Matilda

by

Roald Dahl

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Matilda: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Matilda’s class sits still and straight in preparation for Miss Trunchbull’s arrival. Miss Honey stands in the back. Presently, Miss Trunchbull marches in, tells the children they’re “nauseating little warts,” and says she’ll expel as many as she can. She says that no matter what the children’s parents say, the children are terrible. Then, she asks them to stand up and show her their hands; she wants to make sure they’re clean. Nigel’s hands aren’t clean enough, but he tries not to be afraid as Miss Trunchbull shouts at him. He explains he hasn’t washed his hands since yesterday; his father’s a doctor and says that a few more germs won’t hurt. Miss Trunchbull also takes issue with a bean stuck on the front of Nigel’s shirt.
The way that Miss Trunchbull speaks to the students is wildly inappropriate—but the fact that she feels comfortable speaking to them like this indicates how powerful she is. Nobody is going to challenge her, because what parent is going to believe that a headmistress would actually call children “nauseating little warts”? It seems like the children are trying hard to be brave, since Nigel attempts to explain why his hands are dirty and doesn’t just stand down. He's trying to see how far he can push Miss Trunchbull without getting in trouble.
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To punish Nigel, Miss Trunchbull tells him to stand in the corner on one foot, facing the wall. From there, she says she’s going to test his spelling and asks him to spell “write.” Nigel asks her to clarify whether she wants him to spell write or right (he’s a bright boy and his mother coaches him on spelling) and spells the word correctly. This annoys Miss Trunchbull, who thought “write” was a difficult word. Nigel then says that yesterday, Miss Honey taught the class to spell “difficulty.” Miss Trunchbull asks a “daft” girl, Prudence, to spell it—and Prudence spells it correctly.
It's a sign of how little Miss Trunchbull values education that she’s not impressed with Nigel for asking whether she wants him to spell write or right. Rather, she just wants to be right and put the kids in situations where they’re wrong, so she can berate them. So it’s important to her to make it seem like she’s intelligent by setting everyone else up to fail. This is one of the ways she holds onto her power.
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Miss Trunchbull snorts that Miss Honey wasted a whole class teaching the class to spell one word, but Nigel says the lesson only took three minutes because Miss Honey gives the class little songs to sing to remember how words are spelled. He sings the song for “difficulty,” which goes, “Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. FFI / Mrs. C, Mrs. U, Mrs. LTY.” The Trunchbull says this is ridiculous; why are the women married, and Miss Honey can’t teach poetry with spelling. Miss Honey suggests the songs work well, but Miss Trunchbull shouts at her. 
Miss Honey is clearly a good teacher if she’s able to teach all her kids to spell “difficulty” so easily. More interesting here, though, is that Miss Trunchbull objects to the women in the song being married. While Mrs. Wormwood suggested that women become successful through marriage, Miss Trunchbull clearly doesn’t see the point in being married. This is because she uses violence to get her way and achieve success; marriage would just be an obstacle to that.
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Related Quotes
Next, the Trunchbull calls on Rupert to test his multiplication tables. She asks him for the answer to two times seven—he instantly answers “16.” The Trunchbull calls him an “ignorant little slug” and then grabs him by his long, golden hair (she hates long hair on boys as much as she hates plaits and pigtails on girls). She lifts Rupert by his hair and commands him to give her the right answer; she’ll only put him down when he answers. Rupert stops screaming long enough to give her the right answer—and then she drops him onto the floor. The children are transfixed; this is fantastic entertainment, though it’s terrifying.
Miss Trunchbull seems to reject and hate anything remotely feminine, whether that’s a very feminine hairstyle on girls or longer (and, per the novel, more feminine) hair on boys—she has some internalized misogyny going on here. Lifting Rupert by his hair, just for getting an answer wrong, gives Miss Trunchbull lots of power over the class. It shows every child to be afraid—and nobody performs well when they’re afraid. So she’s setting the entire class up to perform poorly, possibly so she can justify abusing them further.
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The Trunchbull mutters that she hates “small people.” Children should be kept in boxes and seem to purposefully take forever to grow up. One brave little boy points out that surely Miss Trunchbull was a child once, but Miss Trunchbull says she’s been big her whole life—and others should be like her. When the boy says she must’ve been a baby, the Trunchbull tells the boy he’s being rude. The boy introduces himself as Eric Ink. The Trunchbull asks Eric to spell “what,” which confuses Eric—and then he spells it “wot.” When the Trunchbull says nothing, Eric corrects his answer to “whot.”
It's possible to pick out some parts in this passage that humanize Miss Trunchbull—she may have been teased if she was a bigger kid, and she may have turned to violence to defend herself. But however she became so evil, the fact remains that she inappropriately uses her power to frighten children who have little or no power to fight back. If she was willing to lift Rupert by his hair, there’s no telling what she’ll do to Eric.
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The Trunchbull shouts that Eric is wrong, in every way possible. She gives him one more chance to spell “what,” so he spells it “whott.” At this, the Trunchbull picks Eric up by his ears. Eric squeals and Miss Honey protests, but the Trunchbull says that boys’ ears are resilient and stretchy. Matilda is shocked and afraid as she watches the Trunchbull coach Eric through spelling “what” correctly. When he spells it right, the Trunchbull drops him. Then, she turns to Miss Honey and says children learn best when teachers use “twisting and twiddling” to “concentrate[] their minds.” Miss Honey protests that this does permanent damage, and Miss Trunchbull agrees with a grin—but Eric will look interesting now.
If a person wants to learn how to spell and do math, being afraid of bodily harm isn’t the way to make that happen. Since Miss Trunchbull isn’t at all interested in educating the children, her motives become clear: she’s actually interested in teaching them to fear her. This is what will give her more power over them and allow her to feed her ego. So her teaching “advice” to Miss Honey is really just advice on how to get kids to be afraid and make them unwilling to fight back out of fear.
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When Miss Honey protests again, the Trunchbull tells her to go get another job or just read Nicholas Nickleby—the headmaster in that book is fantastic, whipping children. Unfortunately, the Trunchbull says, Miss Honey’s students are “morons” and will never read the book. Matilda says quietly that she’s read Nicholas Nickleby. The Trunchbull is incredulous and insists that an “unhatched shrimp” like Matilda must be lying to her.
Again, Miss Trunchbull shows that she doesn’t want her students to receive any real education. If she wanted them to be able to read Nicholas Nickleby one day, she’d be encouraging them to keep trying so that they eventually get to that point. And finally, Matilda and Miss Trunchbull butt heads, bringing forth one of the novel’s main conflicts.
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The Trunchbull asks if Matilda thinks she’s a fool. Matilda thinks she is, but she can’t say that—and the Trunchbull seems to sense Matilda’s thoughts. She asks Matilda to introduce herself and when Matilda shares her last name, the Trunchbull starts ranting about Mr. Wormwood—the car she purchased was full of sawdust. Matilda insists her father is clever, but the Trunchbull says that all clever people—including Matilda—are horrible crooks, and Matilda should sit down and be quiet.
In this moment, it serves Matilda’s purposes to support her father and say he’s clever, even if she doesn’t think that’s true. Her true adversary is Miss Trunchbull, and one way to annoy Miss Trunchbull is to say things that Miss Trunchbull doesn’t like or want to hear. Through this, Matilda can gain some power over Miss Trunchbull, though it's pretty marginal in this case.
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