Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker (2000)

Rosalie Ham’s novel The Dressmaker (2000) is a commercial novel intended to entertain.  Written by a woman primarily for women, it celebrates female glamour, style, fashion and the power of the make-over, while also drawing attention to the small-mindedness of small-town communities, the injustice of bullying, and the satisfaction of revenge. 

Set in the early 1950s in rural Victoria, the novel characterises a small-town community to draw attention to the way these communities can turn on those individuals who are a little different to the mainstream. The novel highlights the community’s narrow-mindedness, pettiness, vindictiveness, snobbery, gossipy nature and hypocrisy.  While doing this, the novel argues for the tolerance and acceptance of those who are a little different, colourful and individualistic.  While presenting a portrait of life in small-town Australia in the early 1950s that notes the centrality of football and beer in this culture, the novel contrasts this with a positive representation of the cosmopolitanism and bohemianism of the novel’s main character and heroine, Tilly, the travelled, stylish and sophisticated dressmaker who returns to the town of her birth after a long absence in order to care for her ailing mother. 

The novel is feminist in the way it celebrates a strong but vulnerable woman, Tilly, who was unjustly treated but who finds her strength and faces adversity to triumph in the end. It is also feminist in the way it laments that in the early 1950s domestic violence and the abuse of women was tolerated much more then than compared to the time when the author wrote.  The novel is also very feminine in its celebration of what many women like and value, such as glamourous fashion, the sexual power that comes from the make-over, and the delights of a romance with a handsome man who appreciates the heroine of the novel for the woman she truly is and who stands by her and protects her against her many adversaries. 

The novel also has additional messages about toleration and acceptance by presenting a positive representation of a cross-dresser with gay tastes, and by showing compassion for those with mental illness or those who are mentally and physically challenged, as well as by showing appreciation for carers regarding what they endure to do the right thing by their afflicted relatives.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Dressmaker meaning, The Dressmaker themes, The Dressmaker analysis, The Dressmaker notes