Chapters 19–21

Summary: Chapter 19: The Practice

Matilda finds that her house is empty. She decides that she needs to help Miss Honey. Matilda takes one of her father’s cigars from the living room and goes to her room to practice for her plan. She sets the cigar on her dressing table and uses her new powers to push it off. She then tries to lift the cigar, but that task is more difficult. After some effort, Matilda is able to lift the cigar with her mind and hold it in midair for about a minute. She finds it very exhausting. She practices every day after school for a week, until she is able to move the cigar in midair. She is pleased by her progress and decides to put her plan into action.

Summary: Chapter 20: The Third Miracle

Miss Honey tells her students that Miss Trunchbull will be teaching them again. Miss Honey warns them to be careful and not talk back. When Miss Trunchbull arrives, she insults the students and then starts asking them about multiplication tables. The students that she asks are too scared to answer properly, and she lifts one of them by the ankle. While she is holding the student, a piece of chalk starts writing on the chalkboard behind her. A boy named Nigel yells out, and everyone turns to look. The chalk, floating in midair, writes a message from Magnus to Agatha, telling her to give Jenny her house back, or he would come and get her. Miss Honey notices that Matilda is in deep concentration. Miss Trunchbull faints. Nigel dumps the jug of water on her face in an attempt to wake her. The school nurse and several other teachers arrive and take Miss Trunchbull away. Miss Honey lets the students go to the playground but gives Matilda a hug and a kiss on the way out.

Summary: Chapter 21: A New Home

After recovering from her fainting fit, Miss Trunchbull leaves the school and does not return. Mr. Trilby, the Deputy Headmaster, goes to her home and finds that she has moved out. Miss Honey receives a letter that contains her father’s true will, leaving her the house and his savings account. Matilda is promoted to the senior class, but she still visits Miss Honey regularly. Matilda finds that she no longer can move objects with her mind. Miss Honey suggests that maybe Matilda lost her powers because she is finally challenged in school and does not have all the extra mental energy. 

Not long after, Matilda arrives home to find her family frantically packing the car to go to the airport. She asks where they are going and when they will return. Her father says they are going to Spain and will never return. Matilda runs off to Miss Honey, who explains to Matilda that Mr. Wormwood works with criminals, selling stolen cars. Miss Honey is not surprised that he is running away. Matilda says she wants to stay with Miss Honey instead. The two run back to Matilda’s house. Matilda asks her father if she can stay behind with Miss Honey. Her parents agree. The car drives off, and Matilda’s brother waves at her through the back window.

Analysis: Chapters 19–21

Matilda’s focus on discipline and practice as two qualities necessary for learning and growth demonstrate that even those who have a natural intellect must work hard to master new knowledge and skills. Given Matilda’s extraordinary intelligence, learning comes very easily to her, but to implement her plan to help Miss Honey, she must perfect her newfound skill of telekinesis through diligent, repetitive, and concentrated practice. While her ultimate goal is unselfish, Matilda also sees the benefit of helping Miss Honey by teaching Miss Trunchbull a lesson. For Matilda, it would amount to a triumph for all of the children who have been treated unjustly at the school.

Miss Honey’s words about moving forward foreshadow the book’s ending. The utterance suggests she is becoming more confident in herself, enough to stand up to Miss Trunchbull even if it is in a small way. Miss Trunchbull continues to inflict endless insults on Miss Honey’s students, forcing them to recite their times-tables backwards, which is more of a party trick than a useful skill. When Miss Honey says, “The whole object of life, Headmistress, is to go forward,” it proves telling. Miss Honey has chosen to go forward despite her abusive past. Matilda, for her part, has resisted the urge to dwell on her past and on the lack of love and care she received in her home. Matilda knows she will get nowhere in life if she focuses on her painful past. Only by going forward will Matilda realize her bright future.

When Matilda uses telekinesis to write on the chalkboard, the balance of power shifts from the evil and self-serving Miss Trunchbull to the loyal and caring Matilda. The truth about the years of lies, deception, and abuse Miss Honey has endured because of Miss Trunchbull is revealed, and Miss Trunchbull has a reckoning that leaves her utterly terrified. When Miss Trunchbull faints, the children and the other teachers show that while they were afraid of Miss Trunchbull before, they now have power over her. This new-found confidence is demonstrated by their enthusiasm in dousing her with water and not feeling any remorse or trepidation in celebrating her vulnerability. Miss Trunchbull’s downfall is a victory for all the children as well as for Miss Honey. With her crimes exposed, Miss Trunchbull takes the only road she can as a coward that focused her bullying on those smaller and weaker than her. She leaves the school, never to return, and Miss Honey gets the justice she deserves thanks to Matilda.

The mind is very powerful when fed with knowledge and it can be used to solve problems through cunning and perseverance. With Miss Trunchbull gone, school has become an actual place of learning where teachers can once again do their jobs and help the children learn and excel. When Matilda realizes her telekinetic powers are gone, Miss Honey suggests that her power must have stemmed from necessity—a tool to right the wrongs in her world when she seemed to have such little control over them. Matilda knew she did not have the physical prowess to take on her nemeses, so she relied on her intelligence and resolve to achieve the justice she craved. At this point in her life, with the love and support of Miss Honey, Matilda no longer needs her extra powers to make a difference.

At the end of the story, love, care, and compassion—qualities absent in Matilda’s relationship with her parents—prove to be more important than blood. With Miss Honey, Matilda has found someone who will care for her, love her, support her pursuit of knowledge, and nurture her as a parent should. There is no remorse in Matilda’s decision to stay with Miss Honey as she watches her parents and brother drive away. Matilda has found a home and a family with Miss Honey, something her own parents were never capable of giving her.