As five-year-old Matilda learns about right and wrong from classic novels, she comes to detest her parents’ unfair treatment of her and take issue with her father’s unethical used car business. So when Mr. Wormwood destroys Matilda’s library book because he hates reading, Matilda stuffs a parrot up the chimney to trick her parents into thinking there’s a ghost in the house, thereby frightening them into good behavior for a while. Later, when Matilda discovers that her formidable headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, is responsible for keeping Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey in poverty, Matilda knows she can’t let it go: she harnesses her mysterious power to frighten Miss Trunchbull into returning Miss Honey’s house and fortune to its rightful owner. Through this, the novel suggests that simply recognizing injustice and refusing to accept it is akin to having a superpower, and it’s the prerequisite for improving one’s own life and the world.
The first step to fighting injustice is recognizing where and how injustice exists. One step towards recognizing injustice is education, and reading in particular. Matilda doesn’t start to resent Mr. Wormwood’s unethical sales practices until she develops a moral compass through reading. And through Mike, Matilda’s older brother, the novel shows the opposite: because Mike doesn’t read, he doesn’t see anything wrong with selling cars that aren’t just stolen, but will stop working about 100 miles after Mr. Wormwood sells them. Similarly, though Matilda immediately recognizes Miss Trunchbull as an adversary and a bully, it doesn’t seem urgent to get rid of her until Matilda hears about how Miss Trunchbull has abused Miss Honey for Miss Honey’s entire life. So it’s learning new information—in this case, the full story of who Miss Trunchbull is and what she’s done—that motivates Matilda to act.
The novel also suggests that recognizing abuse and injustices can, in itself, give a person some power to right those wrongs. In many instances, this consists of badly-treated children playing tricks on adults. Once she realizes how terrible her father is, for instance, Matilda glues his hat to his head, bleaches his black hair, and frightens him into thinking there’s a ghost in the house. Matilda’s anger at her father’s terrible behavior motivates her to try to change things, and her pranks do change Mr. Wormwood’s behavior, making him into less of a bully for at least a short time. But, significantly, recognizing injustice also literally gives Matilda a superpower. When Miss Trunchbull is bullying students in class, Matilda becomes so furious that she develops the ability to move objects with her mind, thereby allowing her to punish Miss Trunchbull for her abuse. This makes literal the notion that recognizing injustice can give someone power. And by using her superpower, Matilda is able to get rid of the Trunchbull for good, getting justice for Miss Honey and improving the lives of all the students Miss Trunchbull abused.
Through Miss Honey, the novel shows how damaging it can be to simply accept injustices and not do anything to change them. Miss Honey has lived under Miss Trunchbull’s thumb since she was two years old, and Miss Trunchbull isolated Miss Honey and taught her not to fight back even in the face of extraordinary cruelty. And because Miss Honey is too afraid to advocate for herself, she must ultimately accept help from Matilda, a child, to get out of this abusive situation—even trying to better her life is beyond her capabilities. With this, the novel shows that the first, difficult step to righting wrongs is to recognize that they exist, but after that, it’s essential to channel anger into action.
The Power of Fighting Injustice ThemeTracker
The Power of Fighting Injustice Quotes in Matilda
“How long will it run like that before it starts rattling again?” Matilda asked him.
“Long enough for the buyer to get a good distance away,” the father said, grinning. “About a hundred miles.”
“But that’s dishonest, daddy,” Matilda said. “It’s cheating.”
“No one ever got rich being honest,” the father said. “Customers are there to be diddled.”
The anger inside her went on boiling and boiling, and as she lay in bed that night she made a decision. She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another. A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocities and would stop her from going crazy. You must remember that she was still hardly five years old and it is not easy for somebody as small as that to score points against an all-powerful grown-up. Even so, she was determined to have a go.
Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brain-power. For sheer cleverness she could run rings around them all. But the fact remained that any five-year-old girl in any family was always obliged to do as she was told, however asinine the orders might be. Thus she was always forced to eat her evening meals out of TV-dinner-trays in front of the dreaded box. She always had to stay alone on weekday afternoons, and whenever she was told to shut up, she had to shut up.
Her safety-valve, the thing that prevented her from going round the bend, was the fun of devising and dishing out these splendid punishments, and the lovely thing was that they seemed to work, at any rate for short periods.
Now most head teachers are chosen because they possess a number of fine qualities. They understand children and they have the children’s best interests at heart. They are sympathetic. They are fair and they are deeply interested in education. Miss Trunchbull possessed none of these qualities and how she got her present job was a mystery.
“A girl should think about making herself look attractive so she can get a good husband later on. Looks is more important than books, Miss Hunky…”
“The name is Honey,” Miss Honey said.
“Now look at me,” Mrs Wormwood said. “Then look at you. You chose books. I chose looks.”
Miss Honey looked at the plain plump person with the smug suet-pudding face who was sitting across the room. “What did you say?” she asked.
“I said you chose books and I chose looks,” Mrs Wormwood said. “And who’s finished up the better off? Me, of course. I’m sitting pretty in a nice house with a successful businessman and you’re left slaving away teaching a lot of nasty little children the ABC.”
Both Matilda and Lavender were enthralled. It was quite clear to them that they were at this moment standing in the presence of a master. Here was somebody who had brought the art of skullduggery to the highest point of perfection, somebody, moreover, who was willing to risk life and limb in pursuit of her calling.
Already Lavender’s scheming mind was going over the possibilities that this water-jug job had opened up for her. She longed to do something truly heroic. She admired the older girl Hortensia to distraction for the daring deeds she had performed in the school. She also admired Matilda who had sworn her to secrecy about the parrot job she had brought off at home, and also the great hair-oil switch which had bleached her father’s hair. It was her turn now to become a heroine if only she could come up with a brilliant plot.
Matilda, in the second row, sat very still and said nothing. A strange feeling of serenity and confidence was sweeping over her and all of a sudden she found that she was frightened by nobody in the world. With the power of her eyes alone she had compelled a glass of water to tip and spill its contents over the horrible Headmistress, and anybody who could do that could do anything.
“I think what I am trying to explain to you,” she said, “is that over the years I became so completely cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave me an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly. That can happen, you know. And by the time I was ten, I had become her slave. I did all the housework. I made her bed. I washed and ironed for her. I did all the cooking. I learned how to do everything.”
“But surely you could’ve complained to somebody?” Matilda asked.
“To whom?” Miss Honey said. “And anyway, I was far too terrified to complain.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Matilda said. “Your salary was your chance of freedom.”
“I know, I know,” Miss Honey said. “But by then I had been her slave nearly all my life and I hadn’t the courage or the guts to say no. I was still petrified of her. She could still hurt me badly.”
“While you were in my class you had nothing to do, nothing to make you struggle. Your fairly enormous brain was going crazy with frustration. It was bubbling and boiling away like mad inside your head. There was tremendous energy bottled up in there with nowhere to go, and somehow or other you were able to shoot that energy out through your eyes and make objects move. But now things are different. You are in the top form competing against children more than twice your age and all that mental energy is being used up in class. Your brain is for the first time having to struggle and strive and keep really busy, which is great.”