Originally published in 1988 and illustrated by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl's Matilda is often seen as a formative foundation for the millennial generation. With its story of an extraordinary child whose ordinary and disagreeable parents dismiss their daughter’s prodigious talent, its central theme echoes millennials’ self-perceived status as a misunderstood social actors with underappreciated talent. More importantly, however, the theme of violence and the abuse of authority — a recurring theme is Dahl’s novels — is a particularly timely one in the sociocultural context of today’s political unrest around the world, from the Middle Eastern revolutions to civic protests across Europe.
While I'm accustomed to reading about adults' levels of discomfort over the violence and evilness of most non-kid characters in Dahl's work, I've never considered Matilda in this light. (It's also interesting to note that Matilda was published in 1988, and that the notion of Gen Y / the Millenial Generation was coined in 1993.) As a not-quite-Millenial myself, I read Matilda round about the end of primary school / my early teens, and took from it three messages: that reading is important and can help you fashion your life; that even though they made you, your parents won't necessarily get you; and that school is the first place in which you create yourself.
So I'm not sure I buy this assessment. The nasty characters in Dahl's books are caricatures, and I think that kids get that (even if not all adults do). Dahl's child characters overcome through wit, cunning and resilience, not rebellion. Still, it's piqued my interest enough to feel the need for a re-read.