The Hundred Dresses – II
Wanda’s father had written a note to the school Principal that she sent to Miss. Mason with instruction to read it out to the class. The students were busy in sum fun activity at that time. Miss Mason asked everyone to resume their seats.
The students became strangely silent trying to figure out what could be there in the letter.
In the letter, Jan Petronski had mentioned that the family is moving to a big city. So, Wanda, and the little Jake wouldn’t be coming to school any more. In the letter he had made little effort to hide his extreme disgust at the way students in Wanda’s class had mocked her for his modest background and Polish name.
A lull descended on the class after Miss Mason finished reading the letter. She had clearly been overwhelmed by the letter. It took a while for her regain her composure.
She said that it was unbecoming for everyone in the class to behave in such hurtful way with a fellow student. Making fun of anyone for their name or origin was a thoughtless action. She asked everyone to reflect on what had happened.
When the lessons started, Madeline found it hard to concentrate on her studies. A sense of guilt had gripped her. She felt a bit ashamed thinking that she had never actively asked Peggy to desist from running down the hapless Wanda. She had acquiesced at Peggy’s tasteless taunts of Wanda. Peggy turned on Wanda because she felt there was nothing wrong with it. But, she clearly knew what Peggy was doing to Wanda was immoral and mean. She never protested despite being conscious of the unsavoury jeering of the poor Wanda.
Madeline was filled with remorse. She wanted to make amends for her behavior by speaking to Wanda to clear the air. She looked for a moment at Peggy. Peggy was doing her lessons mindfully. She was restless. She wanted to rush to Boggins Heights with Peggy to see Wanda, and break the news that she had won the contest, and they genuinely regretted their past behavior with her.
Oral comprehension check …
- What did Mr. Petronsky’s letter say.. Mr. Petronsky informed that his two children, Wanda, and Jack, wouldn’t be attending school any more as they were moving to a big city, where they could get some respite from the taunts and chiding from friends. Their Polish names wouldn’t invite any derision there.
- Is Miss Mason angry …….. Miss Mason is unhappy and upset at the sad turn of events. She urges her students to reflect on the situation and do some soul-searching.
- How does Madeline feel on … Madeline feels very guilty and shaken. She feels she could have urged her friend Peggy to stop her mocking of Wanda. Her not doing anything made her feel complicit in the shameful behavior.
- What does Madeline want to do … Madeline wants to rush to the Boggins Heights and inform Wanda that she had stood first in the contest, and atone for their bad behavior towards her through soft words.
When the school got over, Peggy very casually mooted the idea of going to meet Wanda.
Madeline was elated to see that Peggy too had thought of going to meet Wanda.
The duo headed to meet Wanda braving the drizzle and the damp road. On the way, Peggy self-righteously said that Wanda had needlessly over-reacted to her harmless taunts, and taken such a drastic decision.
Madeline didn’t react. She only wanted to see Wanda and sincerely apologize for their past conduct, and urge her to stay back in school. Peggy and she would shield her against any unpleasant asides from anyone.
They finally spot Wanda’s house. It was very modest, bearing the marks of poverty all over it. It was clean though. The house had no inhabitant. The Petronskys had moved to their new place.
The two friends wondered what they could do then. Peggy had still not got rid of her arrogance. She said her constant nagging of Wanda about her dresses perhaps seeded new creative design ideas in her victim’s head, and this helped her to win the prize.
Back home, Madeline thought about Peggy’s suggestions, and wanted to see if this was even remotely possible. Madeline found it hard to get the thoughts out of her mind. Wanda, her faded blue dress, and her modest house kept appearing in her consciousness. She spent a sleepless night.
Madeline made a conscientious decision. She decided not to be a silent spectator when any of her friends gets taunted for her looks or name or any such thing. Such a proactive stance could help her to forget the injustice to Wanda.
Oral comprehension check…
- What excuses does Peggy think…… Undoubtedly, Peggy is a smug girl. Despite causing so much hurt to Wanda through her snobbery, she doesn’t really feel genuinely repentant. Instead, she assumes that her teasing Wanda had helped the latter to think up fascinating designs for the dress contest. It is a cynical approach that is far from being appropriate.
- What are Maddie’s thoughts …. Madeline was truly disturbed at the way Wanda left the school. She was keen to make amends for her past attitude towards her by sincerely apologizing for her behavior. She was keen to tell her that the first prize for the contest had gone to her.
- Why does Wanda’s house ….. Wanda’s house looked so lackluster and modest. It showed that its occupants were people of modest means. This explained why Wanda came with faded dress to school.
- Why does Maddie ……….. Maddie was filled with remorse at the way Wanda left the school as a result of Peggy and she teasing her for her name and poor dress. She felt all the more guilty because she never dissuaded Peggy from turning on Wanda. Reflecting on all these, she decided to actively resist any bullying of innocent children by anybody at school.
On Saturday, Peggy and Madeline were together. They sat down to write a courtesy letter to Wanda telling her about her winning the first prize in the dress contest. They praised her drawings. They asked Wanda if she liked her new school and teachers. They had initially planned to write a letter expressing their regret, but the lines didn’t come. It ended as just a routine letter. Since they didn’t know Wanda’s new address, they mailed it to Boggin’s Heights instructing the recipient to forward it to the new address.
Days went by. There was no reply from Wanda. She had surely received the letter as it hadn’t been returned. Peggy and Madeline assumed that Wanda was too upset at them to reply to their letter.
A long time passed. Still, no letter from Wanda came. Peggy stopped thinking of it altogether, but for Madeline the sense of guilt had run too deep to heal. She thought of Wanda on going to bed, starting a monologue about her goodness and grace. She would recount the scenes of Peggy teasing Wanda, and she angrily asking Peggy to stop.
Christmas arrived and snow began to fall. The classroom was decorated in the usual manner. The teacher came to read out a letter that she had just received.
The teacher reminded the students about Wanda, and solemnly began to read out her letter. She said she could send her the prize she had won, because her address was available from her letter.
The tone and tenor of Wanda’s letter caught everyone by surprise. She had asked Miss Mason to give the drawing of the green dress with red trimming to Peggy, and the sketch of the blue dress to Madeline. She mentioned that she didn’t need the dresses anymore, because the new house had a good pile of nice dresses. She lovingly remembered Miss Mason. The letter ended in a cordial note.
Peggy and Madeline returned from school together, as usual. They were holding the two sketches Wanda had gifted to them. The streets were awash with all sorts of Christmas paraphernalia.
Peggy began talking about Wanda’s letter. She felt Wanda had forgotten all that she had to put up with, and was in good cheer. She had received their letter, she concluded.
Madeline was circumspect and a bit sad. She knew she couldn’t see Wanda again, and that made her pensive.
Back at home, Madeline pinned Wanda’s sketch on the wall, and sat down in a thoughtful mood. Her room looked cheerful, but the guilt of not stopping Wanda’s harassment singed her incessantly. Wanda had gifted her a nice sketch, and this gladdened her. But, the thought of Wanda returned to her like a tide again and again. Her eyes welled up as emotions overwhelmed her.
She had not looked at the face of the girl in the sketch, because all along she had focused on the colour and the frills. Now, she could clearly see that the face resembled hers. Now, she was convinced that Wanda had drawn it for her exclusively. It came as a revelation to her. She ran to Peggy, and asked to see her sketch.
The two discovered that the sketch for Peggy had her face too. Peggy remarked that Wanda had obviously liked them. Madeline struggled to fight back her tears, as the memory of Wanda standing alone in the school ground among the many girls reappeared in her mind again and again.
Oral comprehension check ..
- What did the girls … Peggy and Madeline wrote a courtesy letter to Wanda. They told her that she had won the first prize in the dress sketching contest. They also made some routine inquiries about her new school.
- Did they get a reply? ….. No, they didn’t get a reply. Madeline was more anxious to get the reply.
- How did the girls …. Wanda, despite the taunts flung at her, had dedicated the two good sketches to Peggy and Madeline with their faces on it.
Thinking about the text ..
- Why do you think …… Wanda found it unbearable to accept the taunts and mocking by Peggy and Madeline. She was being targeted for her humble means and Polish name. The ordeal showed no sign of stopping. To escape such insults, the family moved to a distant city.
- Maddie thought .. Yes, Maddie was right in accepting her guilt to be as bad as that of Peggy. She had acquiesced at Peggy’s picking on Wanda. She felt she should have stepped in to stop the taunting. That was a serious mistake on her part.
- Peggy says, “I never thought ……. Peggy was a smug girl. She derived pleasure by turning on Wanda for no fault of the latter. It was stupid on her part to assume that the benumbed Wanda couldn’t realize that the taunts were innocent humour.
- What important decision .. Burdened with guilt, Madeline decided that she would actively step in to stop bullying of anyone by anyone else.
- Why do you think … Wanda was a girl with a golden soul. She knew the best way to counter animosity is through love. She demonstrated it by gifting the two sketches to her two tormentors, Peggy and Madeline.
- Do you think Wanda really thought …. Wanda was a girl from a modest background. Her Polish origin gave her a Polish name. Peggy and Madeline made fun of her for her faded dress and her unusual name. She couldn’t fight back such bullying. Obviously, Wanda felt she was being teased and it was in bad taste.