Monday, October 08, 2018

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses. Eleanor Estes. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. 1944/2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Today, Monday, Wanda Petronski was not in her seat. But nobody, not even Peggy and Madeline, the girls who started all the fun, noticed her absence. Usually Wanda sat in the next to the last seat in the last row in Room 13. She sat in the corner of the room where the rough boys who did not make good marks on their report cards sat; the corner of the room where there was more scuffling of feet, most roars of laughter when anything funny was said, and most mud and dirt on the floor.

Premise/plot: The heroine of Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses is a young girl named Maddie. The book chronicles her awakening of conscience. Peggy and Maddie began "having fun" with Wanda Petronski several months before this chapter book opens. Fun. That's how Peggy sees it. And perhaps that's how Maddie viewed it the first few times. But lately Maddie has been thinking the "fun" they're having is wrong--is in fact unkind. But if she spoke up to Peggy, would Peggy listen to her and stop? Or would Peggy turn her back on her? Would Maddie lose her best friend?

"The fun" started when Wanda said she had a hundred dresses in her closet. Wanda--the girl who has worn the same dress every single day of the school year. Wanda--the girl with the funny last name. Wanda--the girl who lives on the wrong side of town. How could that Wanda really, truly have hundred dresses in her closet. She has to be lying, right?! If she's going to tell such a bold lie as that, is teasing her all that wrong?

Maddie comes to think it is. But her change of heart may be too late. Will Wanda ever know that Maddie is sorry for the way she's behaved?

My thoughts: I first read this one a few years ago. I think I love it even more now upon second reading. The book has a gentleness to it, but don't underestimate the power of meekness. This book has a message for young readers.

Wanda. By the time the book opens, Wanda has essentially already left school. We see her through Maddie's eyes--in a flashback of sorts. We see her through her artwork. We see her through her letter to the teacher. The impression I get of Wanda is that she's incredible, a girl worth knowing and befriending. For it seems that despite the teasing, she is willing to forgive. She's not angry. She's not bitter. She's not hateful. She's kind. Turning the other cheek, kind. The embodiment of the golden rule: "do unto others."

Maddie. This is a coming-of-age for Maddie. It is her character growth the book chronicles. Maddie was not "the instigator" of the bullying. She was a follower--a somewhat reluctant participant. But by the end of the book Maddie realizes that even observing "the fun" and standing by and doing nothing--saying nothing--is a wrongful act. Maddie realizes her own cowardice, her own weakness. She makes a resolution to change, to be a better person, to make amends, to never follow the crowd again, to always do what is right no matter what.

Peggy. This is the girl we know the least about. We know that she is one who first started teasing Wanda. But we don't know her heart--just her actions. Did she know it was wrong? Did she stop "the fun" only because Wanda moved away, or did she too experience a change of heart? I get the impression that she feels guilty, but not the impression that she's genuinely repentant and wanting to make amends. If Maddie wasn't so eager to make amends, would Peggy's guilty feeling last all that long? We just don't know. We can guess. But we can't know.

Have you read the Hundred Dresses? What did you think of it?!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Constance M 6:28 PM  

I always enjoyed this author but The Hundred Dresses was not a favorite when I was a child; it seemed like nothing really happened. I like your perspective.

There is a chapter in Rufus M about his first library card that made a huge impression on me. I was somehow about to cite it in a graduate school economics paper which made me feel I was improving the entire field of a very dull subject.

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