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Why ‘Matilda’ Is Still Important Today

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

A book that was very important to me (and countless others, no doubt) as a child was Matilda by Roald Dahl. I read the book in fourth grade and watched the 1996 movie countless times when I was little. I was inspired by the story of a little girl who is able to use her special powers to stand up to her evil principal and mean parents. In a world where people in charge often abuse their power, it encouraged me to stand up for myself and speak up. After all, in the words of Matilda the Musical, “If you sit around and let them get on top, you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay, and that’s not right.” Even though I am now grown up, I still think that there are important lessons to be learned from the book and movie Matilda no matter what age you are, such as the importance of found family, and that people in power don’t always have your best interests at heart.

“If you sit around and let them get on top, you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay, and that’s not right”

Matilda the Musical

One message from Matilda that remains even more relevant the older you get is that sometimes, the people in charge who are supposed to protect you and take care of you don’t have your best interests at heart. Matilda is surrounded by adults who are in positions of power — and abuse that power. For example, her principal, Mrs. Trunchbull, uses her position of power to terrorize the children and take out her anger on them. She throws a girl over the fence because she doesn’t like her pigtails, and tries to make a boy sick from eating chocolate cake because she’s mad that he ate some of her secret stash of cake. Here is somebody that should be helping guide the children and making them feel safe and happy, and yet she is abusing her power and doing the exact opposite. Unfortunately, this is more common than we would like to think in real life, with people in positions of power, such as teachers, principals, bosses, and politicians, using their power to abuse and dominate their subordinates. But just because they have power over you doesn’t mean you have to be submissive and take their abuse lying down.

Another very important lesson Matilda teaches is that if the people in charge are using their power to hurt others, you have the right to stand up and fight back. Matilda demonstrates this by not taking the abuse she suffers from her parents and Miss Trunchbull, and by playing pranks on her parents and using her powers on Miss Trunchbull to stand up for herself, her friends, and Miss Honey. Even if you don’t have magical powers, this is a very important lesson because there always are going to be people who try to abuse their power and walk all over you. You have to be able to stand up for yourself and fight back.

Matilda also teaches the importance of found family. In other words, if your family is not good, you can make your own family. Lots of children’s stories show children with abusive families, such as Cinderella, Harry Potter, or James and the Giant Peach. But often the abuse comes at the hands of secondary families that have assumed the role of caretaker after some tragedy, leaving the main character to idealize the life they could have had with their parents. Matilda doesn’t get that, because her abusers are her biological parents and they’re the only family she’s got. She has no “real family” to idealize because her abusers are her real family.

However, despite having been born to such crappy parents, Matilda manages to find family with someone who actually does appreciate her and her talents and lift her up: her teacher, Miss Honey. Where her parents punish her intelligence and interests, Miss Honey encourages and indulges them; where her parents neglect her and are abusive toward her, Miss Honey protects and advocates for Matilda; where her parents underestimate her, Miss Honey believes in her. She makes Matilda feel heard and validates her feelings, unlike her parents. In a world where we are taught that you owe blood relatives because you’re “family,” this message is very important to people who do not have good families. Just because you share DNA with someone does not mean that you “owe” them anything if they do not respect you or treat you right. Just because your family doesn’t treat you right, or appreciate you, does not mean that you are unlovable or that no one ever will love you. There are people out there who will love you and support you for who you are, in all your glory, you just have to go out and find them!

In summary, Matilda has many messages that are timeless, and that one can learn and appreciate no matter how old they are. While there will always be people trying to knock you down, the power is in your hands to stand up to them, and you mustn’t back down. As is said in Matilda the Musical, “You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you!”

Nicole is a junior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include playing the flute, biking, and drawing.