Be Like Ms. Honey
As midterms drew nearer, and the stress of studying for exams ensued, I found myself longing for elementary school days, when my greatest concern was who would be “it” during tag at recess, or whether or not I forgot my lunch-box on the kitchen counter. Having recently seen Matilda the Musical, a Broadway adaptation of the best-selling children’s novel by Roald Dahl, I found these same nostalgic feelings towards childhood and the naivety that comes with them expressed throughout the show. The musical tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, a genius, book-loving, five-year-old girl born into a corrupt, TV-obsessed family that neither wants nor appreciates her one-of-a-kind mind. Matilda finds herself in a school with a child-hating headmistress, Ms. Trunchbull, who bullies everyone, including Matilda’s caring and supportive teacher, Ms. Honey. As the story progresses, Matilda discovers that being small does not make one wrong or unable to “change their story.”
Matilda, aside from being a genius, possesses a supernatural telekinetic gift that she utilizes to drive Ms. Trunchbull out of the school and turn Crunchum Hall Elementary into the warm, motivating, and inspiring environment that every educational institution should be. Matilda embodies the magical energy and full potential inherent in children. The opening number of the show is titled “Miracle”, and while one of the motifs expressed is that of the coddling and spoiling of children, it also portrays the confidence and ambition that parents should instill in their young ones. Matilda’s love for reading and her endless storytelling imagination depicts this attitude, in spite of the fact that her parents were not the motivating types.
The notion that the positivity in children should be inspired and motivated is crushed once the kids arrive at Crunchum Hall Elementary, where they are repeatedly told by Ms. Trunchbull that they are worthless, “revolting” children. Ms. Trunchbull, despite having chosen a career which requires constant interaction with children, sees childhood as nothing but the unfortunate state of people before they become adults. She makes no effort to nurture their growth. She refuses to listen when Matilda’s teacher, Ms. Honey — who is revealed to be Ms. Trunchbull’s niece— insists that Matilda is too bright for her first year class and should be moved up to one of the older grades. Ms. Trunchbull has lost all sense of adolescent innocence and enthusiasm and refuses to encourage these virtues in her students.
In her role, Ms. Honey is the antithesis of the other adult figures in Matilda’s life. Matilda’s parents, the Wormwoods, want nothing more than the physical pleasures in life. When they are not focused on a new, dishonest, money-making scheme, Matilda’s family members channel their energy into television and criticizing Matilda for her love of reading. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood lack any sort of imaginative ambition to explore the world, and they find no meaning in a curious life. The Wormwoods, combined with Ms. Trunchbull’s relentless suppression of hope and imagination, leave a vacuum that is filled only by Ms. Honey. Ms. Honey is a teacher who pours her heart and soul into her students. Despite having a tragic childhood, she still holds a positivity and light, similar to what is seen within Matilda and the other children in the show. Ms. Honey, of course, grew up to adulthood, but she did not grow out of the magic and innocence that are present in one’s youth. When I look at Ms. Honey, I see an ideal adult figure, one who recognizes the responsibilities of adulthood while holding on to the precious aspects of childhood.
The view that adulthood should contain remnants of childlike positivity is demonstrated in one of the most touching moments of the show — the song “When I Grow Up,” sung in the middle of the second act by an ensemble of school-children, set in an old-school playground complete with a slide and wooden swings. The beautiful, slow number illustrates the children’s dreams of adulthood. As grown-ups, they “will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up” and “will eat sweets every day on the way to work.” The children are expressing their restriction-free vision of an adult life, one in which they hold the freedoms and responsibilities of maturity while maintaining the excitement and carefree air of childhood. During this performance, the audience senses the innocence of youth, where the future is bright and adventurous, but feels a tinge of sadness in recognizing that adult life is not as simple or sweet as the children anticipate. While the sentiment expressed by the children seems naive, there is truth to it that we should all take to heart.
Growing up need not mean losing all that childhood had to offer. It need not mean throwing your imagination to the waste bin or replacing passion with practicality. Growing up should mean discovering the balance of responsibility and risk taking, commitment and curiosity. As college students, this is expected of us. On the one hand, these four years are supposed to be the formative ones, where we take the foundational steps towards creating a life and a future for ourselves. The world is screaming at us to be responsible, thoughtful, and held accountable for our actions. On the other hand, these are the years during which we can focus our imagination and passion into any and every opportunity that crosses our paths, even if it will not have an immediate effect on our resumes or future careers. As we move through these four year and on to full adulthood, we should try our bests to retain this balance and embody the spirit of Ms. Honey. We should remember to keep the magic of youth within us as we shape the adults that we are going to become.