What is the book of Matilda about

Matilda. Recommended for young people

Roald Dahl:


1. Bibliographical information and reading level

  • Roald Dahl: Matilda. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch, 2006, 192 p. (Translated by Sybil Gräfin Schönfeldt,
    Original title: Matilda)
  • Reading level: from 5th grade

2. Table of contents

Matilda is a very talented and intelligent girl. In a brief review of her time as a toddler, the reader is told that she spoke flawlessly at the age of one and a half, taught herself to read at the age of three, and began to borrow books from the library at the age of four. However, this gifted girl grows up in a family that neither recognizes her talents nor is interested in them. Matilda's father, Mr Wurmwald, works as a windy used car dealer, her mother is a housewife, but spends almost every afternoon playing bingo. In the evenings the family just sits in front of the television, which is also where dinner is taken. The parents absolutely do not comply with Matilda's requests for support, which causes anger and disappointment in Matilda, and she avenges herself for this disregard with funny pranks.
When she starts school, Matilda meets her new class teacher, Miss Honey. She recognizes Matilda's ingenious abilities and tries to encourage the girl. At the same time, Matilda gets to know the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who scares the students with her bossy, insulting and brutal demeanor. One day when she was teaching Matilda's class, she shamelessly harassed the children. When "the Trunchbull", as the students call her, tries to blame Matilda for a prank that she did not commit, Matilda gets angrier inside. Suddenly she feels a strange energy in her eyes, as if electricity were building up. With the help of this force, she succeeds in causing Miss Trunchbull's water glass to tip over from a distance. Matilda only lets Miss Honey in on the secret of her psychic powers. The friendship between the two grows closer from now on. When Matilda visits Miss Honey in her house, she discovers that the class teacher is very poor and unhappy. Matilda senses that her teacher has a secret with her that she can finally elicit from her: After the death of both parents, Miss Honey grew up in her parents' house under the care of her terrible aunt. The father is said to have committed suicide, but there is a suspicion that the aunt may have murdered him. Apparently it was the father's will to bequeath everything to his aunt. When Miss Honey finally got a job as a teacher, her aunt informed her that she now had to pay off the debts of the past few years. Since then, Miss Honey has only lived on a small pocket money. Nevertheless, she managed to rent a small, old house and leave her aunt. At the end of the conversation, Miss Honey reveals the name of the aunt to little Matilda: It's Miss Trunchbull!
It is immediately clear to Matilda that she wants revenge and that Miss Honey wants to fight back her property. When Miss Trunchbull was once again teaching Matilda's class, she put her carefully thought-out plan into practice: she used her supernatural powers to float the chalk and used it to write threats to Miss Trunchbull from the perspective of Miss Honey's deceased father on the blackboard. Miss Trunchbull is completely frightened at first and then loses consciousness. A few days later she leaves town and Miss Honey is awarded her father's house. Matilda, whose supernatural powers have stopped working since being used in the classroom, is placed in the highest grade in elementary school. When her parents flee the country because of their father's crooked business, Matilda moves in with Miss Honey. The parents are indifferent to their daughter's wishes.

3. Brief information about the author

Roald Dahl was born in Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents. Dahl felt very uncomfortable at school, and this unhappy time would later affect his writing. After school, he went to East Africa as a Shell Oil company representative. During the Second World War he served as a fighter pilot in the British Royal Air Force, for which he worked in Washington in 1942 after several injuries. There he began to write and lived from then on as a writer and screenwriter.
In 1943 his first children's book The Gremlins was published. After the war he wrote numerous collections of short stories for adults, such as: B. Kiss kiss or Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, but also many children's books, such as B. Charlie and the chocolate factory, Sophiechen and the giant and witches witches. He also wrote several scripts, including to the Ian Fleming film adaptation James Bond 007 - You Only Live Twice (1967).
Roald Dahl's books are very imaginative and full of rich images. They are often a little brutal, but this is always mixed with humor. Dahl works with numerous satirical and grotesque representations. As a result, the texts, which are actually written for children, also have a strange effect on adults. In Matilda this can be done e.g. B. attach to the completely exaggerated portrayal of the parents.
Roald Dahl died in November 1990. After his death, The Times called him “one of the most widely read and influential writers of our generation”. Today a Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden (Buckinghamshire) commemorates the author.

4. General classification

Matilda is suitable for use in German lessons in grade 5. The plot and the characters shown (Matilda, her parents, the two opposing teachers) are exciting and motivating for the students, so that the book can be used to retell individual steps and also the Describing people with regard to their behavior, their attitudes and also their character can be practiced. In terms of content, the meaning of books and television can be discussed for the individual characters, but also for the students themselves. Comparisons can be made with the text type fairy tale or with the film version (see below).
The book should not only be examined in terms of content, but also stylistically and linguistically, so that the students get an impression of the aesthetics of the text. The narrative perspective (authorial narrator, who often takes Matilda's point of view, repeatedly addresses the reader directly and presents his assessments of the situations) can be developed by the students. In addition, they can find out the satirical and thus exaggerated elements in the plot (e.g. the headmistress' hammer throw exercises, in which a pupil with pigtails serves as a hammer) and then discuss their function in the text.

5. Structural and linguistic features

The Matilda story is 192 pages, divided into 21 chapters. In each chapter, an episode is narrated that is self-contained (e.g., for a retelling), but that builds on the previous episodes. The plot is told chronologically.
Linguistically, the book is quite easy to read, the students can certainly do this alone at home. In some places - especially when the narrator makes personal assessments - the language sometimes becomes colloquial (“We have to throw up”, p. 9). The young readers will not understand many ironic or satirical representations and will skip reading them (e.g. on the first two pages), so that they will then also find passages in the text other than the adult reader to be funny. Nevertheless, the pupils recognize the comical and sometimes grotesque representation in the language (e.g. appearance of the mother: "She was heavily made up and had one of those unfortunate divergent figures in which the flesh seems to be somehow strapped to the body", P. 23; The teacher's visit to the parents: “'We are just about to watch one of our favorite programs,' said Mr Wurmwald, 'that doesn't fit at all now.'", P. 75).
The entire narrative is written from the point of view of an authoritative narrator, who repeatedly addresses the reader directly. He informs the reader of his evaluation or gives him advice (“In this case I can only advise you”, p. 53). Often he also strives for an understanding between himself and the readers, the pupils recognize this by the “we” form that is then used (“Thank God we do not come across too many of their own kind in this world”, p. 53). It is also interesting that the narrator addresses the problems of a writer when he tries to describe Miss Trunchbull: "It is almost impossible to describe this woman and all her craziness, but I'll try again later." (P. 54) In the lesson - based on this passage - it can be discussed which limits are literary
Design process and what opportunities are associated with it for the reader.

6. Didactic suggestions

The main character Matilda
The girl Matilda should certainly be at the center of the lesson. First of all, the first chapter, which begins with a difficult excursus for the students about the excessive love some parents have for their children, can be read together. The students then put together: How does Matilda live? What do we know about their parents? What makes Matilda different from other children? Then they are given the task of reading the first six chapters (up to Matilda's enrollment) and painting a picture of one of the pranks Matilda plays on her parents.
In the next lesson, these drawings can be used as an opportunity to practice retelling stories. The students present their pictures e.g. B. on a museum tour of the class and report again about the trick that Matilda played. The children are sure to say that Matilda is very dissatisfied in her family. This is taken up after the presentation of the pictures and the students are given the task of writing in pairs or groups: What does Matilda want from her parents? How does she imagine perfect parents? In particular, the desire to watch less television is likely to be very unusual for many students. The wishes can be deepened in a homework, in which Matilda a letter z. B. writes to the librarian Ms. Phelps. Here the children should be given the beginning of the letter on a worksheet ("Dear Mrs. Phelps, you sometimes ask me why I come to them alone so often. Oh, often I also wish it were different. I would so much like ... ").
At this point in the lesson, the importance of the books for Matilda can be discussed ("The way he [Hemingway] tells it, I have the feeling that I was there and watched everything happen.", P. 17). Students then share their own reading experiences. However, a passage from Cornelia Funke's ink heart can also be read in which the main character Meggie tells of her love for books (Hamburg: Cecilie Dressler, 2003, p. 24 f.).

When she starts school (p. 52), Matilda's life changes, especially because she meets Miss Honey. After reading pages 52 to 92, Matilda can now be described from the perspective of different people. The class is divided into groups. Each group is given the task of introducing Matilda in a short lecture from the perspective of a character (Miss Honey, Miss Trunchbull, the father, her friend Lavender). The lectures always begin with the sentence: “I am ... So you want to find out something about Matilda, yes, I know her well. So I can tell you the following:… “. After the lectures, the children should
explain how they came to their statements, d. H. they must be able to justify them on the basis of text passages. The important characteristics and attitudes of each lecture are saved on the board. As a homework assignment, ask the children to describe again in an essay how the narrator portrays Matilda.
The supernatural powers that Matilda possesses are particularly exciting for the students. The children especially find “The First Miracle” (p. 126 ff.), When Matilda knocks over a glass of water, very funny. The chapter can be read together and acted out in a role play. In this role play, the students can understand very well how unjust and insulting the headmistress treats the children. As homework they should try to describe what was going on in Matilda's head after the incident ("Even after the other children had disappeared, she was still sitting in front of her desk, very calm and absorbed in herself. She knew that she had to tell someone about this what happened to the glass ”, p. 135). The inner monologue can be introduced for this purpose.
This is also suitable again and again when discussing the "rescue" of Miss Honey. The children can describe how Matilda feels when she visits Miss Honey's house, what she thinks after she knows how Miss Trunchbull has treated her class teacher and what goes on when she leaves her parents to go to Miss Honey Life.

Matilda - a modern fairy tale?
When examining the language of the narrative, a table is created with the students in which they first enter realistic elements of the book in a column (which parts of the plot can really happen today?). B. school enrollment, the nice class teacher, possibly also the gifted Matildas. Then it is worked out with the students that there are many other elements in the book that the reader laughs at because they are humorously exaggerated or satirical. Examples of these elements are entered in the second column. Here the pupils spontaneously think of the behavior of their parents towards Matilda (this is how the mother says to Matilda's wish to move: “One less that we have to take care of.”, P. 192), the punishments of Miss Trunchbull (e .g . der “Luftabschneider”, p. 83) or the description of the people (“Miss Trunchbull never went, but always marched like a storm troop with long strides and swinging arms”, p. 53).
Before or during the lesson, the students read the fairy tales Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella, which also focus on neglected children. Then you will receive a child-friendly text that summarizes the characteristics of a fairy tale. These characteristics are then compared to the Matilda narrative. The students will notice many parallels (e.g. the fight between good and evil, the happy ending), which are then recorded in the third column of the table mentioned above.

Comparison with the film version
It is also interesting to compare the book with the film that was released in 1996 by director, producer and actor Danny DeVito. This film has succeeded in translating the language of Roald Dahl, i.e. his grotesque and biting satirical representations, into film language. In class, for. For example, the perspective that the viewer adopts when Ms. Trunchbull speaks to the students can be discussed. In the film you only see the headmistress' calves or the whip, so that the viewer feels that the children are at the mercy of the children.

Recommended by Christiane Althoff