Matilda

by

Roald Dahl

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Matilda: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Miss Honey leads Matilda down the village’s High Street and onto a country road. Once they’re past the village, Matilda seems to suddenly come alive. She runs beside Miss Honey, hopping and talking about her strange power and all the things she could push over with it. Miss Honey cautions Matilda to calm down—they’re wading into the unknown and they need to be careful. Matilda is too excited to take Miss Honey’s concern too seriously. Miss Honey says she’s trying to figure out where Matilda’s power came from—perhaps it has to do with how precocious Matilda is. She has to tell Matilda what “precocious” means and is shocked when Matilda seems unaware of how exceptional she is.
Now that Matilda is with an adult she trusts, she suddenly opens up—and acts way more like a child her age than she has in the rest of the novel. This makes it clear that despite Matilda’s genius and very adult sense of morality, she is just a kid in need of guidance and protection. For Miss Honey, Matilda is very odd. It’s odd that Matilda doesn’t have any idea how intelligent she is, or that this kind of intelligence is unusual in a kid her age. But this could be a product of the Wormwoods’ neglect—Matilda’s parents have never told her she’s special.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
Family, Institutions, and Chosen Family Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Then, Matilda asks if Miss Honey is afraid she’s going to hurt herself, and she insists that using her power feels “lovely.” Also, it was easier the second time, so she probably just needs to practice. By this time, the landscape is rural and there are changing autumn trees all over. Miss Honey distracts Matilda by telling her the names for the trees until, finally, they reach a gap in the hedge. Miss Honey leads Matilda through a gate and down a narrower, rutted lane.
It's subtle, but Matilda makes an important point about learning here: that in order to learn something, one needs to practice. And despite Matilda’s genius, even she needs to practice things like reading (as when she read Mrs. Wormwood’s cookbook early in the novel) and now, using her power.
Themes
Education and Opportunity Theme Icon
Matilda realizes she’s never thought of Miss Honey as a real person who doesn’t just live at school. Does she have a sibling, or a mother, or a husband at home? When Matilda asks, though, Miss Honey says she lives alone in a small farm worker’s cottage. She points ahead to a tiny brick cottage shaded by trees and surrounded by blackberries and nettles. Miss Honey recites part of a poem by Dylan Thomas, which she thinks of every time she approaches her house. In it, the speaker tells a girl to not “fear or believe” that a wolf in sheep’s clothing will leap out and eat the girl’s heart. Matilda is stunned; she’s never heard such beautiful poetry. Miss Honey is embarrassed and pushes on ahead.
Again, it becomes clear that Matilda is just a child: her world is expanding as she realizes that Miss Honey has a life outside of being a teacher at school. Miss Honey also has preferences about poetry and now has the opportunity to share a poem she loves with Matilda. The poem is interesting, as it’s possible to read it as a warning to, say, not fear Miss Trunchbull. It suggests that Miss Trunchbull might be dangerous, but she can’t actually beat Matilda and Miss Honey down.
Themes
Education and Opportunity Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Matilda hangs back; she’s frightened now. This cottage seems like something out of a fairy tale. But when Miss Honey calls for her, Matilda follows her teacher into the house. Miss Honey isn’t tall, but she has to crouch inside. The kitchen is the size of a closet, with a sink (with no taps), a shelf, and a cupboard with a camping stove on it. There’s only a single bottle of milk. Miss Honey sends Matilda outside to the well with a bucket to draw water.
Seeing Miss Honey’s tiny, primitive cottage shows Matilda that the world is much bigger and scarier than she ever imagined. The cottage seemed like the stuff of fairy tales moments ago—but now, she has to confront that her beloved teacher still lives very simply, with no modern amenities like running water. This is also a sign that Miss Honey lives in dire poverty.
Themes
Education and Opportunity Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Women, Financial Security, and Ethics Theme Icon
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Matilda thoroughly enjoys the task. When she returns with the water, though, she asks how Miss Honey ever gets enough water for a bath. Miss Honey explains that she heats a bucket of water, strips, and washes herself, just like poor people in England used to do—though in the olden days, people didn’t have a nice stove like she has. Matilda asks if Miss Honey is poor and Miss Honey says she is. As Matilda watches Miss Honey make tea, slice brown bread, and spread margarine on it, Matilda sees her teacher is right. She seems to sense that she shouldn’t embarrass Miss Honey, though, so she insists she doesn’t need sugar.
At first, having to draw water from a well is fun for Matilda—this is like going camping for her. But soon, things start to look sinister. Miss Honey doesn’t live this way because it’s fun. Rather, she lives this way because she has to for some mysterious reason. And despite Matilda’s naivete, which shines through in much of this chapter, she still is mature for her age: she knows to tread carefully so as to not embarrass Miss Honey.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
Women, Financial Security, and Ethics Theme Icon
Miss Honey takes the tray and leads Matilda to the sitting room. Matilda is stunned: the room is tiny and the only furniture are wooden boxes. It’s appalling that Miss Honey lives here. Something fishy must be going on. Miss Honey invites Matilda to sit and eat the bread; she eats most of her food at school. Wanting to be polite, Matilda complies. This is strange and sad, but fun—and Matilda wants to know what’s going on. Miss Honey pours tea and tells Matilda that her power is amazing. It’d be interesting to figure out how much Matilda can do, and Matilda says she’d love to find out.
Very quickly, Miss Honey’s cottage has transformed from fun to sinister. Matilda understands that Miss Honey is somehow being forced to live here and, perhaps, doesn’t want to live this way. And it’s up to her, the narrator suggests, to figure out exactly what’s going on with Miss Honey. By then bringing this chapter’s close around to Matilda’s power, the novel foreshadows that Matilda may be able to use her power to help her teacher. 
Themes
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Women, Financial Security, and Ethics Theme Icon