February 24, 2014
You’re Ugly, Too
Lorrie Moore’s “You’re Ugly, Too”, examines the inner thoughts and day-to-day life of a single history professor, Zoë Hendricks. Zoë is characterized as being eccentric and wildly different from those around her, and in turn, socially inept. Through her train of thought, we are able to see that Zoë is preoccupied with her own shortcomings, both in her appearance and in her social relationships. Moore’s choice to set her story in the conventional and homogenous American Midwest serves to show the stark contrast between Zoë and those around her. This contrast leads to Zoë’s alienation, which is only exacerbated by her relationships with men. In all of Zoë’s experiences with men she is put down and is made to feel inferior about her appearance and personality. Through Zoë’s memories and thoughts we are shown the effect that these experiences have had on her psyche. Through the reactions of her students and her failed relationships with men, we see Zoë is so constantly criticized about her actions and appearance that it makes her untrusting and unable to communicate with others. By showing us Zoë’s thoughts and stream of consciousness, Moore shows us the extent to which society’s critiques and expectations of us can bring us down. Zoë teaches in a private liberal arts college in the Midwest. This location serves to emphasize Zoë’s eccentricities. The Midwest is known for its lack of diversity, conformity and conservative values. This homogenous area is so drastically different from Zoë’s features and personality that she is constantly at odds with it. “Everyone was so blonde there that brunette’s were often presumed to be from foreign countries”(Moore, 69). People who look different are viewed as foreign and judged. Everyone was expected to look the same and conform to the area’s standards. Apart from just her appearance Zoë stands out from the general population in her temperament and personality. In the Midwest, people are expected not to question anything and not complain. Zoë is characterized as being outspoken, opinionated, and sarcastic. Her students are so unused to hearing a dissenting voice that they are shocked by her teaching. In her student evaluations she is denigrated in their comments about her. “‘Professor Hendricks has said critical things about Fawn Hall, the Catholic religion, and the whole state of Illinois. It is unbelievable.’” (71). The students are disturbed by Zoë’s criticisms because they have been taught to blindly accept what they have been told. Their comments also criticize her eccentric personality and they often write her off and disrespect her. Throughout the story these comments appear in Zoë’s train of thought, showing how personally she takes them and how affected she is by their criticisms. Among all the criticisms that Zoë endures, the one that shows her vulnerability and inferiority most is her appearance. She is judged for her appearance regularly. “She was almost pretty, but her face showed the strain and ambition of always having been close but not quite.”(68). Throughout her life she has been made to feel that she would never be good enough, no matter how hard she tried. She tries to fix her looks with makeup and accessories, but it only ends up making her features worse. Zoë’s preoccupations with her appearance surface whenever she is feeling most insecure. This insecurity is represented by the hair that she finds on her chin. Whenever Earl asks her a question about something she is embarrassed or sensitive about, she becomes aware of the hair. She becomes obsessed with removing the hair, even to the point where she hurts herself. “She stabbed again at her chin, and it started to bleed a little. She pulled the skin tight along the jawbone, gripped the tweezers hard around what she hoped was the hair and tugged. A tiny square of skin came away with it, but the hair remained, blood bright at...
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