Class 10 English

The Hundred Dresses

Summary: This story is about racial discrimination which many of us may have faced or may have meted out to others. When someone is different from the mainstream of society, he/she may have to face some sort of racial discrimination. This is a sad aspect of human life, but it happens in almost every country. This story is about a Polish girl who is living in America. The Polish girl is subjected to everyday humiliation for being different in terms of funny name, accent, unusually dress, etc. Some of the characters in this story may be indulging in harmless childhood pranks but those pranks are making an indelible impression on the person who is at the receiving end. This story also tells about the steely resolve which many people develop in unfamiliar circumstances because they have to survive in the new surroundings at any cost. Migration is like a one-way ticket to a place which can be foreign in many aspects. It can be very difficult to develop roots in the new surroundings. Finally, this story is also about the realization which people from mainstream society are forced to make that ‘different’ people are also human beings with similar potential and emotions.


Part I

Question 1: Where in the classroom does Wanda sit and why?

Answer: Wanda used to sit in the penultimate row of benches. She was from an immigrant colony and was from a poor family. Moreover, she seems to be a quiet person engrossed in her own world. She doesn’t like to mess with anybody. That is why she sits isolated from the main group of girls.

Question 2: Where does Wanda live? What kind of a place do you think it is?

Answer: Wanda lives on Boggins Heights. The fact that her shoes are covered in mud gives an idea that Boggins Heights is not a developed area. That can be like unplanned colonies or slums in present day India. You may notice that most of the new residential areas in Indian cities develop in unplanned ways. Especially slum areas don’t have proper roads or drainage system. This leads to waterlogging and creates unhygienic conditions.

The fact that Wanda was from Polish immigrant community gives an idea of the level of underdevelopment of Boggins Heights.

Question 3: When and why do Peggy and Maddie notice Wanda’s absence?

Answer: On a Wednesday when Peggy and Maddie waited for Wanda to have fun with her, they got late to school. Because they got late to school so they noticed Wanda’s absence.

Wanda was a non-entity for students from the mainstream section of society. This happens everywhere. You tend to notice street urchin only if there is some problem with him. Otherwise we seldom notice millions of destitutes roaming our street.

Question 4: What do you think “to have fun with her” means?

Answer: It is a human tendency to make fun of other’s imperfections. These imperfections are mostly in the appearance or in the way we make an image of our world.

Wanda was sort of an outcaste as she was an immigrant, so other students loved to mock at her.

In India also, people from one region make fun of people from other region. We have jokes based on states from where a certain person comes.

Question 5: In what way was Wanda different from the other children?

Answer: To start with Wanda’s name sounded weird. Suppose an English cricket commentator has to pronounce the full name of VVS Laxman. For him it will be a difficult task. For a person from north India, south Indian names may sound strange. Our ears are tuned to the way we hear a certain accent and any variation in that gives us a strange feeling.

Wanda used to come alone to school and she had no friends. Unlike other students she had just one faded blue dress. She could not afford newer dresses. She was not stylish in the normal sense.

Question 6: Did Wanda have a hundred dresses? Why do you think she said she did?

Answer: Wanda seems to be a determined girl. She is having a great amount of self confidence. She has guts to dream that is why she tells of having a hundred dresses. For her number of dresses is not important. It is the inner talent which is of real value.

Question 7: Why is Maddie embarrassed by the questions Peggy asks Wanda? Is she also like Wanda, or is she different?

Answer: Maddie too belongs to a poor family. She too is not having many dresses. She is afraid of being on the receiving end. Additionally she can understand the trauma which Wanda may be undergoing while being rebuked.

Probably school dresses were introduced to imbibe a sense of equality among students irrespective of their socio-economic background. Dresses; apart from covering our body; also add ornamental value, which is having its own importance. But in school, your main goal is learning and focus on dress sense can act like distraction.

Question 8: Why didn’t Maddie ask peggy to stop teasing Wanda? What was she afraid of?

Answer: peggy was the most popular girl. Moreover, she is a nice girl deep inside. She doesn’t hurt anybody and she cries even at the sight of some animal under pain. From Maddie’s perspective making fun at Wanda is simply a harmless fun. And given other virtues of peggy she deserves a little bit of leeway. Maddie does not want to annoy peggy; her best friend. She is also afraid of coming under the firing line if she stops other girls from teasing Wanda.

Question 9: Who did Maddie think would win the drawing contest? Why?

Answer: Maddie thinks that peggy would win the contest. This is about lasting impression some people have on our lives. Some students in class give an appearance of a very confident self. This gives them a very good image in the eyes of all, be it teachers or fellow students. Some of them, most of the time, prove their ability as well. There can be some cases of impressions being deceptive and the person may not be able to prove his or her ability.

Question 10: Who won the drawing contest? What had the winner drawn?

Answer: Maddie won the drawing contest. She may have made a determination to prove her worth through that contest. To complete her drawings she didn’t attend school for some days, this shows her determination to win.

Her drawings of a hundred dresses was a way to send a strong message to peggy and her team that she may not be having a single dress in her wardrobe but deep inside her imagination she had hundreds of dresses. That she was also like them, a normal girl who fancies of having fancy and frilly dresses and wants to indulge in pleasures of life.

Question 11: How is Wanda seen as different by the other girls? How do they treat her?

Answer: Wanda is seen as someone with a funny name and accent. In totality, other girls see Wanda as a strange creature which is entirely different and inferior from them. They treat Wanda as someone who should be made fun of.

Question 12: How does Wanda feel about the dresses game? Why does she say that she has a hundred dresses?

Answer: It is difficult to guess because of stoic face which Wanda maintains during the dresses game. But it can be assumed that like all normal people, Wanda may not be feeling good at being humiliated. Her reply is a way to tell other girls that she is made of tough nerves and can withstand such stupidity.

Question 13: Why does Maddie stand by and not do anything? How is she different from Peggy? (Was Peggy’s friendship important to Maddie? Why? Which lines in the text tell you this?)

Answer: Peggy is the most popular girl in the class and Maddie is her close friend. Maddie is afraid of losing Peggy’s friendship. That is why, Maddie does not want to take risk of annoying peggy and prefers to be a mute spectator. The line, “Peggy was the best-liked girl……. and could do no wrong” illustrates this.

Question 14: What does Miss Mason think of Wanda’s drawings? What do the children think of them? How do you know?

Answer: Miss Mason thinks that all the drawings made by Wanda were really beautiful and were worthy of winning the medal. The children were also impressed by Wanda’s drawings. This was evident by the loud applause and whistling even by the boys who were least interested in dresses.


Part II

Question 1: What did Mr Petronski’s letter say?

Answer: Mr. Petronski was shifting to a bigger city. As bigger cities had more cosmopolitan population, so, there were lesser chances of getting funny glances from others. He was not happy with the treatment his children were getting in the school.

As people of cities get to see and interact with people from a wider geographies and ethnicities so they become more resilient at dealing with them.

Question 2: Is Miss Mason angry with the class, or is she unhappy and upset?

Answer: Miss Mason seems to be upset rather than angry. She hopes that all the misbehaviour was part of normal childhood pranks. She hopes that kids will derive a lesson from Wanda’s episode.

Her calm manners of reading the letter and reprimanding the students tells that she is upset and wants and hopes the kids would mend their ways.

Question 3: How does Maddie feel after listening to the note from Wanda’s father?

Answer: Maddie feels let down by herself. She feels that her behaviour was of a coward. There is an old saying that to tolerate injustices on others is also like being a part of the injustice.

Maddie feels that in stead of being a mute spectator she should have protested the mental torture of Wanda.

Question 4: What does Maddie want to do?

Answer: Maddie wants to meet Wanda to show her true feelings towards Wanda. She wants to say sorry and to convey that all was part of childhood prank and people really love Wanda.

Question 5: What excuses does Peggy think up for her behaviour? Why?

Answer: Peggy thinks that she was the person who gave inspiration for Wanda’s wonderful drawings. Had she not asked questions about number of dresses Wanda had, Wanda could not have made beautiful drawings.

There can be two views on Peggy’s real feelings. First view can be of a stubborn child who refuses to accept her mistakes. And another view can be accepting the mistake deep inside but for fear of being subjected to fun not accepting the mistake openly.

Question 6: What are Maddie’s thoughts as they go to Boggins Heights?

Answer: Maddie is feeling bad about Wanda and herself. She is feeling very sad for not even getting a chance to say sorry to Wanda.

Question 7: Why does Wanda’s house remind Maddie of Wanda’s blue dress?

Answer: Wanda’s blue dress was old, faded but used to be neat and clean. Similarly her house was small and makeshift but clean. Wanda was a poor girl but she was sober and was probably more mature than other kids of her age. May be her hardships had taught her great lessons in the life which is evident in the way she used to keep her dress or her house.

Question 8: What does Maddie think hard about? What important decision does she come to?

Answer: Wanda thinks about not letting injustice happen to anyone. She makes vow that she would protest if anybody misbehaves with anybody. She won’t be a mute spectator the way she did earlier.

In a way the episode of Wanda’s family leaving that city works as major change agent for Maddie’s personality.

Quesiton 9: What did the girls write to Wanda?

Answer: The girls planned to write their true feelings but ended up writing a formal letter. Most of us have this inbuilt ability of fear of truth. We don’t want to show our shortcomings to the world. Every time we talk about ourselves we talk about positives only. It takes lots of courage to talk about our negative aspects. To develop this level of courage requires years. But those who learn to admit mistakes learn to take lessons from their mistakes.

Question 10: Did they get a reply? Who was more anxious for a reply, Peggy or Maddie? How do you know?

Answer: They got the reply. Maddie seems to be more anxious. The way Maddie rues the fact of not getting a chance to say sorry to Wanda gives one clue. Another clue to this is the fact that she was the first person to notice her face on Wanda’s drawing. Had she been as arrogant as peggy she would not have noticed her face on the drawing.

Question 11: How did the girls know that Wanda liked them even though they had teased her?

Answer: An act of making a portrait requires lots of observation of the face. Until and unless an artist likes a subject, it will not be motivating enough for the artist. The way Wanda made everyone’s faces on drawings shows she liked them in spite of being teased by them.

Question 12: Why do you think Wanda’s family moved to a different city? Do you think life there was going to be different for their family?

Answer: Wanda’s family had had enough of differential treatment from the people of that city. Hence, they decided to move to a different and bigger city. The statement, “Plenty of funny names in the big city” indicates towards certain characters of big cities. Most of the big cities are cosmopolitan in composition. People in such circumstances are usually attuned to seeing people from all regions and races. They usually have a better sense of cross cultural sensibilities which normally is absent in people in small cities. It can be hoped that life would be better in the new environment.

Question 13: Maddie thought her silence was as bad as Peggy’s teasing. Was she right?

Answer: It is often said that turning a blind eye to a crime is worse than committing a crime. By being a mute spectator of Peggy’s crime, Maddie was indirectly encouraging the crime. Hence, she was right in thinking that her silence was as bad as Peggy’s teasing.

Question 14: Peggy says, “I never thought she had the sense to know we were making fun of her anyway. I thought she was too dumb. And gee, look how she can draw!” What led Peggy to believe that Wanda was dumb? Did she change her opinion later?

Answer: Wanda’s unusual behavior led Peggy to believe that Wanda was dumb. Wanda never reacted to all the pranks and misbehavior which she had to suffer every day. She was quite stoic while suffering all that. Her expressionless face may have led Peggy to think that Wanda did not understand anything. After the drawing contest, Peggy appears to be in a denial mode. But after seeing her own face in one of Wanda’s drawings; she appears to have change her perception about Wanda.

Question 15: What important decision did Maddie make? Why did she have to think hard to do so?

Answer: Maddie realized that see was coward and it was not good to be a coward. Earlier, she was torn between her loyalty to Peggy and her sense of right and wrong. But after the Petronsky’s decision to leave the town, she mustered the courage to fight for justice instead of suffering the ignominy of being a mute spectator of racial discrimination.

Question 16: Why do you think Wanda gave Maddie and Peggy the drawings of the dresses? Why are they surprised?

Answer: It can be assumed that Wanda may have developed some inclination towards Maddie and Peggy. While suffering the humiliation of the dresses game; she must have closely observed these two girls. She may have planned to give a parting gift to these two girls to teach them an important lesson of life, i.e. of respect for individuals.

Question 17: Do you think Wanda really thought the girls were teasing her? Why or Why not?

Answer: Wanda appears to be smart enough to understand what was going on around her. But she was mentally conditioned to withstand such incidents, because she must had had been through pains which are associated with migration.




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