The meaning of The Hundred Dresses is simple and timeless: All people have human obligations to one another, and sidestepping these obligations is both unethical and immoral. Such inaction may have serious consequences. In the psychologically sophisticated narrative of The Hundred Dresses, Estes also acknowledges the difficulty inherent in making oneself conspicuous by acting to stop an injustice. No person wants to risk becoming the object of ridicule by standing up for another person. Like Madeline, one can find excuses for why a victimized person deserves that ill-treatment and is hence unworthy of rescue. Yet, as Madeline realizes, those excuses are just that—excuses. They are not reasons; indeed, there can be no reasons for complacency when others are being harmed. Excuses do not absolve one of complicity in the misery of another person or group. While it can be difficult or painful to stand up for the outcast, it is necessary to do so.
Estes’ message of human obligation and interconnectedness should be clear to most readers. By making the consequences of Peggy’s and Madeline’s behavior evident early in the novel and then showing the evolution of Wanda’s estrangement through flashbacks, Estes avoids the charge of preaching. Readers will, like Peggy and Madeline, wonder why Wanda has stopped attending school. The narrative takes the reader through Madeline’s reconstruction of past events to speculate about why Wanda is...
(The entire section is 484 words.)