Chapters 16–18

Summary: Chapter 16: Miss Honey’s Cottage

Matilda follows Miss Honey across town and speaks excitedly with her. Miss Honey suggests that Matilda’s powers might be linked to her intelligence, but the two of them should “tread very carefully” with Matilda’s powers, because they do not understand them. Matilda is not concerned. They walk out of town into the country and arrive at Miss Honey’s cottage. Miss Honey recites a Dylan Thomas poem to her as they walk toward the small cottage. Matilda finds the cottage and the location unreal and fantastic, like something out of a fairy tale. Matilda goes to the cottage’s well to get water for the tea and is amazed at how small Miss Honey’s kitchen is. When Matilda asks Miss Honey if she is poor, Miss Honey replies, “Very.” They move to the sitting room, which is small and “bare as a prison cell.” They sit on upturned boxes and drink tea. Matilda feels that there is a mystery somewhere in the cottage and wants to know more. Miss Honey tells her that no one has ever had the power that Matilda has been given. Miss Honey says that they should find the limits of Matilda’s powers. She wonders if there is a limit to how large an object Matilda can move, or how far she can move it. Matilda is excited to find out.

Summary: Chapter 17: Miss Honey’s Story

While sitting and drinking tea, Matilda asks Miss Honey if other teachers are as poor as she is. This makes Miss Honey uncomfortable, and Matilda apologizes. Miss Honey decides to tell her story to Matilda, even though Matilda is just a young girl. Miss Honey’s mother and father died when she was young, and she was raised by her aunt. Her aunt was very mean and made Miss Honey her slave, forcing her to do all the housework and cooking. Miss Honey eventually went to the local teacher college while still caring for her aunt. Once she became a teacher, her aunt told her that she owed her money for raising her and arranged to receive Miss Honey’s teacher’s salary. Miss Honey was only given a single pound each week (the British equivalent of a dollar). Miss Honey found the small cottage and rented it for 10 pence a week to escape. Matilda protests that Miss Honey’s father must have left the house to Miss Honey and not to the aunt, but Miss Honey says that the aunt forged the documents and is a “respected figure in the community.” When Matilda asks who the aunt is, Miss Honey reveals that her aunt is Miss Trunchbull.

Summary: Chapter 18: The Names

Matilda is shocked that Miss Trunchbull is Miss Honey’s aunt. She knows that Miss Honey must have had an abusive childhood and feels sorry for her. Miss Honey apologizes for telling Matilda her life story and asks if Matilda would like to practice her powers. Matilda says she would rather go home. They walk to Matilda’s home in silence. Before parting, they talk about Miss Honey’s past again. Matilda promises not to bring it up to anyone, including Miss Honey. She then asks Miss Honey three questions. Matilda wants to know what Miss Trunchbull called Miss Honey’s father, what Miss Honey’s father called Miss Trunchbull, and what they called Miss Honey when they were all living together. Miss Honey answers that they were each called by their first names: her father was Magnus, Miss Trunchbull was Agatha, and Miss Honey was Jenny. Miss Honey tells Matilda not to “do anything silly.” Matilda laughs, thanks her for the tea, and goes to her front door.

Analysis: Chapters 16–18

Matilda trusts Miss Honey as a result of the respect and nurturing care that she shows to Matilda. Miss Honey encourages Matilda to pursue her best interests and not begrudge her very existence. Matilda talks freely and excitedly, as a child does who has finally found an adult who is engaged, will listen, and who truly cares about them. Miss Honey is wise and knows that a person’s mind must be treated carefully and with respect. It is clear that she is a caring and loving presence to Matilda and has no intention of taking advantage of the child despite what she has learned of Matilda’s capabilities.

Matilda feels like she is in a fairytale when they arrive at Miss Honey’s cottage, but the illusion of this fairy tale setting cloaks a harsh reality. She has experienced stories of fiction and fairy tale lives in the many books she has read, but Matilda’s life has been anything but a princess’ fairytale. For her, the real world has often seemed to be unforgiving. In fact, her own experience of home presents a bitter reality of her parents not wanting her. While Miss Honey lives in an idyllic cabin in the woods, Matilda soon realizes that her teacher lives in dire poverty. Matilda is curious as to the reason for this but has the maturity to tread lightly and not embarrass Miss Honey. As the two have tea and talk, the conversation returns to Matilda’s power, foreshadowing how Matilda will use her power in some way to help Miss Honey.

Matilda shows openness and vulnerability in her interactions with Miss Honey, identifying a parallel between them based on their life experiences of abuse and being deemed inconsequential. They form a bond rooted in the denial of love from a caregiver. The void in both of their lives helps form a connection between them. When Matilda gently probes to learn Miss Honey’s story, Miss Honey recognizes that Matilda is too bright not to be curious and that she is mature despite her young age. Like Matilda, Miss Honey did not grow up in happy circumstances. She also didn’t have any reliable adults in her family to protect or look out for her. The aunt who took over after her parents died was more interested in power and control over the Honeys’ household and over Miss Honey herself. As a child, Miss Honey had little control over her own life. Rather than the neglect that Matilda has experienced, Miss Honey experienced physical and mental abuse and was terrified into obedience.

Miss Honey is a symbolic testament to how people can rise above personal adversity and cruelty to become loving and caring members of society. The nature of the cruelty Miss Honey endured from her aunt has a familiar tone and can lead one to presume that the aunt in Miss Honey’s story is in fact Miss Trunchbull. This revelation contrasts with the feeling that Matilda had earlier about being in a fairytale. Miss Honey’s reality, much like Matilda’s, is anything but a happy fairytale. Matilda notes that Miss Honey has tried to take some control over her life by moving into the tiny cottage and gaining a small amount of independence, but to truly free herself from her aunt, she needs to regain control of her own paycheck, and more so, her whole life.

The theme of justice is essential in Matilda's moral framework and plays an important role in her relationship with Miss Honey. Matilda thinks Miss Honey’s situation is extremely unjust and is keen to right some wrongs. When Matilda asks Miss Honey the first names of her father, aunt, and herself, it’s clear that Matilda has another plan brewing. Matilda laughs off Miss Honey’s suggestion that she might do something silly, but by this point, it is clear that Matilda wants to exact justice, especially on an adult who has treated many children unfairly. The revelations that Miss Honey has shared, and the obvious trauma that Miss Trunchbull has inflicted upon Miss Honey demand to be met with Matilda’s retaliation.