Book Review #3: Lessons on Bravery and Courage from Matilda

I’d like to share 3 lessons I learned from Matilda by Roald Dahl about how to be brave and courageous. I’m going to assume that most of you have read the book or seen the movie, but here’s a quick refresher, just in case:

Matilda is about a five-year-old girl, Matilda, outwitting her evil parents and school principal and becoming friends with her first teacher, Jennifer Honey. Matilda and Ms. Honey work together to scare away Agatha Trunchbull, the school principal and Ms. Honey’s dreaded aunt. Ms. Honey also adopts Matilda, giving Matilda a home and loving parent.

Along the way, there are many challenges, but Matilda and Ms. Honey brave them all. Here are 3 ways that they inspire bravery and courage:

1. Think Independently

I love that Matilda, a five-year-old character, is made to stand up against evil adults with power. I think that a lot of her character’s bravery stems from her sense of right and wrong. She knows that her slimy, car salesman father is wrong for cheating people into buying his cars. And she thinks Ms. Trunchbull is wrong for bullying children. 

Her values allow her to see through her father and Ms. Trunchbull’s meanness. As a result, she isn’t intimidated by them. On the contrary, she thinks they’re ridiculous and deserve to be punished with pranks! 

Agatha, give my Jenny her wages. Give my Jenny the house. Then get out of here. If you don’t, I will come and get you. I will come and get you like you got me. I am watching you Agatha. 

What Matilda wrote on the chalkboard using telekinesis. This final trick scared Ms. Trunchbull away forever and won Ms. Honey back her house, inheritance, and salary. (Kindle Location 1821)

I found her character inspiring for being brave enough to act on her own sense of right and wrong. It led her to trust and respect Ms. Honey, even though Ms. Honey was poor and disliked by Ms. Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents. It also helped her deal appropriately with evil characters, like Ms. Trunchbull and her parents, who were respected in the community for their power and money.

2. Lean In

I think one of Dahl’s messages in creating Matilda was to lean in when you sense an opportunity for it. Take the risk! Matilda does. When she visits Ms. Honey for the first time, she asks Ms. Honey why she lives in poverty. Matilda learns that Ms. Trunchbull is Ms. Honey’s aunt and has robbed Ms. Honey’s of her inheritance and salary. When Matilda senses that she may have overstepped boundaries, she apologizes. 

“Miss Honey…do they pay you very badly at our school?”

Miss Honey looked up sharply. “Not too badly,” she said. “I get about the same as the others.”

“But it must still be very little if you are so dreadfully poor,” Matilda said. “Do all the teachers live like this, with no furniture and no kitchen stove and no bathroom?”

It may be awkward, but Matilda asks the difficult questions that help Ms. Honey to open up and share her story. (Kindle Location 1570)

Matilda bravely asks Ms. Honey about her situation, which is risky and uncomfortable but leads to a deeper connection with Ms. Honey and the opportunity to rid them both of Ms. Trunchbull. Another reason to lean in is that one can always apologize, as Matilda does, but the opportunity to lean in is rarer.

3. Advocate for Someone You Believe In

Ms. Honey has the courage to fight for Matilda, even when none of the other adults in Matilda’s life believe in her. I also love that although Dahl describes Ms. Honey as a “slim frail woman” when she visits Matilda’s parents, she has an unwavering personality. 

Miss Honey turned and walked out of the study feeling depressed but by no means defeated. I am going to do something about this child, she told herself. I don’t know what it will be, but I shall find a way to help her in the end.

Ms. Honey, after Ms. Trunchbull refuses to let Matilda skip grades. She may be smaller than Ms. Trunchbull, but she’s bolder by far!

Ms. Honey uses her determination to speak to the terrifying Ms. Trunchbull about moving Matilda to a higher level class. When Ms. Trunchbull refuses, Ms. Honey visits Matilda’s parents. They also ignore Ms. Honey, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to help Matilda. 

This character reminded me that no matter how you look and are received by others, you can be courageous and find strength by supporting someone you want to see succeed. 

What about bravery or courage did you learn from reading the book or seeing the movie Matilda? 

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