Matilda is a children’s novel by British author Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 by Jonathan Cape in London, with 232 pages and illustrations by the notable illustrator Quentin Blake. The story is about Matilda Wormwood, an extraordinary child with ordinary and rather unpleasant parents. It was adapted into an audio reading by Joely Richardson, a film in 1996, a two-part adaptation for BBC Radio 4 (later re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra) starring Nicola McAuliffe as Matilda and narrated by Lenny Henry. In 2010 it was adapted into a musical.
Here is a Study Guide for the novel.
Protagonist Matilda is a young girl of unusual precocity, but often ill-treated by her father or neglected by her mother. In retaliation, she pulls pranks such as gluing her father’s hat to his head, hiding a friend’s parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and secretly bleaching her father’s hair.
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At school, Matilda befriends her teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, who astonished by Matilda’s intellectual abilities, tries to move her into a higher class, but is refused by headmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood about Matilda’s supreme intelligence, but makes no impression. Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey. When Matilda’s friend Lavender plays a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, Matilda uses an unexpected power of telekinesis to tip the glass of water containing the newt onto Miss Trunchbull. Having learnt of this feat, Miss Honey invites Matilda to tea at her tiny cottage in the forest, where Miss Honey reveals that she was raised in part by a hostile aunt, identified as Miss Trunchbull, who appears (among other misdeeds) to withhold her niece’s inheritance. In preparation to avenge the latter, Matilda develops her telekinetic gift through practice at home. Later, during a lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk against the blackboard and, in the resulting writings, poses as the spirit of Miss Honey’s late father, demanding that Miss Trunchbull concede Miss Honey’s house and wages and leave the region forever. This is soon accomplished, and Matilda herself advances to the highest level of schooling, where she is no longer capable of telekinesis; this explained by Miss Honey as the result of using her mind in a more-challenging curriculum.
Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, but one day she finds her parents hastily packing to escape from the police who have incriminated her father for selling stolen automobiles. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents agree, and remains there; Miss Honey, in addition to her teaching duties, also becomes the school’s new principal.
- If you had powers like Matilda’s, what would you do with them? Suppose you could move just one thing with your mind. What would it be?
- How would you react if the Trunchbull wandered into one of your classrooms?
- Who is the meanest character in the book? How are they mean? The nicest? What makes them nice?
- Look back at a few of the different pranks played in the book. Are they realistic? Could any of them really work? And which one’s your favorite?
- Do you think there’s too much violence in Matilda, compared to other kids’ books? Is the amount of violence appropriate for most readers’ age level?
- Are the books Mrs. Phelps gives to Matilda appropriate for a five-year-old to read? What would you add to this list? What would you remove?
- Do you think events like those in the book could ever happen? Why or why not?
- Could anyone besides Bruce Bogtrotter eat an entire chocolate cake?
- Would you call the end of the book a happy one? Why or why not?
- Do you think Miss Honey’s explanation about why Matilda starts losing her special abilities at the end of the book makes sense?
- At what point in the book did you figure out the connection between Miss Honey and the Trunchbull?
- Do you agree with reviewers that the ending is “contrived” (see “What’s Up With the Ending”)? Why or why not?
- Do you think any of Matilda’s pranks are mean spirited? Or are they totally deserved?