than her parents. Her father, Mr. Wormwood, treats her with disdain and clearly doesn’t want her around. Her mother is much too busy playing Bingo and watching television to really care one way or the other about Matilda. Mrs. Phelps, the librarian, recognizes Matilda’s intelligence and attempts to keep the young girl challenged, but even though she helps Matilda with books, she keeps her distance. Matilda finally meets a true friend and defender in Miss Honey, her teacher. Miss Honey recognizes that Matilda is brilliant, and instead of pushing her away as her parents do or keeping her at arm’s length as the librarian does, Miss Honey shows Matilda respect and encourages her academically and emotionally. With Miss Honey in her life, Matilda is no longer alone. She finally has an adult who accepts her for who she is.
Miss Honey’s character stands in stark contrast to that of Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of the school. While Miss Honey is petite, delicate, and beautiful, Miss Trunchbull is a large, aggressive, unattractive woman. Miss Honey is kind, polite, soft-spoken, and patient, but Miss Trunchbull’s qualities of character are even more despicable than Mr. Wormwood’s. She is short-tempered and downright mean to all the students. She is a beast physically and in every other way. Miss Trunchbull has met Matilda’s father, and the implication is that they are most definitely two of a kind. Miss Trunchbull is obviously a poor judge of character since she found Matilda’s father trustworthy when she bought a car from him. Furthermore, her decision to hold Matilda back with other children her age, rather than progress her to a class that could challenge her, demonstrates that she does not value that she doesn’t consider the best interests of each student, which is ironic for someone who runs a school. This decision suggests that Miss Trunchbull is in the position of headmistress more for the power she can wield than for the fulfillment of shaping the next generation.
Miss Honey is the shining light at the school and a foil for Miss Trunchbull and the Wormwoods. The contrast is stark between the gentle and kindhearted nature of Miss Honey, who cares for her students, and the cruel nature of Miss Trunchbull, who views all children as a nuisance. When Miss Honey visits Matilda’s parents, she is surprised to find that they look down on Matilda because of her cleverness and intelligence. For Mrs. Wormwood, physical appearances and an affluent lifestyle are the worthiest of goals and the only thing that a woman should strive for. It’s obvious that Matilda comes from a world where intelligence is not valued, yet Miss Honey is acutely aware that intelligence and education can change the world.