The Hundred Dresses
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.
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.