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Literature / The Hundred Dresses

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The Hundred Dresses is a 1944 children's book by Eleanor Estes. It was a 1945 Newberry Honor.

Wanda is the poorest girl in her classroom, the only Polish one, and the most badly-dressed. When she says that she has a hundred dresses at home, the other kids at school start teasing her about it. But when the kids go too far, they may not be able to fix their mistake or apologize.

Tropes for this book include:

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  • Accomplice by Inaction: Maddie lambasts herself when recounting that she never stood up for Wanda and let her be bullied. She tries to deal with the guilt by imagining what she would do now.
  • Adults Are Useless: The school teacher didn't know that Wanda was getting bullied. She seems to implicitly promise that this will change by the end of the book when she reads out the letter that Wanda's father sent.
  • The Atoner: Maddie and Peggy are horrified that they bullied Wanda out of school. At first, they try to go to her house, only to find that Wanda and her father moved out and Wanda left behind all of her drawings. They despair about it, and Maddie thinks that she must feel guilty forever. When they decide to send a letter to Wanda, albeit by not knowing her address and hoping the post office does, Peggy says that she would understand if Wanda didn't want to speak to them again.
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  • I Take Offense to That Last One!: A muted example; after Wanda's father sends a letter to the class saying he's tired of his daughter getting called "Polack," Peggy meekly says that she never called Wanda that. Neither she nor Maddie buys that excuse.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The girls only receive Wanda's letter, new drawings, and forgiveness when they send a letter of apology along with the notice that she won the contest.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The entire class reacts this way when their teacher reads the letter from Wanda's father, explaining that he's pulling her out due to Wanda being called names for being Polish. Maddie becomes instantly ashamed, and she and Peggy can't concentrate on their studies.
  • Papa Wolf: Wanda's father found out that she was being bullied and decided to move the entire family. He also sends a letter of complaint to the teacher.
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  • The Punishment Is the Crime: For Maddie and Peggy, the fact that Wanda's moved away and knowing it's their fault is enough to shame them into being nicer. While their teacher could easily punish the whole class, she lets them wallow in guilt instead.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: In the end, Wanda is gone, and the girls know they have to live with their guilt. Their teacher will also be watching them. Maddie vows to never let someone get bullied again, and Peggy becomes nicer. Wanda is happier in the big city, but she forgives the girls when they send her a letter of apology and that she won the drawing contest.
  • Real After All: It turns out that Wanda's dresses were real; they were a hundred drawings that she submitted to the contest. She makes new ones and sends them to Peggy and Maddie to show she has forgiven them.
  • Tranquil Fury: The schoolteacher engages in this when she reads a letter from Wanda's father, finding out that her students bullied Wanda out of school. She never raises their voice, but she does shame them.
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Subverted. Peggy tries to take solace in the fact that while mocking Wanda for her dresses that she never called her "Polack," the way her father accused the class. She and Maddie don't buy it and live with their guilt for a while.

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