Portrayed by: Embeth Davidtz
Film: Matilda (1996)
In light of the recent debates commenting on whether Roald Dahl’s books should be altered, I was reminded of the impact the 1996 Matilda had on me, as well as what effect Netflix’s 2022 Matilda the Musical will have on today’s generation of kids. Jennifer Honey, otherwise known as Miss Honey, is a light in the story, however flawed the times might be.
Sometimes, we don’t always realize which character will leave the most significant mark on us. Sure, as a child, we all wanted to be Matilda. In the same way that with The Parent Trap films years later, I grew to find more comfort and inspiration in a character like Lisa Ann Walter’s Chessy. As a student, Miss Honey is the type of teacher we all wish we could have, but as adults, you come to understand that it’s not a teacher per se, but it’s her kindness that the world is lacking—the balm we could use far more of. It’s kindness in the form of someone willing to spread her light as far and wide to ensure that everyone around her shines.
Miss Honey: What’s in a Name?
A name matters—it always matters. It defines someone. And in more ways than one, this reminds me a lot of Cinderella (2015) and donning Ella with the name of Cinder-Ella. The conversations surrounding a name do plenty in the fairytale adaptation and here. When her parents chose the name for their child, their little bumblebee, they made sure to give her something that would radiate sweetness and draw warmth. Now, they might not have called her by her last name, but the decision to become a teacher thus puts her kindness forward, allowing her to be someone people could admire when she grew up in a world where she was afraid. She might not have chosen to work at Crunchem Hall Elementary School, but since it’s where she ends up, it’s where she draws the most light.
Working under a principal like the Trunchbull, who’s also her step-aunt and the reason for her father’s untimely death shows Miss Honey’s heart as well as her endurance. Now, should this story be of modern times, in the hands of the right writer, we could’ve watched so much come to life through Miss Honey’s character. While these books are essentially written for children, so much is glossed over regarding the trauma inflicted upon these characters by authority figures.
Warmth and Openness
Miss Honey isn’t strong because of what she’s endured but because she continues to show love despite the hatred she’s known. We often look at characters like her and don’t give them the credit they deserve. It’s anything but easy to remain kind when pain has been a prevalent part of your life. It’s challenging to look at the world and believe that good could come from it when all you know is pain. It’s challenging. There’s no guidebook on remaining kind, even the Holy Bible, if we take any religious approach, requires people to work actively on improving themselves. It’s hard to trust the process, but like Ted Lasso, Miss Honey gets up every morning and chooses to be kind.
While kindness can be an inherent thing, it still requires a choice. And for Miss Honey, it required opening up to a little girl she saw great potential in as someone else who’s been mistreated in her life. The openness that she exhibits and the warmth are all part of her choice to be better, which makes her memorable in both adaptations.
Both Embeth Davidtz and Lashana Lynch bring a beautiful, easy-to-appreciate light to the character that feels organic and understandable. It’s effortless to tell just by looking at them both how much consideration they put in to evoke that eons of heartache run through their veins while they set themselves out in the trenches for children who deserve better. That’s ultimately the crux of why the character is so special and why she stands out the older we get because it’s easy to see hope when looking at her. Without people choosing to be the light this way, we wouldn’t have hope in this world.
States of perpetual darkness remain when people aren’t willing to evolve to make the world a better place. The decision to be transparent about the roadblocks and pain that they’ve endured are significant because staying open allows people to grow into better versions of themselves. The moment Miss Honey shares her secret with someone—the kid who’ll later be her very own, it allows her to free herself from the Trunchbull’s snares. It allows her the freedom to have the ever-growing weight on her shoulder lift and manifest itself in a way that works toward making her stronger and more immovable.
Openness matters for all characters, and it’s the very thing that equates vulnerability to strength. The saying comes from somewhere, and it’s because it’s difficult to endure and break without sharing the emotions that sit smack dab in the middle of one’s chest. At the end of the day, if we do a closer study of the character, we can understand that kindness matters because it heals the person passing it on as much as the one receiving it. Miss Honey brings a bit of light into her life by dedicating a plethora of her heart to the students she adores and the people she believes in.
While no one should go through pain to learn something, it’s an unfortunate part of life that sticks with us. It’s how we overcome the pain that matters in the long run, and for Miss Honey, overcoming it involves helping others see that they are important, unique, and safe. For a woman who never felt safe in her own home, she makes the world outside a house safer for students. She becomes a home away from home, making the idea of kindness the lasting and worthwhile balm necessary to rid the world of bullies. It’s a kid’s story, sure, but she’s our MVP—through and through—she’s always been and always will be. How fortunate she and Matilda are to find a chosen family together when theirs only ever caused them pain.