After the Superglue episode, things are calm for about a week. But then, Mr. Wormwood resumes his bullying tactics. He comes home from work one evening and Mrs. Wormwood can immediately sense that he’s enraged. She disappears, so Mr. Wormwood strides into the living room and finds Matilda reading. She ignores him when he turns on the television, which angers him even more—she’s “getting pleasure from something that [is] beyond his reach.” Matilda responds pleasantly when he snaps at her, but then he rips her book out of her hands. He insists it’s trash and tears all the pages out. He shouts that he doesn’t care if it’s a library book; Matilda can save her pocket money to buy a new one.
Notice that Mrs. Wormwood only protects herself from Mr. Wormwood here, rather than trying to protect Matilda. This is a sign of her selfishness and her willingness to neglect her daughter. Mr. Wormwood makes his disdain for books clear when he rips up Matilda’s library book. The narrator also suggests that he’s jealous of Matilda’s ability to enjoy books. This speaks to his desire for power and control. On some level, he realizes Matilda is gaining power because she reads, and he resents this.
After Mr. Wormwood storms away, Matilda sits silently. She knows she has to strike back, so she asks a neighbor boy, Fred, to see his new pet parrot. The next afternoon, Fred takes Matilda to his bedroom and introduces her to Chopper. Chopper says, “Hullo,” and then “Rattle my bones!” in a spooky voice. Matilda is charmed. She and Fred strike a deal: for her weekly pocket money, she can borrow Chopper overnight. Once Matilda gets Chopper and his massive cage home, she wedges the cage up the chimney.
Once again, Matilda can’t just scream and yell at her father because, as a small child, that won’t do anything but get her into deeper trouble. The fact that she’s friends with Fred and has access to Chopper suggests that even now, Matilda has something of a support network outside of her family. It may be transactional (since she has to pay to borrow Chopper), but it’s there and it’s useful.
That evening, as the Wormwoods are eating dinner in front of the TV, a voice calls, “Hullo.” Mrs. Wormwood is terrified and tells everyone to listen—it must be burglars. Mr. Wormwood suggests they all go look together. Each family member picks up something to use as a weapon. Matilda leads the way into the dining room with a knife, but no one’s there—and then Chopper says, “Rattle my bones.” Even Matilda jumps, since she’s a good actress. She insists it’s a ghost, which makes Mrs. Wormwood scream. The next afternoon, Matilda fishes Chopper out of the chimney and returns him to Fred. She insists that her parents “adored” Chopper.
Significantly, making it seem like there’s a ghost in the house forces the adult Wormwoods to rethink how safe they are in the home that Mr. Wormwood has bought for them. In many ways, they’re not safe or secure here—and not just because there seems to be a ghost in their house. Rather, they’re unsafe because Mr. Wormwood is engaging in unethical activity, which jeopardizes the family’s wellbeing and ability to stay in the house in the future.