The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham | Close Analysis Examples

Not going to lie – I do miss teaching Year of Wonders a little. VCAA replaced this with The Dressmaker, which, in my opinion, is a bit more chaotic than the other text. The number of characters in the book confuses a lot of people and the language is just a bit..uh, hard to read, especially for EAL students. I do however find that the opportunity to intertextual connections actually makes The Dressmaker somewhat less confusing – you can go through key ideas in The Dressmaker and think about how it supports the ideas discussed in The Crucible, e.g. mob mentality, witchcraft, social classes.

In this blog, I will do a close analysis of some of the most important quotes that I found when I was going through the book to prepare for my tutoring classes! I will also draw some comparisons between that quote and The Crucible, just to give you guys an idea of how it works and why it is important to be able to do a close reading of the given text.

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When Tilly “wore a beret and an unusually cut overcoat,” Sergeant Farrat complimented her for wearing such a “pretty hat” and for having a “very smart” choice of outfits (pg 6). When Mona wears a beret, on the other hand,” the beret is said to “[sit] on top of her head like a dead cat.” (pg 14)

  • Device: Juxtaposition – Tilly vs Mona, simile “like a dead cat”
  • Significance of the quotes?
    • Ham employs Tilly’s haute couture style to distinguish her from other people in Dungatar
    • They both wear a beret but Tilly’s beret, which is referred to as “very smart” and “pretty”, stands in stark contrast with Mona’s ”tweed beret [which sits] on top of her head like a dead cat”
    • Possibly reflects their personality? I suppose it may show that Mona is ironically “unrefined” despite the glamourous outfits that she wears
    • This characterises Tilly as gracious, a woman of substance + while the simile above depicts Mona’s ironically “unrefined” character and passiveness – a character that lacks substance and arguably doesn’t really have her own opinion e.g stuttering “mother sa-ays” repeatedly.

I don’t know about you but this sorta gives me that Mary Warren vibe – always “uncertain of herself.”

SmartArts by Lindsey Dang |

Analysis 2:

Molly’s house “dank and smelled like possum piss” pg 8 – Tilly “felt along the dirty wall for the light switch and turned it on”; “dull lamp glowed in the corner”; “cleaned … lit a fire”, “threw open all the doors and windows” (pg 10)

  • Device: Simile “smelled like possum piss”; light/ dark motif
  • Significance of quote:

  • The Crucible also contains a lot of references to the light, doors and windows so this would be a useful quote to refer to.
    • Similarity: Light in both texts symbolise a sense of hope – a hope for change. Doors and windows in The Crucible often represent the lack of freedom in Salem but in Dungatar we can see a different sense of restriction – windows and doors are the guards/ protection people have against the rest of the community (e.g. Sergeant Farrat is only free to cross-dress inside his house, Molly is isolated from the rest of the town which allows her to avoid vicious rumours and the mistreatment of others). However, it is these barriers that allow people to spread rumours about others – I suppose it is easier to deceive others and victimise those who are outcasts. They are most likely to be misunderstood.
    • Differences: The outcome – were any changes made? I would say given that Salem turned into an anarchy and the court lost all its power towards the end of The Crucible, Proctor’s confession did change things around. In the Dressmaker, there aren’t many real changes and given the ending, I would say that Tilly did not really get what she hoped for.

Analysis 3:

“crowd of invisible” people that Molly talks to (pg 9)

  • Literal portrayal of her loneliness/ symbolises her desperation of a sense of belonging and human connection
  • Her “madness” is a direct result of the town’s ostracisation and mistreatment of her
  • Think about The Crucible – what does this remind you of? Does Molly’s madness remind you of Betty’s sickness? Her sickness manifests from her fear of being whipped for dancing. It is her defence mechanism and enables her to escape from her harsh punishment.

Analysis 4:

“the houses of Dungatar were dissected by a thin gravel road that ran to the football oval” (pg 12) “the green eye of the oval looked back at Tilly”

Ham explores the physical setting of the fictitious town Dungatar in great details – probably deliberate. This quote says a lot about the people of Dungatar without making any direct references to community itself. Also pay close attention to the setting of The Hill!

(HINT: compare it with the description of Proctor’s house and where Sarah Good lives)

Analysis 5:

Sergeant Farrat “outfits didn’t necessarily compliment his physique but they were unique” – only “enjoy their full effect during his annual leave, but in Dungatar he wore them only inside the house” ; Farrat’s “his shiny police car” pg 5

Haute couture costuming pops up again! What does it say about Sergeant Farrat? This is a very important concept in The Dressmaker – duh, the name. It often tells us who the characters are. For instance:

  • Elsbeth Beaumont’s “dead fox” and “tiny diamond” – superficial + probably fake wealth
  • Mona Beaumont’s beret – “unrefined” not so sophisticated
  • Tilly’s dresses – smart and different

Sample Paragraph

After doing a close analysis of the quotes, the last step is to transform into full sentences instead of leaving them there as messy dot points. Here is the analysis that I wrote during class for my student the other day – it is not perfect or polished but it may give you a better idea on how to study for your comparative SAC.

If you are still struggling with The Dressmaker, do not stress too much! I am sure there are many many students who are on the same boat with you. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email! The images in this blog are all from the powerpoints from my tutoring classes – if you wish to have access to them, let me know as well.

Read about symbolism in ‘The Crucible’

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