MATILDA as a Feminist Text | Discussion

While reading Matilda for the first time ever recently (gasp!), I loved how Roald Dahl places such an emphasis on gender equality in the story. If we consider feminism to be defined as equality between all genders, I would argue that this lovely children’s book is a strong example of a feminist text. Here are 5 quotes that help illustrate this point:

“Matilda said, “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

This quote depicts girls as active agents in their own lives rather than the passive, conforming subjects that they are often portrayed as in literature.

“A girl should think about making herself look attractive so she can get a good husband later on. Looks is more important than books, Miss Hunky…”
“The name is Honey,” Miss Honey said.
“Now look at me,” Mrs Wormwood said. “Then look at you. You chose books. I chose looks.”

Here Roald Dahl takes a feminist stance by making Matilda’s awful mother possess a misogynistic mindset. This obviously shines a negative light on such prejudice against women by showing how ridiculous it sounds, especially coming from Mrs. Wormwood. By this point in the story, the reader knows that Miss Honey is a kind, smart, lovely individual who is both beautiful and intelligent. In other words, there’s no such thing as having to choose between “looks” and “books”!!

“I’m afraid men are not always quite as clever as they think they are. You will learn that when you get a bit older, my girl.”

I think the message is pretty clear with this one: men are not the only clever ones!

“Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brain-power.”

Probably my favorite thing about Matilda as a character is that she is a role model for everyone who feels ostracized by a desire to learn and be smart. Here Roald Dahl asserts that intelligence is power– just because one is disadvantaged in other ways doesn’t mean you can’t fight back with words and ideas and wit. Taken even further, one could argue that this also applies to feminism: just because someone is viewed as inferior for being a woman doesn’t mean they can’t challenge this adversity with brain-power. 

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life they had never seen.”

This might be my favorite quote of the entire book. When I came across it while reading I literally stopped and reread the same line five or six times because I think it perfectly encapsulates one of the most important values of reading. Reading teaches us empathy, something imperative to understanding and accepting everyone around us. If more people read and had empathy, then perhaps feminism would be embodied by everyone.

The fact that this children’s book has such a strong, smart, independent female protagonist is so important for all readers, but especially younger ones. Characters like bookish Hermione Granger and clever Nancy Drew had such a huge impact on me when I was younger and I know that Matilda would have done the same if I had read this book as child. This is just one of the many reasons why Matilda is truly an incredible book!

Would you consider Matilda to be a feminist text? What are your thoughts on what constitutes a “feminist text” in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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26 thoughts on “MATILDA as a Feminist Text | Discussion

  1. I haven’t read Matilda in well over 10 years, but everything you have said here I completely agree with! Matilda is characterised as a very independent young girl who has the ability to think for herself. She is also in the position where she is a lot more intellectually brilliant than the men featured in the story, which puts females in the spotlight by showing that we shouldn’t be looked down upon for being supposedly less intelligent, and gender equality should be recognised , especially when it comes to brains! Thanks for such a thought provoking post ☺️

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  2. I haven’t read Matilda for a while, but I do think it’s a feminist text in a lot of ways. It’s about finding independence and confidence in yourself. Roald Dahl is wacky in a lot of ways, and I think there’s a lot to say about what he wrote and its continuing appeal, but your analysis was fun to read!

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  3. I have read just about every other Roald Dahl book except Matilda, although I have watched the film too many times to count! I really liked your take on it, though, because the film had so many underlying feminist themes which really spoke to me even as a four year old child – about girls being intelligent and independent, with just as much wit as men. There was a lot of sexism in my society and Matilda was thorough encouragement for me to be successful despite it.

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  4. Wow, I didn’t think about that when I’d read Matilda a few years ago! I definitely agree that Matilda is feministic — tho tbh I’d probably choose books over looks if it came to it. 😂 You brought up some GREAT points — especially about reading teaching us empathy! Lovely post, Holly. ❤

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  5. Alright, Holly, I’m going to disagree you (sorry! I do always enjoy reading your posts!)

    Here’s the thing: feminism is really not about gender equality. Feminism is about the promotion of woman. I know that a lot of people *say* that feminism is focused on gender equality, and that the feminist movement is built on this ideal…but it is rather irrelevant WHAT a movement claims to have as their written manifesto, if the entire movement ACTS a different way. Feminism, in action, is aggressive and against men. Social power cannot be created, only exchanged, and thus woman becoming more powerful equates to men becoming less powerful. Perhaps you think that this is a good thing. But, really, where is the patriarchy in America? I can vote, I can drive, I have full access to medical treatment (unlike woman in many Middle Eastern countries, who suffer from the existence of a REAL patriarchy…if anyone needs feminism, it’s them). Do woman still face problems in America? Of course–a woman’s virginity (or lack thereof) is often as not used to define her, woman in charge are considered bossy b**chs, etc. But how will any of this be solved by creating aggressive, masculine woman? Continuning to advance woman so obviously will only create an “affirmative action” view of woman, as in: “She only got that job because she’s a woman and no one wants to appear as an anti-feminist.” What America does need is a focus on gender roles, and a focus on both men and women being strong in their own, seperate gender identify. Because society’s push for STRONG WOMAN is only really giving us weak men.

    Rather a long explanation, but that’s why I don’t support the feminist movement. (I also don’t support many of the movements that feminism has traditionally aligned itself with, but I won’t go into all that.)
    So onto the book–I haven’t read Matilda in years, but I remember really enjoying it as a 4th/5th grader. Does the book align itself to traditional feminist rhetoric? Yes. But I do think it’s a mistake to over-apply the feminist lense to texts, especially texts not written to be over-analzyed.
    I would argue that the essence of Matilda is about the value of intelligence for improving oneself/the world vs. how society views intelligence (because everyone SAYS books are important, but the overall tone of a lot places–my high school, for example–clearly place the emphasis on other things, such as sports.) Matilda is not trying to make a point about “strong females”, because the primary female characters are all ubquestionably considered to be strong (albiet in different ways).

    Sorry for the long comment, but I wanted to throw out my pov (because a discussion is just a consensus until someone disagrees with you…). The necessary disclaimer: nobody scream at me, I have the right to my own opinions.

    Have a lovely day, Holly!

    ~Hermione

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    1. I respectfully take issue with the idea that empowering women inherently disenfranchises men. You can give women rights without taking them away from men. And if you must take rights away from men to ensure gender equality, those were ‘rights’ the men should never have had in the first place.

      An extreme example: One could argue that abolishing guardianship laws and allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia IS taking something away from men. Before, the men would have had full control over the women in their life; after, they would no longer have the ‘right’ to that totalitarian power. But the ‘right’ to power over another adult on the basis of gender is not a right worthy of defending. I don’t mind taking power from Saudi men to give Saudi women their freedom.

      For me, feminism is not about creating an ‘aggressive, masculine woman’. It’s about this: I am proud of my femininity, and I don’t like that a lot of people out there – even in the modern, Western world – don’t take me seriously because of it.

      You see shouty people because shouty people are very loud (obviously lol) and visible. While I maintain that everyone has the right to be shouty (and that shouty men don’t get criticised and disrespected like shouty women do), I personally disagree with that method, and I want to say that a lot of us are open to having a real, respectful dialogue. And if you recognise some of the challenges women face in the West and the much greater challenges they face elsewhere, maybe we can work together to address them – as well as the issues facing men: the disproportionately high suicide rate due at least in part to poor mental health support and awareness, parental leave, custody suits, etc .

      Anyway, hope you have a nice day!

      Best wishes,
      Carly x

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  6. This is a great post, but I don’t agree that Matilda is a ” feminist” text. The idea behind the early wave of feminism was a good one, but in
    today’s culture feminism has transformed into a group of “men- haters” who believe that women are more powerful than men. This isn’t true; men and women are not and will never be “equal” or the same because they aren’t. God designed each to be unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. I think its great to be impowered by a strong female character in a book, but giving her the title of ” feminist” just reflects back onto the feminists of today’s culture. I think a female character should be able to be brave, beautiful, intelligent, and powerful without having to sacrifice her femininity.
    Peace out.
    -Clara

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  7. This is a lovely discussion. Regardless of the is it/is it not a feminist text, I think what I loved most about Matilda is that as a young voracious reader myself, I saw a character who was like me and had a huge love for reading. It helped me build up a confidence in myself in regards to that. I’m almost 29 now and I still have people treat me differently because of how much I read, but I know who I am as a person and I owe some of that to Matilda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES ❤ I love your points!!! Matilda is definitely inspirational when it comes to being a confident, strong, independent bookworm. I wish I had read this when I was younger because Holly of the past could have used that confidence boost.

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  8. Haha. I never thought about Matilda this way! But it does have a lot of prominent female characters and Matilda herself is a smart, brave and kind person. Plus there’s Miss Honey regaining her power over her life. Interesting take, I like it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I absolutely love this post Holly! You make such good points that I’d never thought about (even though I’ve never read the book I’ve seen the movie and know the story) You really made me want to read the book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I haven’t read Matilda since I was little but it was one of my faves and it had such an effect for me as a child, like look a kid who likes to read like me! It’s such a great memory, I remember going to the library with Mum and trying to take home as many books as Matilda did XD When I saw the movie I copied her tendencies for ages and got a red ribbon so I could just be more like her.

    I really need to reread it as an adult so I can see just how amazing it is, the quotes you included are all fantastic. Great post ❤

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