The United Nations (in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) define the child as ‘any person under the age of 18’. The notion of children and childhood continue to change and develop over time.The position of children differs over time as well as between societies. The definitions and viewsof childhood alsodiffer from culture to culture and from society to society.According to Aries (1962) during the Middle Ages, current ideas of childhood did not exist. Childhood was not viewed as a separate stage of life; instead, children were seen as miniature adults, who shared the same thinking capacities and personal qualities as adults (Rogers, 2001). Pollock (1983) argued that childhood did exist in the Middle Ages however he claimed that the definition of childhood was completely different in those days as to what it is viewed as now.
According to Aries (1962), childhood is a social construct; something that is created and defined by society. Society looks at children through different time periods, and how race, culture and class can create different experiences of childhood for children. Children and childhood can be studied from different academic perspectives (e.g. sociological, anthropological or pedagogical).The modern view of childhood is built on the romantic view of childhood which sees children as pure and innocent because they are essentially seen as ‘clean slates’.Current discourse surrounding childhood is concerned with the ‘disappearance of childhood’ due to the toxic part played by technology, sexualisation and abuse. As a result of this, according to Palmer (2007) terms such as ‘stolen childhood’ and ‘lost childhood’ are now common phrases used in popular discourse.
Our view of childhood is deeply rooted in our cultural context, however this notion is not comprehensive as there is no single universal childhood experienced by all, rather there is a multitude of childhoods (Jenks, 1996; Lee, 2001; James and James, 2004; Mintz, cited in Fass & Grossberg, 2012). This is often referred to as a post-modern theory of childhood.
This assignment will critically analyse the children’s film ‘Matilda’ in order to identify the underlying assumptions held by its creators. Rogers (2001) suggested that using discourse as an analytical tool allows us to see how adopting a particular image of childhood implies that we need to act towards children in a certain way. Machin and Mayr (2012) acknowledged that by using critical discourse analysis in a text, the writer’s ideological stance can be uncovered. Discourses surrounding children will be drawn upon in this assignment and evidence will be provided to support any claims made.
The films main focuses can be split into two sections; the first section focuses on Matilda’s home life and her relationship with her parents. The second shows in detail Matilda’s experiences at school with her teachers and fellow students.
The film is about an extremely intelligent young girl who is mistreated and neglected by her ignorant parents. Matilda has a passion for reading books and since her parents don’t allow her to have any books in the house she walks herself to the library every day to read as much as she can whilst her parents are at work and her brother is a school.
At the age of 6, Matilda tells her parents of her desire to go to school. For a child of her age she is educated well beyond her years, however her parents think very little of her intellect and are quick to mock and criticise her every move. They ignore her request which causes Matilda to lose patience and retaliate against her father. She plays some practical jokes on her family as a way of getting revenge for them not caring about her education.
After growing up being neglected by her parents she then goes on to being mistreated by her evil headteacher at school. However, when Matilda discovers that she has powers, she uses them to fight back against her parents, who do not value education and also to take revenge on her tyrannical headteacher. She has the ability to physically move objects with her mind. It is implied that these powers are a result of the repressed anger she feels towards her parents and her head teacher
Matilda is a child who can be viewed as both a good and bad character. She is either viewed as a heroine or as a misbehaver. Petzold (1992) viewed Matilda as the typical troubled child hero “isolated, but with the capacity of universal relationships”.
The Apollonian view of childhood which developed with the philosophies of Rousseau believed that humans are born inherently ‘good’. He proclaimed that children need protection and guidance for them to remain good and not become bad.
Jenks (2005) agrees with Rousseau’s ideas and upholds that a child should be nurtured and protected and that entering the adult world could lead to the corruption of their innocence.
Matilda is extremely neglected by her parents.
According to Piaget’s model of developmental stages, young children require adult control and guidance whilst going through the developmental stages in order to develop their cognitive and emotional skills. Although Matilda is only 5 years old her cognitive and emotional skills have already developed far beyond that of her fellow classmates.
Matilda was forced to be stuck at the grass root level due to her parent’s negligence so she could not use her brainpower for learning purpose so she channelled her power to the path of telekinesis (Round and Pope 2015). Telekinesis is some ability by which a person can move things using their mind. At school, all the kids used to like her though she was not like every other child due to her disturbed childhood. At school, she was marked for her high intelligence level, but she was not relieved from stress due a tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull whose policy of maintaining discipline could be name as a sheer case of child abuse (Angelidou, K., 2013). At school, Matilda luckily found Miss Honey who was amused by the kind-hearted nature and intelligence of the little girl (Fenerci 2012). Miss Honey was shocked to see how an innocent little girl, who is so brilliant, deprived from the paternal and maternal guidance (Hissan 2012). Matilda is the protagonist of the plot and through the development of her character it has been shown that a person can only show his or her full potential after getting proper guidance. Matilda used to use her special skills in creating menace, but that can be considered as her revolt against the constant oppression she received from her parents and from her headmistress. After getting inspired by the kind teacher Miss Honey, she started using her special skills for benefit of her favourite teacher. Eventually Matilda fights for Miss Honey and helped her to get back her proper inheritance (Thomson 2014).
According to Piaget, there are four stages of child’s development: Sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. At sensorimotor stage children only starts to learn things. During preoperational stage children start to learn languages and engage themselves in playful activities. In concrete operational stage children slowly acquire the ability to reason things and in formal operational stage adolescents try to learn how to solve abstract problems and think symbolically (Thomson 2014). In the film Matilda i found at the age of five when she was handled badly by her parents so it is evident that she learnt to think logically almost on her own, so no one can blame her mischievous act as sinister. Her actions can more be considered because of constant oppression from both home and school. She did not have the proper atmosphere to grow like a normal child and she had to channel her ability of brain towards telekinesis as she practically had nothing to do that could work her brain (Janecek 2014).
Finally, at school when she found Miss Honey, she found someone who could guide her through adolescence and in the end after the series of event of the plot Miss Honey adopts her and everything becomes peaceful (Mulders 2016). It can be said that Matilda’s childhood was disturbed so she did not have the opportunity to grow mentally in a normal graph, but due to her super intelligence, she somehow managed to upgrade herself by channelling her extraordinary power of brain to other path of telekinesis. Using that she initially made a lot of menace, but eventually she used it for the right cause and the upgradation of her character is seen there (Piaget 2013).
It is a fact that a child is just like a piece of clay because it is important how one treat them and their mental development is directly related to it. It is seen how Matilda faced negligence in her entire childhood and the most shocking part is her own parents mistreated her (Beauvais, C., 2015). They did not even look into the matter that she was growing and in need to be educated in school properly. Matilda’s parents were so engaged into themselves that they did not care about their own daughter. The case was quite different for her brother but there was not enough description of him. Matilda gone through a troublesome childhood and that is the sole reason behind all the disastrous incidents happened caused by her as they can be considered as a revolt of Matilda against authority (Piaget, J., 2015).
Human psychology is a very complicated matter and it matters most when a kid becomes a victim of circumstances that hampers the mental growth and development, and that too at the age of only five years Matilda faced a lot of nuisance. At the beginning of the plot, she was seen as a shy quiet girl almost unaware of her supernatural abilities but later on she discovered her powers and initially he was mislead or it can be said that she had practically no one to guide (Piaget, Inhelder and Piaget 2013). Her wealthy self conceited parents did not pay much attention which was required to raise a baby girl and naturally they were unaware of her abilities. She became literally frustrated with her parents negligence that lead to her menacing with her special abilities and those can be attributed to her vengeful side (Cunningham 2012). She supergluued her father’s hat with his head and she replaced her father’s hair tonic with her mom’s hair dye. She caused these childlike incidents in her fit of anger.
When she was admitted to school, there she faced a tyrannical headmistress named Miss Trunchbull who literally abused children in the name of maintaining discipline. In school luckily Matilda came across Miss Honey who guided her and loved her dearly, and later on Matild got to know that Miss Trunchbull is actually Miss Honey’s aunt and she is somewhat involved in murder of Miss Honey’s father and deprived her from the inheritance. Now the course of action started to change as Matilda is being nurtured by a proper guide and now is able to reason things with logic (Bessemans 2016).
Matilda decided to use her skills for a good cause as she decided to take Miss Honey’s back and get her justice. Using her powers she made chalk writing on the blackboard that Miss Trunchbull was behind the murder of Miss Honey’s father which shook the legs of the ravenous woman. Matlida also became the saviour of the children who were under Miss Trunchbull’s wrath and eventually Mis Trunchbull had to return the inheritance to Miss Honey and had to flee. On the other hand Matilda’s parents had to flee due to their criminal activities. At the end of the plot it is seen that Miss Honey adopts Matilda and ultimately becomes the new headmistress of the school. Matilda got a new friend philosopher and guide in her life, and could channel her powers to a positive way (Hiidenoja 2015).
In this particular case, three discourses of childhood can be discussed. The basic idea of discourse can be seen as a key to get a social constructionist approach to childhood. There are three basic discourses - romantic, puritan and tabula rasa. Out of them, romantic and puritan directly oppose each other. The romantic discourse claims that children are pure and like clay, their innocence must be protected and they should be given the freedom to become whatever they want. On the other hand, in puritan concept, it is believed that children are to be put in heavy discipline and they must be controlled from the very beginning. In tabula rasa concept, it is said that, children re born without any knowledge and knowledge comes from experience (James and Prout 2015). In this case it is seen that Matilda was handled pretty badly in manner of puritan discourse and that may be the root cause of all the problems.
Thus, it can be said that atmosphere and proper guidance play a huge role in developing a child mentally towards adolescence. At the beginning of the plot it was seen that Matilda is a kind sweet kid who is suffering from the negligence of her parents, but at the end it is seen that with proper guidance she eventually becomes a kind hearted but confident and focused teenage girl with proper guidance of Miss Honey. Miss Honey emerged as a life-changing person for Matilda, as she taught her how to think logically and how to stand by the side of the good people and gave her the courage to fight for something. Matilda had a vengeful side beneath her due to her disturbed childhood, but she learnt to channelize her power or anger or any ability properly. Matilda was lucky enough because she got the guidance of Miss Honey at the most crucial time of a child’s life and that is when she was going through concrete operational stage to formal operational stage, and that was the turning point of her life (van Dongen 2014).
van Dongen, S.D.A., 2014. Utopian and Dystopian Elements in Children's Books: Images and Constructs of Childhood in''Charlie and the Chocolate Factory''and''Matilda'' (Bachelor's thesis).
Hiidenoja, A., 2015. Class Ideology and Values in Roald Dahl's Matilda and Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children and New Cautionary Tales.
Bessemans, A., 2016. Matilda: a typeface for children with low vision. Digital Fonts and Reading, 1, p.19.
Cunningham, H., 2012. The invention of childhood. Random House.
Piaget, J., Inhelder, B. and Piaget, J., 2013. The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence: An essay on the construction of formal operational structures (Vol. 84). Routledge.
Piaget, J., 2015. The Grasp of Consciousness (Psychology Revivals): Action and Concept in the Young Child. Psychology Press.
Piaget, J., 2013. Mental Imaginery in the Child: Selected Works (Vol. 6). Routledge.
Angelidou, K., 2013. The Invention of Children’s Literature: The Case of the Mischievous Roald Dahl (Doctoral dissertation, ARISTOTLE UNIVERSITY THESSALONIKI).
Janecek, S., 2014. The role of violence in Roald Dahl’s fiction for children(Doctoral dissertation, uniwien).
James, A. and Prout, A. eds., 2015. Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. Routledge.
Thomson, P., 2014. The uses and abuses of power: teaching school leadership through children's literature. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 46(4), pp.367-386.
Beauvais, C., 2015. Child Giftedness as Class Weaponry: The Case of Roald Dahl's Matilda. Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 40(3), pp.277-293.
Hissan, W.S.M., 2012. An Analysis of the Children’s Characters in Roald Dahl’s Novel: Charlie and the chocolate factory. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 2(1), pp.82-92.
Round, J. and Pope, J., 2015. Children’s responses to heroism in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Children's Literature in Education, 46(3), pp.257-277.
Fenerci, C., 2012. What targets and tools does Roald Dahl use to reflect social criticism in his works “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? (Doctoral dissertation, TED Ankara College Foundation High School).
Mulders, M.F., 2016. The Presentation of Female Gender in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and Matilda (Master's thesis).
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