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Matilda gets along well with her classmates. She becomes friends with a girl named Lavender, and the two admire each other’s adventurous spirit. Matilda and Lavender meet an unpleasant, older student named Hortensia on the playground. Hortensia tells them about “The Chokey,” a small closet with walls covered in broken glass and sharp nails, where Miss Trunchbull puts kids to punish them. Children who do not stand up straight are cut and poked by the glass. Hortensia tells them of the times that she has been sent to The Chokey, for putting syrup on Miss Trunchbull’s chair and for putting itching powder in the drawer where Miss Trunchbull keeps her gym shorts.
Matilda and Lavender realize that Hortensia has a rebellious spirit like their own. Hortensia also warns them that Miss Trunchbull sometimes picks up students and throws them, since she used to compete in the hammer throw for Britain at the Olympics. While on the playground, Miss Trunchbull yells at a small girl named Amanda for having pigtails. Amanda tries to argue, and Miss Trunchbull picks her up by the pigtails, spins her around and tosses her over the fence. Matilda asks if the parents ever complain, but Hortensia explains that most parents are just as afraid of Miss Trunchbull as the students.
Lavender tells Matilda that Lavender’s father would be very angry if he found out that the headmistress had thrown her over a fence by her hair. Matilda explains that no one would believe the story, and that was the secret to Miss Trunchbull’s success. Everything that she did was unbelievable. The two girls decide that Miss Trunchbull is not crazy, but very dangerous.
All the students are sent to the Assembly Hall. Miss Trunchbull enters, holding a riding-crop (a whip for horses). Miss Trunchbull calls Bruce Bogtrotter to the front. She accuses him of stealing a slice of chocolate cake from her. He eventually admits to it. Miss Trunchbull calls in the school cook, who brings a very large chocolate cake. Miss Trunchbull yells at Bruce, telling him that he must eat all of it in front of everyone. Bruce struggles at first but eventually gets into a comfortable rhythm, eating slice after slice. Matilda can sense that all the students are quietly hoping that he succeeds, instead of Bruce getting sick in front of everyone. Bruce finishes the cake, after Miss Trunchbull threatens to lock him in The Chokey if he doesn’t. She becomes angry and smashes the empty plate over Bruce’s head, but it doesn’t hurt him. Miss Trunchbull screams at Bruce and leaves.
Miss Honey tells the students that Miss Trunchbull has a custom to take over every class for one period each week. She will be taking over Miss Honey’s class on Thursday afternoons. Miss Honey warns her students that they must be very clean and must be on their best behavior. They should not argue, answer back, or try to be funny. She then tells them that Miss Trunchbull always asks for a pitcher of water and glass to be on the teacher’s desk when she teaches. Lavender volunteers to get the pitcher and glass each Thursday. Lavender feels that she must punish Miss Trunchbull, joining Hortensia and Matilda in their heroic daring deeds at school and home. Lavender catches a harmless, but dangerous looking, newt from her garden pond and hides it in her pencil box. She takes the newt to school and does not tell anyone about it. Lavender gets a blue, ceramic pitcher and water glass after lunch on Thursday. She puts the newt inside the pitcher while the classroom is empty. Then, she returns to the other students on the playground outside, so that she does not get caught.
The proverbial battlefield that Matilda finds herself on at school is familiar territory, as she has existed and thrived against all odds in the battlefield that is her home. By attending school, Matilda doesn’t escape the cruelty of her home life but, instead, discovers that the children at her school are engaged in never-ending combat against Miss Trunchbull, the enemy of all children. The oppression she has experienced at home unites her with her classmates who face oppression from Miss Trunchbull almost daily. This common enemy brings the students together, and Matilda, who is quite familiar with the strategies required for such battles, is ready to engage her warrior mentality and ups her trickster game to help them all prevail in this hostile environment.
Matilda and her schoolmates form a silent coalition to resist the cruelties of Miss Trunchbull by finding ways to annoy and embarrass her. Just as Matilda has played pranks on her parents, she learns that Hortensia, an older student at school has played pranks on Miss Trunchbull in the past. Hearing about Miss Trunchbull’s cruel punishments from Hortensia fuels Matilda and Lavender’s desire to continue to challenge her and the metaphor of a battle becomes more pronounced: students versus Miss Trunchbull, or children versus adults. It’s obvious that Miss Trunchbull is an adult who should not be allowed around children as she abuses and terrorizes the children in her charge.
The small victories in the students’ battle with a formidable enemy such as Miss Trunchbull demonstrate that everyone has the right to defend themselves, and with courage and perseverance no foe is unbeatable. The students have had to stand up to Miss Trunchbull independently since most parents would find it hard to believe that Miss Trunchbull carries out such outrageous acts. The parents that do know of her are scared of her themselves. The narrator points out that even caring parents who want to protect their kids sometimes fail to do so. When the children stand up against Miss Trunchbull themselves, as in the case of Bruce Bogtrotter and the cake, nothing enrages Miss Trunchbull more. She is infuriated when she is unable to evoke a submissive and terrified response from those she tries to victimize. The students, however, continue to do to Miss Trunchbull what Matilda has done to her father at home. They use their cleverness and their smarts to exact revenge on intimidating and uncaring adults.