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Miss Trunchbull stands in front of the class and tells the students that they are all “nauseating little warts.” She says that she should try to kick as many out of school as she can, so she doesn’t have to deal with them for the next six years. She examines the students’ hands to see if they are clean. She tells Nigel that he is disgusting and makes him stand in the corner. She asks him some spelling words, and he responds correctly. Miss Trunchbull then lifts Rupert by his hair after he answers a multiplication problem wrong, and she lifts Eric by his ears after he gets a spelling word wrong. Miss Honey is worried about the safety of the students and tries to stop Miss Trunchbull, but Miss Trunchbull ignores her. Miss Trunchbull then tells Miss Honey that she should try to be like the mean teacher in Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Matilda says that she has read that book, but Miss Trunchbull does not believe her. When she finds out that Matilda is Mr. Wormwood’s daughter, Miss Trunchbull says that he is a crook, as the car he sold her no longer works and was full of sawdust. She tells Matilda that she will be watching her closely.
Miss Trunchbull sits behind the teacher’s desk and tells the class that she thinks that small children are disgusting. Her idea of a perfect school is “one that has no children in it at all.” When she pours herself a glass of water, the newt slides out of the water jug and lands in the glass as well. Miss Trunchbull yells and jumps out of her chair. Lavender warns her that the newt probably bites. Miss Trunchbull quickly accuses Matilda of putting the newt in the jug. She threatens to kick Matilda out of school. Matilda says repeatedly that she did not. The two argue until Miss Trunchbull threatens to beat Matilda with a belt. Once everyone is seated, Matilda concentrates on the glass with the newt in it. She experiences a very strange feeling, as if her eyes were connected to millions of invisible little arms. She uses her mind to push the glass onto Miss Trunchbull. The newt spills on Miss Trunchbull, who immediately becomes very angry. She blames Matilda, but Miss Honey tells her that nobody in the classroom moved. Miss Trunchbull marches out of the room and slams the door. Miss Honey lets the class go to the playground for the rest of the day.
Matilda does not join her classmates on the playground. She decides to tell Miss Honey what she has done. Once the two are alone, Matilda tells Miss Honey that she did not put the newt in the water jug, but she did cause the glass to tip over. Miss Honey does not understand at first. Matilda explains the powerful feeling and how she wanted the glass to fall. Miss Honey doubts her but asks if Matilda thinks that she could repeat the trick. Matilda agrees, and Miss Honey sets up the empty glass on the desk. Matilda focuses on it and feels the same strange power. She wills the glass to tip over, and Miss Honey is amazed. Matilda has a distant look on her face, and when Miss Honey asks her about what happened, she replies, “I was flying past the stars on silver wings.” Miss Honey invites Matilda to her cottage for tea. Matilda accepts and asks Miss Honey not to tell anyone about her new powers.
Miss Trunchbull derives her sense of power by physically and emotionally intimidating children. She perceives children to be small, weak, and unable to stand up or challenge her. Her mistreatment of the children is completely outrageous and bolstered by the fact that most parents would not believe her cruelty, thus giving her carte blanche to be vicious towards them without the interference of any adults other than Miss Honey. Miss Trunchbull is demeaning, physically violent, and verbally abusive. Most children cower in her presence, which only gives Miss Trunchbull the encouragement she needs to amplify the pressure and cruelty.
Miss Trunchbull also speaks with disdain against girls and femininity. The attitude is in contrast to the position taken by another antagonist, Matilda’s mother, who believes women should be beautiful and married. Miss Trunchbull, conversely, does not see the point in women subscribing to traditional gender-based roles. She is a brute who gets her way through violence and intimidation, with no need to rely on the traditional support that would be associated with taking a partner. As a single woman who is feared and disliked by all of those around her, it is no wonder that Miss Trunchbull disrespects women who choose marriage, as her destiny to be alone incites her to exude a powerful, independent and domineering persona.
While the children lack the physical power to rid themselves of this brute of a headmistress, they furtively annoy her by using their wit and intelligence to make her life miserable. The newt that appears in Miss Trunchbull’s glass leads to the manifestation of Matilda’s unique abilities when she is accused unjustly of being behind the incident. In the first instance of her using telekinesis, Matilda’s new-found power arises out of her deep-seated anger with Miss Trunchbull, and her frustration that she is powerless to defend herself against the false accusations that have been hurled at her. When Matilda tips over the glass containing the newt, Miss Trunchbull reacts in fear and displays a vulnerability not shown before, revealing a crack in her cruel veneer. Seeing this monstrous woman afraid of a tiny creature emboldens the class and makes them feel powerful. Lavender, the child who had placed the newt in the pitcher of water, treats it as she would a pet by sneaking it safely back into her pencil box
Miss Trunchbull’s vulnerability and fearfulness in this incident show a sharp contrast between her normal power plays and the determination, intelligence, and courage of Lavender and the other students. Miss Honey’s nurturing and mentoring encourage Matilda to trust in her and expose a vulnerability that would certainly result in punishment if shared with any other adults in her life. With courage and bravery, Matilda decides that she must tell someone what she had done, so she approaches Miss Honey, an adult who she believes might take her seriously. Matilda has seldom experienced an interaction with an adult who listens, but Miss Honey does. Even though Miss Honey is doubtful about what Matilda describes, she gives her the benefit of the doubt, and allows Matilda to demonstrate how extraordinary she is. Miss Honey sets a great example for how adults should interact with children. This time, when Matilda moves the glass, she does not have to rely on her deep-seated anger to move the object, and when it happens, she is calm but pleased. Matilda’s emotional reaction to being able to move objects telekinetically demonstrates that her ability makes her feel empowered and free, unbound by the oppression of her family and Miss Trunchbull. By now, it is apparent that something worthy of the word miracle is happening, and we see that Matilda does indeed have an extraordinary ability.