Ngee Derk Tiong's Reviews > Matilda

Matilda by Roald Dahl
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U 50x66
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it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** In my experience, the best kind of children's literature is simple yet profound; it communicates deep, thought-provoking truths in a way that offers something to both children and adults.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly as a child and picked it up again today to read it again as an adult. It is marvellous, but I have to give it only four stars. Please read on.

Roald Dahl writes with gumption and a forthright style to tell a story that touches the heart and engages the mind. Many of the characters in his story are caricatures, of course, but they each correspond to something true in society.

I've read other reviews on this site which rightly comment on how the story speaks to gross negligence and child abuse by irresponsible adults. This is true. At the heart of the problem lies the asymmetrical power relationship that exists between children and adults, as illustrated in Matilda's (initial) submission to her odious parents and head teacher. Children are described in this story as having to engage in some kind of guerilla warfare to 'get their own back', with Matilda and her best friend Lavender completely besotted by the bravery of an older student as she described her pranks and punishments with the air of a war hero. Dahl communicates this with great economy.

Matilda overcomes the power distance through her brains, trickery and eventually, through supernatural telekinetic means. This makes the reader ponder -- what other means are available to children who are oppressed? Elated as we might be at the story's happy ending, some readers may also be troubled upon reflection, when realising that in the real world, the vast majority of children in difficult circumstances do not have the wherewithal to resist. The struggle continues.

In this story, only two adults can be said to behave virtuously, using their position of power for good rather than evil: the librarian Mrs Phelps and, more significantly, Miss Honey. Yet, we see in the case of Miss Honey that their power relationship quickly becomes symmetrical in spite of the difference in age. A turning point in their relationship came when Miss Honey invited Matilda to her home for tea, and allowed herself to become vulnerable by confiding her personal history and struggles to the young child. From then on, both protagonists began to see each as equals, as Dahl makes clear.

This raises questions for the reader. How then are we as adults to relate to children? How should children expect adults to treat them? How do we approach the power asymmetry? As an educator, I believe Dahl's story raises important questions that educators and parents alike must grapple with as we journey alongside our younger brethren.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 16, 2016 – Shelved

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