Roald Dahl is the popular and famous author of children’s books. He created different worlds in his works. The novel Matilda is an example of an inspiring children’s book that helps to see the world through the eyes of a child and understand it as an adult. The current paper presents an idea that Matilda illustrates a binary opposition, according to which, the main character is both a child and a fully-grown person. This overlapping connection between childish and adult features is discussed primarily using the examples from the novel. In order to achieve this purpose, issues that are important for understanding the main character are distinguished.
Matilda is a gifted girl with talents that are mistreated by her family members. A frustrating ignorance of her family establishes a contrast between the girl and her parents. This abyss of misunderstanding leaves Matilda with her own thoughts and ideas and she spends time reading books. The girl is a self-sufficient and independent person. According to Hansson, “Matilda does not only act like an adult towards others, she is also very mature. In this regard, her most striking characteristic is her independence” (17). Still, the girl requires guidance. Matilda befriends a school teacher, Miss Honey, who later becomes a close person whom Matilda needed desperately. The girl and the teacher are the protagonists of the story. They face the cruelty of the world together.
Matilda is a child who is featured as an adult. Her maturity helps to evaluate the world from a unique point of view. Readers follow Matilda in the book. The novel is written from the girl’s point of view. For this reason, it is her ‘I’ that “creates ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’” (“The Narrative Voice in Roald Dahl’s Children’s and Adult Books” 294). Matilda’s “I” is mature enough to give advice and even take responsibility for rehabilitation of her family using her special psychic powers and wits.
Matilda’s character is formed by books to a great extent. However, it is because of her bright mind that she started to read. Books made her intelligent and “all the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen” (Dahl 23). Her brilliance is just a material. Reading shaped Matilda’s world. Thus, the author promotes literature.
Matilda spends most of her time reading and thinking about characters, who fascinate, mesmerize, and sometimes disappoint her. The list of the books that she takes from a library and according to which she reads as is a list under the title “Must Read” for every adult. One may find the following titles that give us an idea about the stories that are in Matilda’s head: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway, Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Good Companions by J.B. Priestly, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardie, Gone to Earth by Mary Webb, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, Animal Farm by George Orwell and other pieces of literature.
Matilda develops a habit of sharing her opinions about certain books with a librarian and her teacher. For example, the girl explains that Tolkien does not impress her because of a lack of entertaining moments in the plot. This is how the readers are reminded of the fact that Matilda is still a child:
“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr. Tolkien either,” Matilda said.
“Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?” Miss Honey asked.
“I do,” Matilda said. “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”
The dialogue identifies the contrast of childish and adult features in Matilda. Books are of great importance to her. Firstly, they form the girl’s individuality and contribute to her abilities. Being a great reader, she manages to capture difficult concepts represented in the works of famous writers. Nevertheless, the girl still is just a child who wishes to enjoy herself even more than a book. Secondly, books substitute friends and give a feeling that Matilda is not alone. She desires some company as a grown-up. The girl feels lonely among her family are classmates. The feeling is emphasized by “the portrayal of adult characters as either evil or passive” (Hansson 2). To understand this concept, Dahl introduces family moments.
According to “The Independent,” Dahl has written “some of the best-loved children’s stories of the 20th century” (“Once Upon a Time”). A part of this success is the ability of the author to show different aspects of his characters’ lives. An adversarial position of Matilda’s maturity and ignorance of her family illustrates the idea. The most prominent example may be found in the attitude of her parents toward books: “A book?! what d’you wanna flaming book for?” “To read, Daddy.” “What’s wrong with the telly..?” (Dahl 7).
Matilda’s parents are cruel and abusive. What is more, they do not understand her fascination with books. Dahl “opines directly on issues such as parenting and education and continues his pro-literature anti-television drive” (“Constructing Dahl: A Reappraisal of Roald Dahl’s Children’s Books” 41). The girl illustrates growth that is unfamiliar for her father and mother. Here, the part of Matilda that is a child longs for gentle and kind parents who could love and cherish her. That is why she decides to reeducate them using her powers.
Matilda suffers from relationships with her family. At first, it seems that her parents are big and she is just a little girl who can do nothing of importance. Later, it is obvious that Matilda’s brain power is more than enough. She is clever and she is special. The girl develops a psychic power concentrated in an ability to move things with her eyes without physical interference. In an interview, the author was talking about Matilda and that the first part of the book was “about a small girl who can move things with her eyes” (“Roald Dahl”). With these powers, the girl started feeling confident.
Matilda acts as an adult and invents a system of punishing her parents each time when they are cruel. However, the contrast between acting like a grown-up and actually being a child is almost tangible when the girl is obliged to do as she is told. That is what five-year-old children do.
Matilda manages to manifest her power as an adult in other ways. The pushes her own limits and tries to learn more with every passing day. Her principles are simple: if others can do something, so can she: “I’ve always said to myself that if a little pocket calculator can do it why shouldn’t I?” (Dahl 95). This maturity allows Matilda to be an example for other. That is why the book is so notable and Matilda is so inspiring. There are many lessons that one can learn, no matter whether a reader is a child or an adult.
Despite the fact that Matilda does not have a life experience as grown-ups have, she is smart enough to understand the basic life principles and formulate them. With the help of the girl, Dahl teaches his readers to be strong and honest, kind and generous, smart and creative.
Matilda never does anything halfway. She is a determined individual. The girl also believes that “The only sensible thing to do when you are attacked is, as Napoleon once said, to counter-attack” (Dahl 46). Roald Dahl also introduces a hostile headmistress Miss Trunchbull for the purpose of showing what a life of bad people can be. On the contrary to evil adult Miss Trunchbull, Matilda as a child knows that if a person is kind, his or her life is also good. This idea is stresses by a happy ending of the book.
Events related to Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s interaction are stated in the following advice: “there is little point in teaching anything backwards. The whole object of life, Miss Trunchbull, is to go forwards” (Dahl 47). The most valid recommendation finds its particularization in a need to read. Reading is the architect of a personality of both a child and an adult.
The world of Matilda is a compilation of childish and adult features. The image of the girl consists of several main elements such as her love to reading books, relationships in her family, the effect of powers and the knowledge that she collected from books. All this items produce a contrast between a child and a fully-grown person. The girl acts like an adult while grown-up people are less worthy than children. Therefore, a conclusion can be drawn that an image of Matilda consists of a contrast that makes the character complete. Once a reader reads Matilda, it is clear that the girl is a vivid fictional example of how a life of one person may compile ideas about lives of children and adults in general.