The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Seat at the back of the class (Symbol)

Although Wanda is quiet and shy, her desk is relegated to the back corner of the classroom, where the boisterous, low-scoring students sit. Wanda's seat symbolizes her social isolation and how the teacher neglects her, since she pays less attention to what is happening in the back of the room.

Dresses (Symbols)

The dresses that the girls in Room 13 wear symbolize their position within the school's social hierarchy. The reader assumes that Cecile, who other girls admire, is rich, since she wears fine clothing made of expensive and delicate fabrics. Conversely, Wanda showcases her poverty by wearing the same old blue dress every day. Maddie is also poor, but she can conceal her poverty because her mother mends and alters the hand-me-down dresses she receives from Peggy.

Bright Colors (Symbol)

Bright colors recur throughout The Hundred Dresses. Starting with the bright blue day in October when the hundred dresses game begins, Maddie associates the bright colors of the girls' dresses with happiness and conviviality. Later, Wanda's dress drawings are full of splashes of bright colors, and the same palette is reflected in the Christmas decorations Maddie and Peggy walk past at the end of the book. Ultimately, the bright colors in Wanda's drawing were so distracting to Maddie that she didn't see that Wanda had drawn her and Peggy. In this way, bright colors symbolize the way outward signifiers of beauty distracted Maddie from the underlying truth.

Gettysburg Address (Symbol)

Miss Mason makes her class recite the Gettysburg Address every morning. The historic speech is significant to The Hundred Dresses because it symbolizes the American ideals of equality and freedom. In contrast to these ideals, Wanda's immigrant family encounters prejudice in their pursuit of a regular American life.

Class Signifiers (Motif)

In subtle ways, class signifiers arise throughout the narrative to tacitly demonstrate the characters' differing social class positions. Wanda's family is of a lower social class than most students at the elementary school; this difference is conveyed in the old blue dress she wears every day, in the fact that her brother works at the school, in her father's undeveloped English skills, and in the fact that she lives in Boggins Heights. Maddie wears Peggy's hand-me-down dresses and has a tear in her wallpaper, which signals to the reader that Peggy's family is of a higher economic standing than Maddie's.