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Literature / Matilda

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"I know you are a tiny little girl, but there is a kind of magic in you somewhere."
Miss Honey

A Roald Dahl book about an exceptionally clever little girl, Matilda Wormwood, who has exceptionally horrible and ignorant parents. Matilda has a love of learning and books, and her parents think she is stupid and deride her for reading while they watch mindless Soap Operas and Game Shows.

The first half of the book deals with Matilda discovering how to use her intellect against her parents by playing tricks, like supergluing her father's hat to his head. The second half of the book pits her against a far more formidable enemy — Agatha Trunchbull, her school's sadistic headmistress, as well as introduces the only person to truly recognize Matilda's amazing talent, Miss Honey. Matilda ultimately has to pit her prodigious intellect (and newly discovered telekinetic powers) against the Trunchbull to liberate both the sorely oppressed children and her beloved teacher, as well as make a better life for herself.

In 1996 a film adaptation was made under the direction of Danny DeVito, starring Mara Wilson (Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Doubtfire) in the lead and a frighteningly accurate Trunchbull in the form of Pam Ferris. Notably, the film takes place in the United States rather than England.

In 2010, it was adapted into a stage musical, written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.

In 2022, another film adaptation, this time of the musical, directed by Matthew Warchus and distributed by the British branch of Sony Pictures was released in the UK and onto Netflix internationally.

This book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Matilda's parents verbally berate her and neglect her every need. Later in the book, it's revealed that Miss Honey was raised by the Trunchbull, who was even more abusive to her than she is to the students.
  • Adults Are Useless: Roald Dahl's Signature Style. None of the teachers at Crunchem Hall challenge The Trunchbull because they are terrified of her. It is eventually discovered that Miss Honey's fears of her are particularly justified. Not a single student manages to convince their parents that The Chokey exists. It's sort of justified by Matilda's theory that the various punishments from The Trunchbull are so over-the-top that the parents simply don't believe it. Of course, it's probably Dahl's commentary on the boarding schools he attended as a child.
  • Adopting the Abused: Matilda is raised by two neglectful parents who heavily believe in anti-intellectualism and insult her for not being more like them. Matilda's father Harry tears up a library book she borrowed because he thinks it's a waste of time. They even leave her home alone to play bingo or to go to work when she's just a kid. When Matilda starts to go to school, she strikes up a bond with her teacher Miss Honey, who actually admires her intelligence and accepts her for who she is. At the end of the book, Matilda asks if Miss Honey can adopt her, and her parents just hand her over without batting an eye.
  • ...And 99¢: One of Mr. Wormwood's less crooked tricks in his business is to sell for fifty pence below a round figure (e.g. £999.50 instead of £1000.00).
  • Badass Bystander: Nigel Hicks and Lavender. Nigel mouths off to Miss Trunchbull while answering her questions correctly, and Lavender managed to sneak a newt into the infamous water jug and got away with it.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: At the very beginning, the narrator speaks of proud parents who are convinced their offspring can do no wrong, even digressing into what he would say about them if he were a teacher. This is followed by, "Occasionally, one comes across parents who take the opposite line, and show no interest in their children at all, and these of course are far worse than the doting ones", before describing how Mr and Mrs Wormwood view Matilda.
  • Balloon Belly: Some illustrations depict Bruce Bogtrotter this way after he finishes the cake. One has the buttons ready to pop off his shirt.
  • Bath of Poverty: Miss Honey divulges that she doesn't have the space or money for a shower or bath in her tiny house, and must wash in the kitchen with a pot of water and a sponge.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Miss Honey is comely and very kind, standing in contrast to the ugly, mean Miss Trunchbull.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Miss Trunchbull hates many things, but there are two things she really can't stand: pigtails and boys with long hair.
    • Matilda is being accused of something she didn't do—and this is actually what triggers her Psychic Powers in the first place.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Matilda is one of the nicest children you could wish to meet—as long as you don't make her mad.
  • Big Bad: While Matilda's father serves as the Starter Villain for before she enters school, the resident Dean Bitterman, Agatha Trunchbull is proven to be the main threat to the school due to her rampant acts of child abuse on and off campus.
  • Bizarre Beverage Use: The eponymous Child Prodigy uses her telekinesis to knock over her Sadist Teacher's glass of water.
  • Books vs. Screens: The eponymous girl's parents love to watch TV and think that, since they have television, books are pointless. Meanwhile, all the bookworms—Matilda, Miss Honey, and the librarian—think television is pointless, with Matilda going so far as to call the TV the "dreaded box". Similarly, Matilda dismisses pocket calculators as "a lump of metal".
  • Bowdlerise: In 2023, this book and other Roald Dahl books were edited to be more inclusive. For this book, Matilda no longer reads the works of Rudyard Kipling, but of Jane Austen, and Miss Trunchbull is now the "most formidable woman" rather than the "most formidable female."
  • Brain Critical Mass: Profoundly gifted kids the world over wish that being bored out of your mind gave you Psychic Powers.
  • Breather Episode: The chapter "Miss Honey's Cottage", which also contains Scenery Porn as the rural walk from the school to the cottage is lovingly described, Miss Honey educates Matilda on recognising types of trees, and quotes a poem by Dylan Thomas that she thinks of every time she walks towards her front door.
  • Brains Versus Brawn: Badass Bookworm and Adorably Precocious Child Matilda uses her wit and intelligence against The Trunchbull, who tends to use physical aggression, intimidation and brute force to assert her dominance over the school.
  • Brainy Brunette: Matilda is intelligent and brown-haired.
  • Brawn Hilda: Agatha Trunchbull is one of the strongest women there is — we only wish she didn't use her strength to throw children around for fun. She's also loud and quite ugly.
  • Bully Hunter: Matilda would often use her wits to punish bullying adults. She pranked her father at least twice (first for accusing her of cheating, then for ripping her library book), and then used her Psychic Powers to free the school (and Miss Honey) from the cruel and domineering Agatha Trunchbull.
  • Butt-Monkey: Harry Wormwood, once Matilda works out how to get even with him without being found out, is the butt of every joke.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Matilda does this when she discovers her father's shady practices at his car dealership.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Trunchbull deliberately uses such outlandishly cruel punishments because any parent would assume a child was making them up.
  • Child Hater: The Trunchbull is quite vocal about how much she hates children and would find excuses to give them harsh punishments.
  • Child Prodigy: Matilda is 5 years old, but has been reading classical literature during her spare time, and can do mental arithmetic that even her teacher needs to work out on paper.
  • Closet Punishment: Exaggerated with the "Chokey", a closet lined with spikes and shards of glass, thus like an Iron Maiden, in which there is just barely enough room to stand. Putting children in there for even the slightest misdemeanor is a favorite torture technique of the cruel headmistress of Matilda's school.
  • The Comedy Drop: the giant-like headmistress Miss Trunchbull has a habit of holding children aloft when they do not know the answer to a question. She holds Rupert by his hair, telling him that she'll let him go when he says the right answer; and true to her word, she opens her hand and lets him fall. In a later scene, she holds Wilfred up by his ankle, but then drops him in shock when she sees something that terrifies her.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Mr Wormood demands a mirror to see his platinum blond hair, his wife hands him a powder compact. Mr Wormwood seizes it and spills most of the powder, and Mrs Wormwood then berates him for spilling her best Elizabeth Arden face powder.
  • Critical Dissonance: In-Universe. Matilda comments that while she thinks that Mr. C. S. Lewis is a very good writer, he has one failing: there are no funny bits in his books. Judging by the number of painful entries listed on TV Tropes for his works, it would seem that many tropers do not agree with her.
  • Cute Bookworm: Matilda is an Adorably Precocious Child who loves reading more than anything else.
  • Daytime Drama Queen: Matilda's parents are addicted to television, which is shown as one of their many character flaws. When Miss Honey goes to visit them at home, there's an American soap opera on, and Mrs. Wormwood in particular objects to being interrupted when "Willard is just about to propose to Angelica!"
  • Dean Bitterman: The Trunchbull is the Headmistress of Crunchem Hall, and abuses her power to harm the students and intimidate them into silence.
  • The Dreaded: Everyone fears the Trunchbull, and the class dreads the weekly inspection she conducts.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: In-universe. At Mr. Wormwood's dealership, Harry shows Michael the tools of the trade, namely supergluing a fender on, using a two-bit drill to rewind the odometer, and putting sawdust into the pipes. Matilda is disgusted with how her dad cheats and potentially endangers lives, but Michael is impressed with the drill bit.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Miss Trunchbull threatens to punish Matilda with the buckle end of her belt.
  • Drama Panes: Miss Honey is described as staring out of the window while she tells Matilda the sad story of her childhood.
  • Dramatic Drop:
    • Mrs Wormwood drops her husband's breakfast tray, when she sees his terrible hair-dye job.
    • When Miss Trunchbull sees her name written on the blackboard by an invisible hand, she drops the child she is holding up by the ankle.
  • Dramatic TV Shut-Off: When Miss Honey turns up to tell Matilda's parents about Matilda's amazing skills, Mr Wormwood protests that they are right in the middle of watching one of their favourite programmes. Surprised that he values "some rotten TV programme" over his daughter's future, Miss Honey tells him to switch it off and listen to her. He compromises by turning off the sound, to Mrs Wormwood's fury, as one of the characters on the TV is about to propose marriage.
  • Dumb Blond: Mrs. Wormwood is platinum blonde (though it's dyed), and she's seen as a silly airhead who thinks only of herself and soap operas.
  • Ear Ache:
    • Ear torture is just one of the many ways Miss Trunchbull is sadistic with the children in her care. Most notably, she lifts Eric Ink into the air by his ears. Miss Trunchbull casually dismisses Miss Honey's protests, affirming that little boys' ears are stuck very firmly to the sides of their heads. This is exaggerated in the film of the musical, where the boy's ears stretch considerably.
    • Hortensia mentions that Miss Trunchbull grabs her by one ear when escorting her to the Chokey.
  • Entertainment Above Their Age: When the eponymous brainy, five-year-old girl reads all the kids' books in the library, she starts reading adult books, including Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Evil Counterpart: Miss Trunchbull is this to Miss Honey. Both of them work at Crunchem Hall, one as the headmistress and the other as a teacher. However, while Miss Trunchbull is sadistic and hates young children, Miss Honey cares deeply for the children she's put in charge of, and is kind and dedicated to educating them. It's not hard to guess who the Big Bad of the story and Matilda's mentor are, respectively.
  • Evil Principal: The Trunchbull practically tortures her students, and is implied to have murdered her brother-in-law, Magnus, to gain control of his assets and abused his daughter (Miss Honey) while she was in her care.
  • Exact Words: When Trunchbull accuses Matilda of spilling the water with the newt on her, Matilda simply replies that she hasn't moved from her seat the entire time. It was Matilda... exploiting her newfound Mind over Matter powers, which had just been awakened from a previous false accusation against her.
  • Eye Take: When Matilda claims to Miss Honey that she used her telekinesis to knock over a glass of water, Miss Honey does not really believe her, but asks her to do it again. When Matilda succeeds, Miss Honey's eyes stretch so wide that you can see the whites all round.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Matilda's parents don't understand Matilda's love of books and learning, rejecting her for it. They prefer the more mundane Michael who is being coached to take over his father's company.
  • Fat Bastard:
    • Matilda's mother is a plump woman who is completely self-absorbed and is generally a horrible mother.
    • Miss Trunchbull also falls into this, as she's Formerly Fit. She was an Olympic athlete in her youth and maintains a good deal of Stout Strength, but both age and a taste for sweets (she has a personal stash of chocolate cake made with high-quality ingredients) have filled out her figure considerably.
  • Fashion-Victim Villain: In-universe example. Mr. Wormwood wears bright green/yellow checked suits and pork pie hats. He thinks they make him look dashing.
  • Financial Abuse: Miss Honey reveals that Miss Trunchbull forced her to surrender her wages for ten years, to pay back for all the "clothes, books and food" that the dear aunt Trunchbull paid for, receiving one pound a week as allowance and not allowed to keep her inheritance. Matilda quickly intuits that it was a means of keeping Miss Honey at home to cook and keep house, though it didn't work when Miss Honey found a farmers' shed she could rent for 10 pence a week, and she suggests that Miss Honey draw unemployment money or hire a lawyer. In the end, following Miss Trunchbull's banishment, Miss Honey learns she's the official owner of her father's house and has access to her savings.
  • Flat Character: Matilda's brother, Michael. We know little about him other than him appearing to be average and having "inherited his father's love of crookery".
  • Force Feeding: Involves an overweight kid who is forced to eat chocolate cake, as punishment for supposedly stealing Miss Trunchbull's cake, while the whole school watches. In other words, he is not allowed to stop eating until he has finished the whole cake, and it's HUGE too (18 inches in diameter). Even if he gets sick, he has to keep eating. It turns out to be a less-than-effective punishment, however, as the kid eventually manages to finish the cake without getting sick, and gets a standing ovation from the entire student body. Trunchbull, exasperated, smashes the cake platter over the kid's head, which still doesn't faze the kid. It's the first time in the story that we see Miss Trunchbull "lose" an encounter.
  • Foul Cafeteria Food: Lampshaded by Miss Trunchbull, when she accuses Bruce Bogtrotter of stealing her own cake, as opposed to the school food given to the children.
    Miss Trunchbull: You don't think for one minute I am going to eat the filth I give to you? My cake was made from real butter, and real cream!
  • Free-Range Children: Matilda gets left alone in the house during the day. She walks over to the library, through heavy traffic, at the age of four because there's no one watching her.
  • Freudian Excuse: Miss Trunchbull says she's glad she "never was a child", implying that she possibly didn't have a very happy childhood.
  • First-Name Basis: Ms. Trunchbull, Ms. Honey and Mr. Honey refer(ed) to each other as Agatha, Jenny, and Magnus in private. Matilda uses it in her plan.
  • Fun with Homophones: When testing Nigel on his spelling, Miss Trunchbull hopes to catch him out with a homophonic word; but Nigel is too smart for her.
    Miss Trunchbull: Spell "write".
    Nigel: Which one? The one you do with a pen, or the one which means the opposite of wrong?
    Miss Trunchbull: The one with the pen, you little fool!
    (Nigel spells it correctly)
  • Gender Flip: Meta; Roald Dahl got the idea of a story about a boy called Billy developing telekinesis, but got writer's block and did a gender flip.
  • Genius Book Club: Matilda has already made significant inroads into the Western Canon by the time she starts school.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Miss Trunchbull hates them. She first shows how horrifying she is by grabbing a girl by her pigtails and using them as a handgrip before throwing her across the schoolyard.
  • God Save Us from the Trunchbull!
  • Guile Hero: No one can beat the Trunchbull in a physical confrontation. Matilda wins by frightening Agatha Trunchbull with the "ghost" of Magnus Honey. She had practiced this sort of heroism against her father earlier in the book.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Miss Trunchbull is very easily angered, in particular by young children. This, combined with her tendency for violence, leads to Crunchem Hall being a horrifying place to be for teachers and students alike.
  • Happily Ever After: Miss Trunchbull disappears from Crunchem Hall (to the delight of the teachers and students), so Miss Honey gets back her wages and her father's inheritance. The Wormwoods were forced to flee to Spain after Harry's illegal activities (scamming customers and fencing stolen cars) were exposed, allowing Matilda to be rid of them and live with Miss Honey instead.
  • Hard Truth Aesop:
    • Sometimes your biological family are just plain terrible people and it's in your best interest to get away from them. Both the film and book ends with Matilda getting away from her parents and living with Miss Honey, who provides her with the love and support she was denied at home; this is presented as being a happy ending. It's an important counterpoint to the message that people should stick by their biological families no matter what, which can be taken sadly internalized by many kids that they should put up with abuse and mistreatment due to supposed parental love that, in too many instances, just isn't there.
    • Lampshaded by Matilda, just because someone is an adult, that doesn't necessarily make them right. And specifically in the situation of Matilda's family, adults (for several reasons) may be incorrect in their decisions and can hurt their children, even if their intentions are not necessarily evil per se. You can see that the Wormwoods believe that their form of parenting is in Matilda's best interest since they see nothing wrong with the way they (and their older child Michael) were brought up and believe Matilda is just acting out.
  • Hat Damage: Hilarity ensues when Matilda attaches Mr Wormwood's hat to his head with superglue. When the hat does not come loose by the following morning, Mrs Wormwood cuts it off his head with scissors, completely destroying the hat, and leaving Mr Wormwood with a bald white ring around his head.
  • Hated by All: Teachers and students alike fear Miss Trunchbull's mercurial temper and violent outbursts and she is not shown to have any friends or allies on staff or otherwise. She maintains her position entirely by inspiring terror.
  • Hates Reading: Matilda's parents and brother don't like books because they don't see the point of them. This contrasts them with Matilda, who's a bookish Child Prodigy.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr. Wormwood's secondhand car business. Matilda's dad is the stereotypical sleazy car salesman, even putting sawdust in the oil so that the engine will burn out and they have to come back and buy a new car. The book contains a scene in which Mr. Wormwood teaches Michael the tricks to make a lemon look better. At the end, it's revealed that Matilda's dad is receiving stolen cars from the mob, and it's deconstructed when the police catch on and Mr. Wormwood goes on the run.
  • Horrible Housing: Her Evil Aunt's Financial Abuse forces Miss Honey to rent a farmer's shed. It has no furnishings, appliances, or running water, and even the farmer thought it was unfit for habitation, but Miss Honey takes pride in keeping it (and herself) as neat as possible.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: It takes Matilda a good deal of self-training to gain control of her telekinetic powers enough to write with a piece of chalk.
  • Humiliation Conga: Matilda terrifies Agatha Trunchbull using her telekinetic powers, making her give up the house and the money she stole from Miss Honey. In the film, the children all get revenge on her for the way she treated them.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Miss Trunchbull tends to do this when ranting about this children. When she accuses Bruce Bogtrotter of stealing her cake:
    Miss Trunchbull: This clot, this blackhead, this foul carbuncle, this poisonous pustule that you see before you is none other than a disgusting criminal, a denizen of the underworld, a member of the Mafia! That robber-bandit, that safe-cracker, that highwayman standing over there with his socks around his ankles stole it and ate it!
  • Hypocritical Humor: Mr Wormwood boasts about how it took him less than ten minutes to work out how much profit he made on a lucrative day, only to be upstaged by Matilda who works it out in seconds. Later, when Miss Honey visits to tell him about Matilda's remarkable ability in arithmetic, he says, "What's the point of that when you can buy a calculator?"
  • "I Can't Look!" Gesture: When Miss Trunchbull is holding Rupert by his hair, one of the children illustrated is seen covering his eyes.
  • Improvised Weapon: When the Wormwoods hear a creepy voice saying "hello, hello, hello" in their house, Mrs. Wormwood thinks it's a burglar, and the whole family creeps into the kitchen to investigate. Mr. Wormwood arms himself with a golf club, Mrs. Wormwood with a poker, and Michael with a table lamp. Matilda, who planted the talking parrot in the first place, joins in the act and takes the knife she has been eating with.
  • Informed Ability: Hortensia claims that the Trunchbull has a canny ability to guess which kid plays a prank on her, even if she has no proof, but the ability is a No-Sell where Matilda is concerned. Trunchbull claims that Matilda put a stink bomb in her desk even though she had an alibi—being in Miss Honey's class—and also accuses the child falsely of sneaking a newt into her water jug.
  • Informed Poverty: Averted. When Matilda is invited to Miss Honey's cottage, it is clear that Miss Honey is very poor indeed: the tiny house has no running water, and only a camping stove; and the "sitting room" is completely bare apart from three boxes to serve as furniture. Miss Honey mentions having no bed or bath. Matilda realizes at once that something is wrong, and asks if she is paid very badly, which Miss Honey denies. Matilda then suggests that Miss Honey prefers a very simple and basic lifestyle; Miss Honey then tells her the sad story of why she is so poor.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Trunchbull operates on this when it comes to dealing with children. During her lesson with Matilda's class, she punishes kids for answering math and spelling questions wrong but attempts to lash out at them for getting them right, too. She suspects they somehow choose to grow up slowly on purpose, and her idea of a perfect school is one completely unoccupied, "with no children at all."
  • Iron Maiden: Miss Trunchbull stuffs kids into a closet, dubbed "the Chokey", which is full of rusty nails and broken glass, akin to an iron maiden. The idea here is that the kids must stand perfectly still until released to avoid injury.
  • Jerkass:
    • Agatha Trunchbull, when she's not harming children.
    • Also, Harry Wormwood, whose used-car company sells cars made from stolen parts—at outrageous prices—that only survive for a few miles. Because their engines are filled with sawdust. And then there's how he acts around Matilda.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • At the end of the book, we have Harry Wormwood preparing to flee the police who are onto him and his crooked car business. Specifically, to Spain.
    • Ms. Trunchbull. Yes, she's been humiliated in front of the class and driven out of town but that's hardly a punishment for what she'd been doing to the students. She also receives no repercussions for murdering her brother-in-law or stealing Ms. Honey's inheritance.
  • Kick the Dog: What Matilda's parents do to her regularly, especially her father, when he tears up Matilda's library book, simply because he envies the pleasure she gets from reading. The strong-willed Matilda refuses to be upset, and takes her revenge in increasingly cunning ways.
  • Kill the Parent, Raise the Child: Magnus Honey invited his late wife's sister Agatha Trunchbull to move in with him and help raise his daughter Jenny, but the sister was cruel to the girl and eventually took over raising her full time after her brother-in-law's apparent "suicide". Even after Jenny grows up, Trunchbull continues to force her to live in a bare-bones cottage while she stays in her father's opulent house and robs her of her inheritance, and it takes a plucky six-year-old girl with telekinetic powers to set things right.
  • Lady and a Scholar: Matilda is a genuinely sweet-natured kid, and never thinks of herself as superior for her brains. If she's asked anything intellectual, she will respond politely. She only dislikes people who are annoying or rude to her. The book carefully emphasizes this.
  • Large Ham: The Trunchbull has a tendency for going on long and passionate tirades, especially against schoolchildren whom she perceives to have "wronged" her by doing nothing but exist.
  • Lies to Children:
    • Just after Matilda has shown her brilliance with numbers on her very first day of school, way beyond what is expected of her age group, her classmate Lavender asks why Matilda can do it, and she can't. Miss Honey lies through her teeth and tells her not to worry, as she will soon catch up.
    • Surprisingly, this is averted with Matilda's parents. When Matilda innocently comments on her father's hysterical behaviour after the platinum blond incident, her mother tells her about men being generally like that, adding, "You will learn that when you get a bit older, my girl."
  • Lost Will and Testament: When Miss Honey tells Matilda her life story, she tells of how her father's will was never found, and that her cruel aunt produced a piece of paper supposedly written by her father stating that he leaves his property to her. After the aunt disappears, the real will turns up, stating that Miss Honey is the rightful heir.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Mr and Mrs Wormwood do this when Miss Honey turns up at their house to tell them of Matilda's brilliance, calling her Miss Hunky, Miss Hawkes, and Miss Harris.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: The Chokey, which turns out to be a non-lethal (as far as we know) iron maiden.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Miss Honey is a very sweet teacher.
    • Wormwood is a very bitter herb, and the Wormwoods (Matilda excepted) are as sleazy as they come. There's also a well-known prison in England called Wormwood Scrubs. Harry certainly belongs there.
    • "Matilda Wormwood" has rather antiquated, fantastical, even witchy tones as a name, so it fits a child who is wise beyond her years and develops supernatural powers.
  • Mind over Matter: Matilda develops telekinetic powers, which she believes are a manifestation of her unflexed intellectual potential, as she is not challenged by her current level of education and her mind has to do something with its power if it isn't going to be tested by schooling.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe. One of Miss Trunchbull's favorite books is Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, but for a reason contrary to Dickens's intention or virtually any reader's view: she admires the Sadist Teacher Wackford Squeers as a model for what a headteacher should be.
  • Missing the Good Stuff: When Miss Honey turns up to tell Mr and Mrs Wormwood about their daughter's amazing abilities on her first day at school, they are annoyed about the interruption to their television time, and Mrs Wormwood is especially ratty about Mr Wormwood turning the sound down just as one character on TV is about to propose marriage.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Two-in-one: Miss Trunchbull's surname connotes "truncheon" and "bull", with the former being a bludgeon and the latter being a large aggressive animal.
  • Narrative Filigree: At the very beginning of the book, the narrator spells out several examples of the scathing teachers' reports he would write about children doted on by proud parents, eventually finishing with, "But enough of that. We have to get on."
  • Never Suicide: Miss Honey speculates that her father's suicide was a murder by Miss Trunchbull. Trunchbull's reaction to Matilda's staged haunting and "Magnus" accusing her of killing him seems to confirm it.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Miss Trunchbull falsely accusing Matilda of putting a newt in her jug ends up triggering Matilda's powers when Matilda feels indignant rage and successfully wills the cup to turn over onto Trunchbull's lap. It also starts the chain of events that lead to Miss Honey revealing that the Trunchbull is her aunt and giving Matilda an incentive and plan to control her powers. On a lesser front, the attempt to punish Bogtrotter for stealing her cake provides the student body with its victory against her.
  • Noodle Incident: At the beginning of her second meeting with Miss Honey's class, Miss Trunchbull immediately checks her drinking water for slimy creatures. She says that she is glad to see that there are none, because if they were, something exceptionally unpleasant would have happened to the whole class, including Miss Honey.
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Miss Honey theorizes this was the source of Matilda's telekinesis; she was so intelligent for her age, with nothing left to challenge her in her grade she had enough mental brainpower to project invisible forces. When she's moved up to a more advanced classroom, she receives more a more challenging curriculum to contend with, meaning she doesn't have spare mental power left.
  • Nose Nuggets: An anecdote is told in passing about a boy who picked his nose with superglue on his finger, with disastrous results.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: A central theme of the work is that while the most dangerous bullies can and will back up their threats, this only makes it more important to stand up to them. Simple stubborn defiance can defeat what direct force cannot.
  • Nothing Nice About Sugar and Spice: When discussing Matilda, Miss Trunchbull believes that a bad girl is a far more dangerous creature than a bad boy.
  • Out of Focus: Matilda's brother is taught by their father how to make lemons run better, but contributes little to the plot otherwise.
  • Painful Adhesive Removal: Matilda gets revenge on her father by putting superglue in his favorite porkpie hat, which he doesn't realize until he's already put it on his head. It ends up being too painful for his wife to remove right away, forcing him to sleep in his hat before they cut it off the next day (which leaves him with a horrible haircut).
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Annoyed with Matilda having her nose in a book all the time, Mr. Wormwood spitefully tears up a book she is reading.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Matilda tells her father that she's reading The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, an American author. He then says that Americans only write about filth before tearing the pages to shreds.
  • Pitiful Worms: Miss Trunchbull compares squashing children to destroying insects.
    Miss Trunchbull: Squashing a bad girl is like trying to squash a bluebottle. You bang down on it, and the darn thing isn't there.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Matilda meets a neighbor kid who owns a parrot that can say two phrases—"Hello" and "Rattle my bones", the latter of which is said in a creepy tone. She borrows it in exchange for a week's pocket money, then hides it in the chimney in her house. The result is that her parents tear the house apart looking for what's making the noise, ultimately fearing a ghost, and Matilda gives the neighbor kid his parrot back with her parents never figuring out what happened.
  • Power Loss Depression: Subverted. Matilda being put in a class where she is being challenged causes her to lose her powers. But as Ms. Honey explains, it was being bored out of her skull that gave her powers, so she doesn't regret the loss because she's finally found something to occupy her brain. In the film, she keeps her powers in the end.
  • Plucky Girl: Matilda qualifies from standing up to various abusive authority figures in her life, from her neglectful and emotionally abusive father to the Dean Bitterman at her school, as well as devising plans to get back at them for the injustices they have committed.
  • Poverty Food: While visiting Miss Honey's house, Matilda sees her using margarine. This, along with the routine Miss Honey explains to Matilda in the Bath of Poverty entry, causes Matilda to conclude that Miss Honey must be poor.
  • Protagonist Title: The book is titled after its main character, Matilda Wormwood.
  • Punishment Box: The sadistic headmistress is fond of (among other things) using the "Chokey", a closet lined with spikes, thus like an iron maiden in which there is just barely enough room to stand.
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: The titular protagonist gains Psychic Powers thanks to her love of reading and learning, not to mention that her TV-loving parents are shown as quite callous.
    If only he [Mr. Wormwood] would read a little Dickens or Kipling he would learn that there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Mrs. Phelps, the local librarian, is a sweet, kindly old woman who initially tries to help the four-year-old Matilda find picture books. But when she realizes that she has a child genius on her hands, she instead starts offering her some of Western literature's greatest works. Matilda devours them all, but Mrs. Phelps never makes a big deal of it or tries to get the attention of the press, instead preferring to let the little girl read in peace. It's lampshaded by the narrator, who comments that while most people would have started kicking up a fuss, Mrs. Phelps is a sensible woman who doesn't see much need for theatrics. Mrs. Phelps also takes a practical interest in Matilda's well-being and bends the rules of the library to let her have a library card early and borrow as many books as she wants per week, as a four-year-old walking ten blocks in heavy traffic every day is a recipe for disaster.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • The aggressive, intimidating Brawn Hilda Ms. Trunchball (red) and the calm, sweet and gentle Ms. Honey (blue).
    • Bookish and level-headed Matilda is the blue while the rest of her family is the red—her mother is vain and passionate, her father is an obnoxious sleazy car dealer and her brother is relatively less competent than her.
    • When Matilda and Ms. Honey are paired up, Matilda is the more open extroverted Plucky Girl (red) compared to Ms. Honey, who is still the quieter blue.
  • Refuge in Audacity: This is how the Trunchbull gets away with such shocking cruelty to the students. Any parent who heard their kid tell them the principal threw them in a closed chamber with broken glass and nails jutting out of the walls for several hours would naturally assume their kid was lying. Not to mention her regular use of schoolchildren for practice throwing the hammer.
    "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable."
  • Sadist Teacher: The Trunchbull is the queen of this trope, abusing the students in her school for petty squabbles in manners so shocking she would have been arrested if any parent believed what she did.
  • The Series Has Left Reality: The story starts in reality, until Matilda is provoked into such terrible anger that she gains telekinetic powers. Matilda and Miss Honey try to analyse these scientifically. Later, Matilda loses her powers, and again, she and Miss Honey talk about why this happened.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: After Matilda has endured half of her first day in school seeing the outrageous tortures that Agatha Trunchbull (the school's Dean Bitterman and extreme Sadist Teacher) unleashes on the children, she asks the other students of her classroom why the heck has nobody told their parents about Trunchbull's brutality and gotten them to call the police, and she's told back that none of their parents have believed them because of how outrageous said tortures are (admittedly, probably telling someone about the school having an iron maiden (which Trunchbull affectionately calls "the Chokey") and how Trunchbull showed her rage at a girl having pigtails by grabbing her by said pigtails and using her as a Human Hammer-Throw would be a tall tale in other circumstances). The book also mentions that Trunchbull has managed to intimidate the parents who have believed their children into looking the other way. The result is that Matilda needs to fix things herself using her Psychic Powers.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: It's not in evidence, anyway, despite all the child abuse going on. At least there's an excuse in the case of Miss Trunchbull; people are genuinely scared of her, and no one has been able to get the better of her in a fair fight.
  • Sore Loser: Ms. Trunchbull. When Bruce Bogtrotter eats an entire cake, she gets mad and tries to brain him with the serving tray and then storms off when that doesn't affect him. When she can't prove that Matilda knocked a pitcher over, she storms off and still tries to blame her.
  • Spelling Song: Nigel tells Miss Trunchbull Miss Honey's song to spell "difficulty".
    Nigel: Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. FFI, Mrs. C, Mrs. U, Mrs. LTY. That spells "difficulty".
    Miss Trunchbull: How perfectly ridiculous! Why are all these women married? And you're not supposed to be teaching poetry when you're teaching spelling, Miss Honey.
  • Starter Villain: Mr. Wormwood serves as the antagonist for the first few chapters before the Trunchbull is introduced.
  • Sticky Situation: Matilda puts superglue in her dad's hat, making him look ridiculous when he finds he can't remove it and forcing it to be clipped off, leaving a bald ring and some scraps of hat behind on his head.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: It is clear from very early on in the book that Matilda has intellectual capabilities that are certainly beyond that of her teacher, Miss Honey.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Subverted in that while the older girl Hortensia is telling Lavender and Matilda about the Trunchbull, she is cramming crisps into her mouth, without offering them to the younger girls.
  • A Taste of Defeat: Ms. Trunchbull was one of the many customers scammed by Mr. Wormwood. As shown elsewhere on this page, her getting cheated out of a large sum can hardly be called undeserved.
  • Teachers Out of School: Matilda wonders whether anybody thinks about a teacher's life outside of school, when Miss Honey invites her to her cottage. As they walk there, Matilda is surprised that Miss Honey lives in a very rural spot, and is astonished to discover that her cottage is tiny, and incredibly basic, with no running water, electricity, or even a bed.
  • Theme Naming: Matilda's female friends are named Lavender and Hortensia, which are both plants.
  • Time Out: Miss Trunchbull makes Nigel stand in the corner on one leg with his face to the wall, because his hands are dirty. She threatens to make him stand on his head when he tries to argue.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Mrs. Wormwood is tall and podgy, while Mr. Wormwood is shorter and wiry.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Matilda's telekinesis first appears when she grows uncontrollably angry over being (loudly and violently) accused of something she did not do.
  • The Unfavorite: Matilda's parents inexplicably hate her and refuse to believe she is any more intelligent than a lima bean, but favor her rather dim-witted brother Michael instead. Interestingly, Michael is a different kind of dumb and is nothing but pleasant to his sister (in the book, at least), if too stupid to try and help her. The book suggests at one point that Matilda's father, at least, is furious that she can get pleasure from things he cannot, specifically reading.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When Matilda uses her powers to write a "ghostly" message from "Magnus", Trunchbull can't even speak due to her horror.
  • Wham Line: When Matilda asks Miss Honey who her cruel aunt was, Miss Honey replies: Miss Trunchbull.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Matilda, big time. She's able to multiply large numbers in her head (e.g. 13 × 379) in seconds. She says she likes to read just about anything. It's implied that the two reasons she wasn't in advanced placement by now were because her parents don't believe in the value of education—and, of course, The Trunchbull's dislike of young children. Once Miss Trunchbull is deposed, Matilda gets moved up to the top-level classes. Unfortunately, now that she's using her brain to the fullest, she can't use telekinesis anymore. Realizing that has her first confused, but then relieved that she's not "a miracle" anymore.
  • Witch with a Capital "B": Mr Wormwood says this when his wife tells him that he should have read the label on superglue before using it.
    Mr Wormwood: What in heaven's name are you talking about, you stupid witch? Do you think I'm so stupid I'd glue my hat to my head on purpose?