It has been 30 years since ‘Matilda’ was published. This is a noteworthy fact as the novel highlights the tremendous foresight of Roald Dahl. In my opinion ‘Matilda’ is well ahead of its time; it identifies numerous Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and depicts them in a light-hearted manner, palatable for the most innocent of minds.
Matilda Wormwood is a 5-½ year old girl with extraordinary talents. Whilst she is not abuse by her parents, her presence in the family was largely ignored while her talentless brother is constantly praised and nurtured. This is unfortunately a not-too-unfamiliar scenario in many families whereby boys are prepped to be successful while girls are expected to look good, have no ideas of their own and not focus too much on books. The lack of appreciation from her family results in Matilda misbehaving, starting from pranks on her father to the telekinetic gift she subsequently develops.
Over the decades, society has gradually sobered up to the consequence of abusive childhood but remains lukewarm about the effects of emotional neglect. I experienced a similar childhood as Matilda and when I read the novel as a child I felt a great sense of relieve to learn that I was not the only one feeling dissed by the relentless conditioning of the adults in my life, wishing I was less intelligent and more docile. In reading Matilda as an adult, I feel profoundly disturbed by the reality of how little has changed in the past 3 decades.
In addition, the novel touches gently on other serious subjects such as child abuse at school, the bonding of young children when an adult that is meant to look after them constantly mistreats them. Eventually when Matilda finds a more constructive use for her exceptional mind, she loses her desire and gift to play sophisticated pranks on the lessor adults.
The father of Matilda Wormwood is based on a real-life person from Mr Dahl’s hometown. I suspect Mr Dahl, like many great authors did not conjure this plot from nothing. Tragically, the reason for the lasting popularity of this novel is likely due to how relatable it is. After all, every reader was once a 5-½ year old child.