Bryony Armstrong wittily explores the unexpectedly appealing side of Miss Trunchbull's character - the terrifying head teacher who features as one of Roald Dahl's most memorable villains in his classic children's novel Matilda. Does Miss Trunchbull's bad reputation lend her the credit she deserves, since she demonstrates a strength of character and determination that we should strive for?
‘Why are all these women married?’ Miss Trunchbull cries in exasperation as a chorus of sweet children chant a wonderfully heteronormative rhyme to learn the spelling of the word D-I-F-F-I-C- U-L-T-Y: “Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs F F I...”. And she’s right - why are these children being brought up in a way that creates the expectation of eventually becoming a ‘Mrs’? Miss Trunchbull, on the other hand, has made it on her own.
She’s a character with a pretty bad rep. But forget the fact, for a minute, that she threw Amanda Thripp across the grounds by her hair. And try to shut out that she forced Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire cake in front of the whole school (which, by the way, he did steal). Miss Trunchbull is a feminist icon.
In a man’s world and without the support of a husband, Miss Trunchbull is an ex-Olympic athlete now running an entire school. Yes, she may force children into a small room with nails drilled to a wall. But considering her CV, she has worked bloody hard to get to where she is. Perhaps, if Miss Trunchbull were actually Mr. Trunchbull, the story might go something a little more like this: an ex- athlete makes a shocking career move to inspiring the next generation as head teacher of Crunchum Hall, only to have his determined and slightly unorthodox methods terrorised by a particularly precocious young child named Matilda.
The fact that Miss Trunchbull has had an extremely grueling and hardworking life is totally apparent in her wonderfully strong mindset. When lecturing Miss Honey, she claims that “the distance the shotput goes depends upon the effort you put into it - perspiration!” And while Miss Honey’s efforts to allow Matilda’s brain to blossom are admirable, there’s no denying that women in our age need more than just brains to get by. We need the grit of Miss Trunchbull’s Olympic training regime. Indeed, even Miss Trunchbull seems bored of the standard female narrative of ‘do- gooder’, as she remarks that Miss Honey’s rebellious streak “might just be the most interesting thing you’ve ever done”. And again, she hits the nail on the head and into the Chokey. As Miss Honey’s narrative departs from the standard feminine arc of complacence, we start to see a more real and multi-dimensional character that represents women I actually recognise.
So next time you’re cheering for Bruce, or willing Matilda to be able to tip over the glass holding a newt, just take a moment to consider Miss Trunchbull’s character. Not the murderous, borderline-psychotic part - but the part in which she worked her entire life to be successful in two male-dominated fields, all without a man by her side.