Tag Archives: English Language

From Matlida, ‘Bruce Bogtrotter called’ by Roald Dahl




The said extract has been surely taken from the children’s classic fiction, Matilda by Roald Dhal. This particular text has been taken from the scene when Bruce Bogtrotter is asked to come up on the stage by Ms. Trunchbull to answer for his crimes.

The text comprises of dialogues and is narration for the purposes for entertainment solely. The language is smooth and developed and caters to the reading of children and adults alike. The said extract could easily be a school reading activity for students of a primary level. When the text indulges in dialogues, it clearly depicts the various speaking mannerisms of the characters portrayed.

The text begins with a question, which in essence is not a rhetorical question and is directed at one of the characters asking “Who?” which is followed by the flat statement that does not hint on the who is speaking nor the manner or tone in which it is replied, “The Trenchbull”. At the foresight, it appears that (especially if the reader may be unaware of the character and its predispositions) it might be a place, an event or even a monster of some sort for the text is apparently fiction in the real sense.

The following reply by Matilda in which she mentions how being in her school is “like being in a cage with a cobra” and with this simple yet effective simile which helps invoke a strong emotion in the readers’ mind of fright and imminent death or even catastrophe. This comment by the lead/central character followed by an extension of the metaphor/extended metaphor where she mentions how one has to be “very fast on your feet” if one desires to survive or remain safe, shows that the character understands that the only way to survive is to be smart in the head and quick in the movements. This helps create a feeling of realism, and even foreboding that creates a heightened sense of survival instincts and induces emotion of uncomfortable moments ahead in the text.

When the narrator talks of how “They got another example of how dangerous the Headmistress could be”, the reader is clear on two things: firstly, that upcoming is another display of this “dangerous” behavior of which Matilda mentions that one has to sidestep and secondly, that this “Trunchbull” is not an oark or a deatheater but a headmistress of a school.

The word “Assembly Hall” and then again “Assembly” in the following paragraph, have been capitalized to show the importance of the said place. It appears that the assembly place is a place where students are seldom made to visit and is a setting of seriousness. This only adds to the feeling of foreboding in the reader, and hence for him/her, the moment of dread is soon to come.

The mention of the “two hundred and fifty” students and then the addition of “or so boys and girls” shows that author is either not sure of how many students there are but wants to make sure that the reader feels that a ‘healthy’ or a ‘handsome’ amount of students were seated in the Hall. This technique where the author does not really say how many individuals are involved gives a sense of a collective whole. Which is the supposed intention as this ‘collective whole’ has been referred to as a “sea of upturned faces” too. Here too the feeling is imposed that there are many but not just that but that these are a ‘mass’ and perhaps not to be meddled with.

Also, “sea of upturned faces” is a metaphor and the “faces” part makes it a synecdoche where the student as an individual is not pointed out but as a ‘face’. This also hints on the innocence of the students, or perhaps even their vulnerability, where they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A certain element of imagery is found in the text which helps create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind and involves the reader with the on goings of the novel. This includes when the Trunchbull enters the great Assembly Hall wearing “green breeches” with a “riding-crop” in hand and “legs apart” creates a strong picture in the mind of the reader of utmost horror and the familiar feeling of foreboding returns to mind which has been prevalent predominantly in this text. There is also repetition of the /i:/ sound in green breeches which helps create a smoother picture. With the words like “glaring” and “marched”, both denoting to Ms. Trunnchbull, a nostalgic feeling of nazi army or even a primitive bull comes to mind, flaring at the nostrils.

Suspense and intrigue seems to build up with dialogues as such “What’s going to happen?” and “I don’t know” followed by a comment or one can assume to be a hint from the narrator of “what was coming next”. It appears that as the story progresses, the suspense is thickening which seems to be one of the major themes of the story.

There is a certain level of characterization even in this short extract, for instance the character of Bruce Bogtrotter. For one, it is an explicit example of alliteration where the /b/ sound is noticeable. More importantly, words used to describe him include, “decidedly large and round” and among his movements include “waddled briskly”, which is a form of subtle oxymoron, as the act of waddling a rarely ‘brisk’. This also reinforces to the reader as because Bogtrotter was round so a feeling of how it might have been difficult to be actually quick in his step, hence leaving the reading with the feeling of a difficult, gasping breath.

Other than that Bogtrotter later being “more puzzled than ever” shows how he had next to no clue of what was going on and was honestly in the dark. When at one point he tries to say something with “Steady on”, and “dash it all”, he doesn’t make much sense. This is also an indication of his colloquial use where he has reserved only to phrasal verbs, more common among children still developing their language. Additionally, as he has no idea why he is being targeted, this also shows his speechlessness teamed with extreme anxiety.

The use of the image on the second page, albeit a sketch in black and white, is a major aid to the reader’s mind. Considering that the reader might have already watched the Hollywood adaptation of the novel, but still the image created in the reader’s mind in the previous page of how Ms. Trunchbull stood “glaring” at the “upturned sea of faces” is now brought forth vividly in the form of an image to the reader.  Additionally, the use of verbs like “ordered”, “barked” and “shouted” used to describe the speech of the headmistress also reinforces the notion of fierce severity in the character of Ms. Trunchbull. The image with its stern look, an unquestionable frown also adds further to this emotion.

On the part of Bogtrotter, when the author narrates that he was quite aware that he wasn’t being called upon “to be presented with a prize” adds further to the sense of imminent doom which has been quite prevelant in the entire narration of the text. This can also be put under the rhetorical appeal of logos where the character has ‘logically’ argued/exhausted out the possibilities in his mind of what is possible and what is not.

The manner in which Bogtrotter approaches the Headmistress speaks volumes of his fear. For instance he looks at Ms. Trunchbull with an “Exceedingly wary eye” and then he kept “edging farther and farther” from her so as not to be too close in the range of the riding crop or in the arm’s reach of her arm in fear of a physical reprimand. Additionally, a simile has been further used to enhance this notion and the emotions between the two: one weak and the other a bully in the words that it was as if a “rat might edge away from a terrier that is watching it from across the room” probably to pounce on it as soon as the occasion or the opportunity arose.

The indication that Bogtrotter looked at her with “fearful apprehension” and while doing so was quite “grey” further indicates the mortal fear instilled in the student and the way his socks “hung about his ankles” reinforces the notion of resignation to fate, where one can’t do much about much and only suffers the consequences of something for which they might or might not be responsible.

The Headmistresses speech here gives way to her choice of register, which to speak, is quite rich. The examiner here might want to notice that due to anger the speech comes out in huffs and puffs and hence is punctuated after every short phrase. For instance, “This clot”, “this black-head, this foul carbuncle, this poisonous pustule”, “A thief!”, “A crook! A pirate! A brigand! A rustler!” and “Yesterday morning, during break” all, among other things point at the gasps and rasps of anger which only suffice short phrases when one is overcome with extreme emotion.

This clearly depicts these feelings of strong frustration and anger of the character in question and helps the reader to also map such a feeling of haste and breathlessness which is the sure natural outcome when reading such short phrases and exclamations punctuated to break the pace and a smooth flow of reading. The reader would feel involved and gripped into the story.

The reader would also notice the rich vocabulary and register that Ms. Trunchbull employs to describe and, in this case, to direct her wrath at Bogtrotter. Words, which are quite derogatory at the beginning and then eventually show a trend of change towards being common thief names, are vivid in nature and help to create colorful picture in the mind of the readers. Words such as, “clot”, “black-head”, foul carbuncle”, “poisonous pustule”, “gumboil” and finally “suppurating little blister” all denote to and are synonymous for a puss filled tissue or a pimple oozing with puss.

Now, Ms. Trunchbull could have just said that, but no, she goes on to use six different synonyms and varied, rich vocabulary to express that Bogtrotter is nothing but that ―a puss filled tissue. Other than a varied vocabulary that involves and entertains the reader through and through as― after all― the purpose of the text is to entertain. The reader hence, other than feeling sympathetic towards Bogtrotter, also may be chuckling at this extreme exaggeration towards a primary school student.

A point relevant to prior argument also includes that such show of emotions and name calling evidently exhibit Ms. Trunchbull’s view of Bogtrotter, as being no other than a needless disease which should be removed of and is painful at sight and at touch, the existence of which is a point of disregard and hate.

Another set of colorful words that the Headmistress uses include referencing Bogtrotter as a common criminal. There was a slight change here though. Ms. Trunchbull begins with addressing Bogtrotter as first a “blister” and once she begins venting her anger, she gets carried away and starts calling him “disgusting criminal”, “denizen of the underworld”, “a member of the Mafia”, “thief”, “crook”, “pirate”, “brigand”, and “rustler”. Now although most of these are common thief names, however, there are some that are more aggressive and, well heinous in nature. For instance, when she calls him a part of the “Mafia” or when she refers him to a “pirate”, both of which types of criminals were once put to death without questions asked.

Additionally, the fact that all students are made to sit in the Assembly Hall shows that the offence is great and that the Headmistress takes it as a sort of a hearing, calling Bogtrotter “guilty” and the way she phrases her words, “Do you deny it” or “Do you plead not guilty”, both of which is legal jargon clearly depicts that this is no ordinary matter and as soon as the culprit is found guilty, he will be punished severely and using all the correct legal procedures in the following scene.

Such name calling and derogatory terms seem to be taking a trend from meagre to more serious illegal acts easily characterized as being wicked or plain evil. Furthermore, there is yet another note to which the Headmistress takes her address. Looking at it with a religious approach or Mythical approach, one can say that there is a definite allusion to popular Christian scripture/lore when the reference is made to “sneaked like a serpent into the kitchen”, which the reader can’t help but bring to mind the serpent in the Garden in Eve which lead to a seduction to the first sin. Other than being a simile where Bogtrotter has been equaled to a snake, a greatly feared creature in the animal kingdom, to which so much lore has been related to.

The heightened sense of self-importance and worth seen in this passage is only escalated when Ms. Trunchbull begins talking about her things and how these are quite more important than anyone else in that great Assembly Hall. With words like “my tea-tray”, “prepared for me personally”, “my morning snack” and “my own private stock” clearly show the obsession with self and repetition of ‘my’ three times and the redundancy with “me personally”, which obviously means the same person is being denoted to by both words, but this constant reference to the self, shows how the Headmistresses has quite a bit of a bloated self-esteem. If we take to this the psychological approach but limit it to te character instead of the author, one can wonder that his notion of self can only, justly be coupled with an extremely low idea of the “filth” that she has to deal with.