Matilda

by

Roald Dahl

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Matilda: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s Thursday, the day when Miss Trunchbull takes over Miss Honey’s class. In the morning, Miss Honey checks in with the students who were physically harmed last time. Nigel says he wishes he were a grown-up—he’d knock Miss Trunchbull over. Miss Honey tells the children to practice their three-times table and releases them for lunch.
Nigel encapsulates the idea that children commonly feel powerless next to adults. And the remedy, he suggests, is for those kids to grow up so they have the power to stand up for themselves. Miss Honey brushes this off, though. Readers now know that she does this because she doesn’t believe fighting Miss Trunchbull is going to end well.
Themes
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The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After lunch, the class waits silently for Miss Trunchbull. Soon enough, the Trunchbull strides in and checks the jug. There’s no newt this time, so the Trunchbull points to a small boy named Wilfred and asks him to recite the three-times table backwards. He insists he hasn’t learned it backwards and Miss Honey murmurs that she doesn’t teach things backwards, since life moves forward—and anyway, could Miss Trunchbull really recite a word backwards without practice? The Trunchbull snaps at Miss Honey and gives Wilfred a problem: how much fruit does he have if he has seven apples, seven oranges, and seven bananas?
As Miss Honey points out, reciting something like a times table backwards is more of a party trick than anything useful. So Miss Trunchbull asking Wilfred to recite it backwards is a sign both of her desire to set kids up to fail and an indicator of how morally backwards she is. (Recall that Miss Trunchbull is interested in power, not educating kids.) The fact that Miss Honey stands up to Miss Trunchbull at all suggests that she’s becoming more confident, perhaps from sharing her story with Matilda.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
Education and Opportunity Theme Icon
Family, Institutions, and Chosen Family Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Wilfred cries out that that’s adding, not multiplication. The Trunchbull shrieks that it is multiplication and the answer is 21. She gives him another question: how many nuts does he have if he has eight coconuts, eight monkey-nuts, and eight “nutty little idiots” like Wilfred? Flustered, Wilfred counts on his fingers, but the Trunchbull screams that this is simple multiplication. By now, Wilfred is too afraid and upset to even try, so the Trunchbull flips him up and grabs him by an ankle.
Wilfred is in a difficult spot. He knows that Miss Trunchbull is trying to trip him up, but he also knows that his health and safety depend on figuring out what she’s asking and being able to answer it. And in this situation, neither Wilfred’s parents nor Miss Honey can really protect him. In the classroom, Miss Trunchbull is all-powerful.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
Family, Institutions, and Chosen Family Theme Icon
Just as the Trunchbull screams at Wilfred that eight threes is 24, Nigel screeches that the chalk is moving on its own. Everyone stares at the blackboard, where the chalk is writing “Agatha.” The Trunchbull drops Wilfred and asks who’s doing this in a shout. But the chalk keeps writing. It writes that this is Magnus—and at this, Miss Honey glances at Matilda. Matilda’s eyes look like glittering stars. Then, “Magnus” tells the Trunchbull to “give my Jenny back her house.” Everyone is staring at the Trunchbull, whose face is white. Magnus continues, commanding the Trunchbull to give Jenny her wages and the house—or he’ll come for the Trunchbull. The chalk falls to the ground and breaks. 
Now, it becomes clear what Matilda has been practicing with the cigar: using her power to write. This literalizes the idea that recognizing injustice gives someone the power to change things. Not only that, it also allows Matilda to expose Miss Trunchbull’s theft and meanness, which chips away at Miss Trunchbull’s credibility in the community. Further, Matilda seems as though she’s going to be able to save both the students at Crunchem Hall and Miss Honey from Miss Trunchbull’s abuse.
Themes
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Family, Institutions, and Chosen Family Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Women, Financial Security, and Ethics Theme Icon
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Wilfred screams that the Trunchbull is on the floor—and sure enough, she fainted. Miss Honey sends someone to fetch the matron, while Nigel notes that his father insists it’s best to pour water over someone who’s fainted. He dumps the water in the jug on the Trunchbull’s head and no one says anything.
Miss Trunchbull’s fainting spell puts her in a vulnerable position—so Nigel is able to gain some power over her by dumping the water over her head. This shows that at least in the short term, Matilda has been successful at shifting the power balance at school.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon
Matilda sits motionless and happy. She feels wonderful—writing with the chalk had been so easy. The matron and five teachers rush in. One of the teachers congratulates Miss Honey and another suggests they throw more water on the Trunchbull, but the Matron scolds her helpers. Once the adults get Miss Trunchbull out of the room, Miss Honey sends her class to the playground. Miss Honey hugs and kisses Matilda as she passes by.
The way that the other adults speak in this passage suggests that most adults at school were afraid of Miss Trunchbull—and her downfall is welcome to all of them. This shows that Crunchem Hall is actually populated with caring educators whom Miss Trunchbull just didn’t allow to do their jobs and protect the kids.
Themes
Adults, Children, and Power Theme Icon
Education and Opportunity Theme Icon
Family, Institutions, and Chosen Family Theme Icon
The Power of Fighting Injustice Theme Icon