Matilda’s parents don’t particularly like her; they are just waiting to flick her off like an old scab. Unlike her parents, Matilda is an amazing, intelligent young girl who taught herself to read by the age of four. Matilda walks herself to the library while her parents are at work or playing Bingo. First, she reads all of the children’s books, but when she finished with those, Mrs. Phelps, the librarian, recommends books from famous adult authors: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and more. Matilda reads them all.
Mr. Wormwood is a second-hand car dealer, and very proud of the way he cheats his customers. Matilda expresses her disapproval, and in response, he calls her names like “ignorant little squirt." Matilda makes a decision that every time her father or mother are beastly to her, she will get them back.
Matilda puts superglue in her dad’s hat, hides a parrot in the chimney and pretends it’s a ghost, and adds platinum blonde hair dye into her dad’s hair product. After each act of retaliation, her parents go into a state of panic which helps Matilda feel content for a while.
When Matilda begins attending Crunchem Hall Primary School, she is assigned to Miss Honey’s class. On the first day of school, Miss Honey quizzes her and realizes that Matilda is gifted. Miss Honey speaks to Miss Trunchbull, the cruel Headmistress, to describe Matilda’s brilliance, and to move her to the top class in the school. Miss Trunchbull immediately squashes Miss Honey’s requests, and accuses Matilda of being a naughty girl. Miss Honey decides go straight to Matilda’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are more interested in watching their television program than hearing about their gifted daughter. Miss Honey leaves both surprised and disgusted at the Wormwoods’ disinterest in Matilda.
Matilda befriends Lavender, a gutsy and adventurous little girl. The two meet an older schoolmate named Hortensia. Hortensia explains the pranks played on Miss Trunchbull, and all the horrible things Miss Trunchbull does to children. For example, when she put powerful itching powder in Miss Trunchbull’s pants, “The Trunchbull” grabbed her by the ear and stuck her in the Chokey, a very narrow cupboard with bits of broken glass sticking out so you can’t lean or sit down. Soon, Matilda and Lavender see Miss Trunchbull in action. Without much effort, Miss Trunchbull hurls a little girl with pigtails across the playground.
Lavender develops a plan to put a newt in Miss Trunchbull’s water jug. When Miss Trunchbull sits down at her desk and pours herself a glass of water, the slimy newt plops out into the glass and puts Miss Trunchbull in a panic. She yells at Matilda, calling her a “disgusting little cockroach” and “a filthy little maggot”. Being accused of something she did not do makes Matilda so angry she feels like something might explode inside her; she focuses on the glass of water on Miss Trunchbull’s desk. Matilda whispers “tip it”, and the glass of water spills right over onto Miss Trunchbull. Miss Trunchbull screams but seeng as nobody from the class moved, Miss Trunchbull has a hard time proving who did it and marches out of the classroom angrily.
After this eventful afternoon, Miss Honey sends the class out to the playground. Matilda stays behind and confides in Miss Honey; she explains how she was able to tip over the glass with her eyes. Miss Honey doesn’t believe her at first and has Matilda try it again. When Matilda is able to do it a second time, Miss Honey is shocked. She invites Matilda to her cottage to explore her abilities further.
Matilda is very surprised to see Miss Honey’s simple, tiny cottage with no running water or furniture. She listens to Miss Honey explain how she was forced to be a slave to her aunt, Miss Trunchbull, when her parents died. Miss Honey was able to rent this small cottage, but owes her wages for 10 years. Matilda feels sorry for Miss Honey and secretly develops a plan to help her. She only asks Miss Honey two questions: what were the first names of Miss Honey’s father, and her aunt. Miss Honey tells her: Magnus and Agatha.
Matilda goes home and begins practicing her special powers. For six days, she works on picking up a cigar and moving it where she wants, using only her eyes. When Miss Trunchbull is set to return to Miss Honey’s class, Matilda is ready. Matilda picks up the chalk with her eyes and, pretending to be the deceased Magnus, begins writing a message to Agatha Trunchbull. Magnus demands Agatha to give Miss Honey the house and the money that she is owed.
Miss Trunchbull passes out and is whisked away by the school matron with help from five other teachers. The next day, Miss Trunchbull is nowhere to be found. The house and her father’s lifetime savings were left for Miss Honey and Miss Honey moves in.
In the end, Matilda’s parents frantically pack their belongings to move to Spain. Matilda’s father was a crook and in a lot of trouble. Matilda does not want to leave, and asks Miss Honey if she can stay with her. Miss Honey consults with the parents, and not surprisingly, they don’t care. Miss Honey and Matilda hug each other while they watch Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood drive away without ever looking back.