The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Even though old man Svenson is a minor character, he appears in the narrative several times. What is Svenson's significance?

    Old man Svenson first appears in the book when the narrator comments on how the townspeople fear Boggins Heights. Svenson exists in the narrative as a mysterious figure, as he lives alone in a house that children are afraid to pass. When he appears on the road as Maddie and Peggy are walking back from Wanda's, the girls run away after they can't understand what he says. The point of view stays with Svenson for a moment, to show how he is confused by the girls' terror. By this point in the story, it is clear that old man Svenson poses no threat. Because he is poor, socially isolated, and likely can't speak English intelligibly, people project their fears onto him. Svenson is an analog for Wanda, who is similarly misunderstood and consequently mistreated.

  2. 2

    Why is it ironic that Wanda draws Peggy and Maddie? What type of literary irony does the incident exemplify?

    Maddie's guilt over how she treated Wanda is so great that the reader assumes Wanda must have disliked Peggy and Maddie for their cruelty. However, the narrator reveals at the end of the book that Wanda had drawn portraits of Peggy and Maddie. This incongruity between what Maddie and the reader anticipated and what actually happened is an example of situational irony that subverts the expectations established by the narrative. This irony is significant because it casts a new light on Wanda: rather than being content in her social rejection, Wanda had always admired Maddie and Peggy.

  3. 3

    What role does the concept of remorse play in The Hundred Dresses?

    Remorse is the book's most prominent theme. The extreme guilt Maddie experiences for not having protected Wanda from taunts drives the narrative, as Maddie endeavors to reconcile with Wanda to assuage her remorse. Remorse keeps Maddie up at night, and leads her to vow never to stand by while another person is bullied. By the end of the book, Maddie has not lost her remorse; the revelation that Wanda admired her and Peggy will likely compound Wanda's guilt.

  4. 4

    The narration begins from an objective point of view but later switches to Maddie's point of view. Explain why the author might have made this choice.

    By starting the book from a point of view that is detached from any one character's perspective, the narrator is able to inform the reader that Wanda is missing from school while leaving the rest of the classroom oblivious. This choice establishes tension through dramatic irony, as the reader knows something the characters do not. The author later switches into Maddie's perspective to convey Maddie's emotional turmoil and her limited understanding of what happened to Wanda.

  5. 5

    Why is it significant that Wanda's desk is at the back of the class?

    Wanda's seat at the back of the classroom symbolizes her social isolation. In Room 13, it is assumed that the brightest students sit closest to the front, while the loud and low-scoring students sit in the back, where they receive less attention from the teacher. The narrator comments that it is unknown why Wanda sits at the back, though it could be because she comes to school with mud on her shoes, and her teacher would like to keep the mud relegated to one corner. If this is true, then Wanda is being unfairly punished for having to walk all the way from the poor neighborhood of Boggins Heights. By making this connection, the reader can deduce that Wanda's poverty outside of school leads her to have a worse education, as she must sit in an area of the room where she'll receive less attention from the teacher.