From Kissing to Cutting: The Degradation and Rediscovery of Touch in Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” Trilogy

Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series presents a society that regulates touch not through laws and mandates that can easily be broken, but through actually rewiring the brain chemistry of its citizens so that they will not desire touch with the wrong people. The protagonist, Tally, goes through two such transformations in the series: from Ugly to Pretty, and from Pretty to Special. Following one character through these transformations provides an effective case study into the effects the operations have on a person’s relationship to touch. Tally starts off Ugly and in love with an Ugly boy and ends up Special and unable to physically express her love for anyone. As Tally’s anatomy and brain chemistry are altered, her ability to relate to other people through touch deteriorates, leading her to a ritualized practice of self-injury. By the third novel, Specials, the once romantically-capable and affectionate Tally can only even remember her desire to touch when she is harming herself. When Tally is an Ugly in the first novel, she has never had a mind-altering operation. Her entire body is natural, and the only obstacles to her expression of intimacy are socially programmed. When she first meets David, the rebellious Ugly from New Smoke, she is completely floored by his admission that he finds her beautiful. Before they share their first kiss, they debate at length about whether or not someone with an imperfect, unaltered face can be beautiful. To David, who was raised in a rebel camp that frowns on plastic surgery, Tally is tragically hard on herself. David tells her, “Whatever those brain lesions are all about, the worst damage is done before they even pick up the knife: You’re all brainwashed into believing you’re ugly” (Uglies 276). For Tally, “ugly” is not exclusively a description of her physical appearance. To her, her natural face and body are signs of immaturity. She does not feel like her ugly body represents her true self and feels that she will be more mature and more genuine once she has the operation. She is very surprised when she kisses David and feels genuine romantic feelings for him. As she processes her confusing feelings, she recalls the relationships she used to see between her friends in the Ugly dorms. She remembers that “Uglies did kiss each other… but it always felt as if nothing counted until you were a pretty” (Uglies 280). David is Tally’s first boyfriend and so all of her experiences with kissing and touch up to that point were second-hand. Based on social programming, she never imagined that a kiss with another Ugly could feel significant or matter. In her understanding, most Ugly kisses don’t count. Remembering her kiss with David, she thinks, “this counted” (Uglies 280). The idea that a person’s “true self” requires a makeover to reach is not exclusive to Tally’s world. In an article called “Makeover as Takeover: Scenes of Affective Domination on Makeover TV,” Brenda R. Weber discusses the messages that derive from makeover-centric reality TV shows. In many instances, the shows stress that an unattractive, frumpy physical appearance creates a disconnect between a person’s true inner beauty and the way a person looks:[T]he reason one needs/deserves a makeover is some ‘unnatural’ separation between outside and inside, between internal subjectivity and external signification of selfhood. Friends function here as the mirror reflecting mismatched ontologies. In this regard, it is the friend’s responsibility and obligation to direct the woman whose appearance is ‘not as good as herself’ to makeup and makeovers, since these are tools offering a necessary rectification, devices that can alter outsides so that they more fully signify beautiful insides (Weber 78).Though Tally’s circumstances are a bit more extreme than those in a reality TV show, Tally originally has no problem with the pretty operation and is tasked with “rescuing” runaway Shay so that she can be brought back to the city and essentially forced into the “necessary” operation. Tally’s search for Shay leads her to the Smoke where David lives. Like the friend in the makeover show who has to drag the “fashion victim” to the cure that is reality TV, Tally has to rescue Shay from being misled and avoiding the operation. Tally, like the people in makeover shows, believes that a person’s “true” self is a “pretty” self. Defending her interest in the pretty operation, Tally says, “Maybe just being ugly is why Uglies always fight and pick on one another, because they aren’t happy with who they are. Well, I want to be happy, and looking like a real person is the first step” (Uglies 84). Shay and Tally disagree about the operation because they disagree about what makes them human. To Tally, being pretty means being real. To Shay, keeping the face she was born with makes her more authentic. Shay tells Tally, “I’m not afraid of looking the way I do” (Uglies 84). At this point in the novel, Shay has met Ugly couples outside of their unnamed city and believes that relationships between Uglies can be real. To Tally, being pretty is the only way to live a normal life or find happiness. It is an act of touch that changes Tally’s mind. Hearing David call her beautiful and recognizing her own budding attraction to David fascinates and overwhelms Tally to the point that she is willing to let her guard down. When she kisses David and realizes that the kiss means something, she also realizes that she loves David in his current body with his current face. When she touches him, she stops noticing his imperfections and starts perceiving him as a source of support and comfort. When they embrace before kissing, she finds “his body was warm in the predawn cold, and formed something solid and certain in Tally’s shaken reality” (Uglies 279-280). Touch makes David feel permanent in Tally’s life. Most people she has been close to have become Pretties before her and forgotten her. The permanence created through the act of touch makes Tally feel safer than she has felt before. She decides to destroy the tracking device that Special Circumstances gave her so that she, Shay, and David will not have to return to the city and become Pretty. She moves toward the fire and “clutched the pendant, squeezing the unyielding metal until her muscles ached, as if forcing into her own mind the almost unthinkable fact that she might really remain ugly for life. But somehow not ugly at all” (Uglies 281). Kissing David changes Tally’s perception of what it means to be ugly. Prior to this moment, Tally refers to being pretty as looking “like a real person” (Uglies 84). Kissing and touching another Ugly forces Tally to change her ideas of what makes a person “real” and what makes a person exist. The idea that touch can provide a sense of identity and selfhood is not new, nor was it invented for Westerfeld’s post-apocalyptic world. In The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation, Daniel Heller-Roazen elucidates an ancient idea from Aristotle. He writes, “Whereas the Cartesian cogito ergo sum derives being from cognition, the Aristotelian formation links existence to sensation, in a chain more aptly described, for this reason, as ‘I sense, therefore I am,’ (sentio, ergo sum)” (Roazen 61). This construct definitely applies for Tally. She tries to think her way out of the socially scripted mindset, listening to David’s explanations for why the government is wrong and why she does not need surgery to be pretty. This discussion only leads to argument until they touch, and finally kiss. The moment of touching makes Tally feel real and makes her love for David feel real as well. This act of touch is also an act of liberation.Tally’s freedom proves short-lived when Special Circumstances finds the Smoke anyway. The Specials kill David’s father and turn Shay pretty against her will. Since she is one of the only people alive who knows about the pretty brain lesions, Tally chooses to become pretty and writes a letter to herself so she will remember to resist the government and take two pills that David’s mother gives her which are said to be capable of destroying the brain lesions. Since Shay never learned about the brain lesions, Tally is the only Ugly to ever become pretty fully aware that her brain will be tampered with. Even with this realization, Tally’s ugly memories blur significantly when she becomes pretty. Having forgotten David and her Ugly life, Tally enters a relationship with a boy named Zane. Kissing him sparks memories of her Ugly days and helps her to focus her mind. The first time Zane and Tally kiss, she remembers David for the first time since her Pretty operation. They start to kiss and “after a long moment, the two pulled a little apart, Tally’s eyes still closed. She felt his breath against her, his hand warm and soft on the back of her neck. ‘David,’ she whispered” (Pretties 58). At a glance, this seems to be a typical case of saying the wrong name during an intimate encounter. Tally sees it this way and is initially embarrassed about it. Rather than responding with jealousy or suspicion, Zane becomes very excited that Tally is remembering her life before she became Pretty. The two of them realize that the excitement that comes from kissing helps to remind them of their pre-Pretty existences. Once this discovery is made, their intimacy degrades a bit. Rather than kissing or touching to feel close to one another as a romantic couple, they start kissing to jog their memories. The first kiss Tally shares with Zane literally brings flashbacks of her Ugly life. Her memories “all seemed a million years ago, but she could see herself — her Ugly self — kissing David” (Uglies 60). Kissing becomes a powerful tool for Tally, literally able to restore memories that were blurred through programming. It should be noted, however, that unlike Tally’s kiss with David, which by itself changed Tally’s mind about society, Tally’s kisses with Zane are not “cures” by themselves. Her first kiss with Zane is more about recalling David than about sharing touch with Zane. Additionally, remembering that she used to love an Ugly boy does not liberate Tally, but instead makes her remarkably uncomfortable. She is torn between the feelings she remembers for him and the confusion over why he is no longer with her. Since Tally has forgotten why David allowed her to separate from him and become a Pretty, Tally starts using kisses not only to remember her Ugly existence, but also to hold onto Zane and establish his presence as permanent.Kisses give her reassurance that Zane is better for her than David, and that she is making the right decision in forgetting David. When she lived in the Smoke, she was told that she should take both of the experimental pills David’s family gave her to erase her brain lesions and then David would come back for her. When she decides that David isn’t coming back, she takes one of the pills and gives the other to Zane. To reassure herself that she made the right decision, Tally “grasped the back of [Zane’s] neck and kissed him” (Pretties 97). She reminds herself that “David hadn’t come to rescue her” and then concludes that David is “either dead or he must not care what happened to her. He was ugly, and Zane was beautiful and bubbly, and he was here” (Pretties 97). In this instance, touching Zane is not about experiencing touch or sharing intimacy, but about establishing Zane’s permanence. Tally’s life with David was chaotically taken away from her, and through grasping Zane and holding him close, she reminds herself that he is still here and will not have to leave her.The pills slowly start to affect Zane and Tally, but nearly every pretty who is aware of the brain lesions tries desperately to erase them. Before the pills come into the picture, Zane and Tally realize that touch is not enough to completely fight their mental programming. During romantic evenings together, they restore their mental clarity through kisses and touch and attempt to supplement those effects with self-abuse. Zane encourages Tally to take pills known as “calorie purgers,” which are usually meant to help people lose weight. Tally initially thinks that Zane is concerned with her size but soon learns that he has a different motivation. He tells her, “Hunger focuses your mind. Any kind of excitement works, actually… Like kissing someone new. That works really well” (Pretties 61). Strikingly, Zane tells his girlfriend that starving her body will help her to achieve the same ends as kissing. This moment shows that both of them have lost the ability to allow touch to stand on its own. It becomes a means to an end, similar to any adrenaline-increasing behavior. Tally spends most of the second book starving and begins to noticeably lose weight. The constant hunger gives her focus and kisses become a way to zero in on a task she and Zane want to complete together. On one occasion, Zane asks Tally how to climb down into an elevator shaft and, “Instead of answering, Tally kissed him again. She couldn’t remember exactly how, but knew that if she just stayed bubbly, it would come back to her” (Pretties 73). The exhilaration of the kiss and the climb itself allows Tally to remember what she is doing. The intention behind this kiss, to spark her memory and maintain mental focus, is the exact same motivation behind her potentially dangerous weight-loss activity. When she takes the calorie purgers, “She felt as if a thin film of plastic between her and the rest of the world was being peeled away” (Pretties 62).As a Pretty, Tally does not fully engage with touch the way she does as an Ugly. Despite this, she is still capable of having a romantic relationship and sharing touch without becoming ill. In fact, touch is a sense that Tally can trust. When she first sees David as a Pretty, she is surprised at how ugly he seems. Looking at his face feels strange because, through Pretty eyes, he doesn’t look as good as he looked to Ugly Tally. It is touch that reminds her of her feelings for David. Holding onto him during a hover board ride, “The feel of David’s body… was so familiar — even the smell of him set her memories spinning… She wanted to take back all the stupid, pretty-minded thoughts she’d had at her first glimpse of his face” (Pretties 325). Touch restores Tally’s emotional memory of David. As a Pretty, the information Tally receives through touch is more honest than the information she receives through the sense of sight. Though Tally’s society is fictional and no research has been done about its happenings, writers like Étienne Bonnot de Condillac have written about how touch compares to other senses. In Traite des Sensations, Condillac says that, “touch is the sense which instructs all the others” (236). When Pretty Tally touches David, she stops seeing him as unattractive. The familiarity of touch, as Condillac says, informs her of how she really feels about him and in fact transforms the way her other senses perceive him. Condillac believes that, as Tally finds, senses besides touch can be deceptive. When describing a child who is first learning to use and trust his senses, he writes, “We have a bias which makes us presume that when an object pleases us in some respects it is good in all. So too the lad had appeared surprised that the persons he loved best were not the most beautiful” (Condillac 176). Throughout the Uglies series, Tally struggles with her feelings for David no matter how her mind is altered and no matter how unattractive he appears to her. He is by far not the most beautiful person she has ever met, yet he is constantly in her thoughts. Like the child Condillac describes, Pretty Tally is surprised that she still feels such profound feelings for David when she holds him. Before they touch in Pretties, Tally’s sense of sight tells her that David is very different from her, to the point of being unacceptable. She initially bases her opinions on the asymmetry of David’s face and the imperfections of his body. It is touch that makes David familiar to her again, and narrows the gap between David as an Ugly and Tally as a pretty.In Pretties, Tally learns to rediscover truth through touch. The next operation she undergoes challenges her ability to share physical affection at all, much less derive a sense of honesty from it. Her forced transformation from a Pretty into a Special is in some ways more compromising than her transformation from an Ugly into a Pretty. Beyond the brain lesions, the difference between Uglies and Pretties is largely appearance. Specials are altered a step further. Their minds are hard-wired to look for differences between themselves and others. Specials are programmed to believe that they are perfect. When Tally tries to get close to Zane, she becomes hyperaware of his imperfections and can barely remember why she was attracted to him in the first place. Like her first encounter with David as a Pretty, Tally’s first encounter with Zane as a Special is very uncomfortable. He does not look beautiful to her anymore. To be fair, Zane is in terrible physical condition from taking an experimental pill that was supposed to remove his brain lesions. As a Special, Tally is programmed to look for imperfections in other people, and Zane has more of them than an ordinary Pretty would. Both Zane and Tally hope that a kiss can force Tally out of her Special-mind and help her to rediscover her love for Zane. Tally keeps fighting to remember the attraction she once felt to Zane. When he finds her, he hopes that he can kiss her and help her to remember what she used to feel. Zane remembers the story of how David helped Tally to fight her insecurities as an ugly, and how their kiss completely altered her worldview. Zane mistakenly believes that Tally is refusing love from Pretties or Uglies because they do not look attractive to her. In reality, the problem is touch. Even though Tally is disturbed by Zane’s appearance, she tries to fight her mental programming and kiss him anyway: She slid closer, hands pushing inside his clothes. She wanted to be out of the sneak suit, no longer alone, no longer invisible. Arms around him, she squeezed tight, hearing his breath catch as her lethal hands gripped harder. Her senses brought her everything about him: his heart pulsing softly in his throat, the taste of his mouth, the unwashed scent of him cut by the salt spray. But then his fingers brushed her cheek, and Tally felt their trembling. No, she said silently. The tremors were soft, almost nothing, as faint as the echoes of rain falling a kilometer away. But they were everywhere, on the skin of his face, in the muscles of his arms around her, in his lips against hers — his whole body shivering like a littlie’s in the cold. And suddenly Tally could see inside him: his damaged nervous system, the corrupted connections between body and brain. She tried to blot the image from her mind, but it only grew clearer. She was designed to spot weaknesses, after all, to take advantage of the frailties and flaws of randoms. Not to ignore them (Specials 194).Tally’s desire to leave her clothing and be fully honest with Zane indicates that she has not fully lost her desire for touch. She describes feeling alone, even invisible, and wanting Zane to bring her out of her isolation. She is comfortable feeling his heartbeat and sensing his closeness until she brushes his cheek and remembers how different he (as an ailing Pretty) is from her and from other Specials. Once she notices the trembling in his cheek, the knowledge of it overwhelms her and she cannot focus on anything else. Beyond appearance, it is touch that creates the biggest barrier between Specials and the rest of the world. Tally cannot enjoy touch with non-Specials, but also feels uncomfortable touching Specials, including members of the group called Cutters that she belongs to. When Fausto, a Special boy Tally knew when both of them were Pretties, puts his arms around Tally, “She pulled away. Cutters touched one another all the time, but she wasn’t used to that part of being a Special. It made her feel even stranger that Zane hadn’t joined them yet” (Specials 11). Here, Tally demonstrates that she still attaches significance to whom she touches and why she touches them. It also shows that she wants the intimacy and closeness touch with Zane used to bring, and not merely the physical sensation of touch. There is a disconnect, however, between her desire for a meaningful relationship and the way her brain is wired. Touching Fausto does not appeal to her, yet he is one of the only people alive whose touch she can tolerate. Desperate to remember her love for Zane and to stay focused enough to help him become special with her, Tally turns to cutting.Tally’s reasons for cutting are sometimes misunderstood in the novel. When Dr. Cable, the woman responsible for creating the Specials, sees Tally’s cuts, she assumes that they come from a form of masochism. She asks, “Does it really feel so wonderful, cutting yourself? I must look into that, next time I make Specials so young” (Specials 335). In the article, “Self and Sacrifice: A Phenomenonological Psychology of Sacred Pain,” Ariel Glucklich explains the limitations of understanding self-injury purely as a masochistic, pain-driven experience. She says, “[Self-injurers] cannot be reduced to perversion for enjoying something hurtful that they bring upon their bodies. To understand the nature of self-inflicted injury… and its positive function, we must look at the nature of the person as ego and organism, and at pain as a special signal within this complex organism” (Glucklich 491). Before looking into Tally’s personal reasons for cutting, it is important to place her in the context of her society. In Specials, Cutters do not all have the same reasons for cutting, but it is easy for them to look like they do. Tally’s entire group of Specials has named itself the Cutters based on their shared habit of self-injury in pursuit of mental clarity. All of the Cutters have numerous cuts on the arms, and these cuts function both as fashion statements and as mental focusing tools. The pain of tearing one’s flesh serves to create mental clarity, but the Cutters as a group seem to value the aesthetics and the group identity involved with cutting more than its tactile value. The Cutters will often sit in a circle and pass blades around before important missions so that they can proceed with clear focus. One such exchange occurs between Shay and Tally when they make the decision to rescue Zane from New Pretty Town and convince Dr. Cable to make him Special. Shay hands Tally a blade to cut herself with, as usual, but becomes shocked when Tally breaks a Cutter tradition. Instead of cutting on her arms like most Cutters do, Tally takes the knife by the blade and squeezes her hand around it. Shay says, “Hang on, not your hand” (Specials 95). Tally ignores Shay and continues what she is doing. After Tally has cut herself, Shay reminds her that “it’s traditional to use the arms” (96). Tally never explains why she cut her hand and Shay, while confused, drops the subject. In some contexts, Shay’s concern might seem like splitting hairs. Cutting on one’s hands is not inherently more dangerous than cutting on one’s arms. Shay does not express concern that Tally is cutting herself, but that Tally is breaking from tradition. The way she self-injures is different from the way the other Specials cut, thus peeling away the excuse of cutting being a group activity for her. Tally cutting her hand rather than her arms represents that she is setting her self-injury apart from the self-injury her social group engages in. She is making the statement that she has feelings for a Pretty and therefore maintains a part of her old identity from before she joined the Cutters. In an article called “The Voice on the Skin: Self-Mutilation and Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Language,” Janice McLane argues that creating boundaries between oneself and the rest of the world is often a motivation for self-injurious behavior. According to McLane, “self-mutilation helps the self-injurer restore firm boundaries between self and other” (114). In Tally’s case, she is forming a boundary between herself and the only group of people she can completely interact with. She is reminding herself that she does not want the Cutters to be her only identity and that he desire to reconnect with Zane is also a crucial part of who she is. Cutting her hand is an assertive act for Tally, who is going against her boss, Shay’s, wishes and expectations. McLane’s article explains how autonomy and self-control can contribute to the appeal cutting has. She writes, “although self-mutilation causes harm, that harm is not caused by others. It is initiated, defined, and ended by the mutilator herself, to the pointed exclusion of anyone else” (McLane 114).The scars on Tally’s hand indicate feelings that only she has, that set her apart from the other Cutters. Tally’s control over her cutting is very important to her. Since skin can easily be replaced in Tally’s world, she could easily get an operation to erase all of her cutting scars. She is also capable of completely erasing the pain of cutting with medical spray whenever she wants to. This adds extra layers of agency to Tally’s cutting behavior that 21st-century cutters do not have. Tally encounters a man named Andrew during Specials who has never lived in a city or heard of the operation to become Pretty. When he asks about her scars, she says, “[Specials] only have scars if we want to, so they always mean something. These mean that I love Zane” (160). Through this explanation, Tally asserts that cutting has started to lose its meaning as a form of violent touch. Tally’s cutting, though physically painful, is much more visual than tactile. The pain she feels from cutting is often secondary to the visual and symbolic significance of the act. As Glucklich says, “Any theory of self-mutilation that takes pain as a monolithic sensation, directly linked to tissue damage, is bound to fail. It fails first and foremost by distorting the fact that pain is a mental event, and an extremely rich one. The range of mental factors that influences the perception of pain is impressive” (Glucklich 490). For Tally, the biggest mental factor is her desire to remain connected to her feelings. The cuts themselves remind her that, deep down, she desires to touch Zane and that she has plans to “rescue” him from being Pretty so that he can be Special and become her boyfriend again. Cutting is not a replacement for touch, but a reminder that touch is important to her regardless of how Zane’s trembling skin feels to her Special body. For Tally, self-injury creates a sense of self-empowerment. Glucklich writes, “The cutting of the skin and the spilling of the blood are performed intentionally for the strengthening of a higher telos or purpose. The act of self-directed violence asserts the dominion of their ego over lesser bodily systems” (Glucklich 501). In Tally’s case, her higher purpose is staying in love with Zane and not losing him the way she lost David when she became Pretty. In Zane’s opinion, Tally’s cutting is not a sign that she has control over her life but instead is a sign that she is losing control. He asks her, “What is it that you’re not feeling that you have to do that?” (Specials 142). By asking what feeling she is lacking, Zane identifies lack of touch and Tally’s lack of emotional connection with others as the culprits responsible for her self-injury. To him, the behavior is not a means of empowerment, but instead a coping mechanism to help her deal with her inability to touch. Eventually, Tally gives up cutting in order to please Zane, but she still derives benefit from looking at her scars and remembering why she created them. Their visual presence reminds her of who she is and of her true desires, and can be enough without her continuing to self-injure. Tally does not make any effort to hide her cuts from other people. This sets Tally apart from most modern self-injurers, at least according to McLane. She writes, “Contrary to many medical and lay opinions, self-mutilators seldom seek to exhibit their wounds or behavior in public, or to manipulate others through self-wounding” (McLane 115). The self-injurers McLane is studying are generally sexual trauma survivors who may need to hide or cover up their trauma to avoid retaliation from abusers. Cutting in Tally’s world functions very differently from the most common case studies of cutting in the 21st century. Tally does not self-harm to cover up a secret. She wears her scars openly and therefore she has little to lose by self-harming to manipulate others and to get her own way. She does this in a city called Diego where she is arrested and hospitalized for having a Special body. In Diego, there are no Specials. The doctors in Diego see that Tally’s city constructed her as a weapon and feel that she is unsafe to keep around. A medical staff member tells Tally that she will not be allowed to leave until she gets a new operation to turn her into a regular Pretty. It is at this moment that Tally chooses to become manipulative with her self-injury. When her Special body is threatened, the scars are no longer enough to keep Tally focused on Zane. Tally remembers, “For those few moments kissing Zane, she’d imagined that she wanted to be normal” and quickly decides, “now that someone was threatening to grind her down to averageness, she couldn’t stand the thought. She wanted to be able to look at Zane without disgust, to touch him, to kiss him. But not if it meant being changed against her will again” (Specials 256-257).As mentioned earlier, cutting gives Tally a means of remembering her feelings and having control in a world where her body and mind can be completely altered without her consent. Changing back from Special to Pretty could mean the erasure of Tally’s progress toward having feelings again. Determined to be let out, Tally “pulled her fist back and gave it the hardest blow she could. Pain shot through her again… If she started hurting herself, someone would have to open the door” (Specials 257). In this instance, Tally is using violent, aggressively tactile behavior to alarm the hospital staff into giving her freedom. This act of self-injury is different from her experiencing cutting with other Cutters. She does not have medical spray at her disposal to put an end to her pain. Whatever harm she causes her body, she will have to live with. Her self-injury is not entirely in her control, and has become a means of expressing powerlessness. A similar idea comes up in McLane’s writing about sexual abuse survivors who have lost control for different reasons. She writes, “The need to speak builds and moves outward, but meets with a barrier of silence. In meeting this boundary, the abuse survivor is forced back upon herself; into a box, as it were, inside of which she must play out and voice the drama of her experience” (110). Through battering the walls, Tally communicates how dangerous she has been forced to become and how angry she is at being changed against her will. The use of the word “drama” is very fitting in describing Tally’s behavior, which is meant to prove a serious point. As she pounds the walls, she “felt her knuckles threatening to shatter against the iron hardness behind the padding. A gasp of pain slipped through her lips, and spatters of blood marked the padding, but Tally couldn’t hold back” (Specials 257). She feels that the guards “knew how strong she was, and this had to look real” (Specials 257). This description of Tally’s self-injury is very similar to McLane’s description of anger-induced self-injury. When a survivor harms herself, “Her rage and anguish move outward, strike at the boundaries enclosing her, and having no other place to go, rebound towards herself” (McLane 110). This angry self-destructive behavior from Tally definitely shows her lack of control. By this point in the novel, she has already promised Zane she will not cut anymore and plans to stick to that promise. In Diego, Tally engages in a new form of self-harm because her circumstances have taken away her agency and are further threatening to isolate her from her goal of being able to experience touch again.Both of her operations have compromised her ability to touch. Perhaps because of this, and perhaps due to the horror of being made Special without her consent, Tally desperately clings to her Special identity. She is determined to stay Special, keep remembering her old relationship with Zane, and eventually reunite with him. This requires delicate mental balance, and so she is terrified of anything and anyone that threatens to change her and undo her progress. Even dressing like an Ugly during an assignment puts her on edge. Tasked with breaking up an Ugly party, Tally and the other Cutters have to wear the same dorm uniforms that Uglies wear and don fake noses and zits to appear ugly to the partygoers. When she arrives in Uglyville, “The random tedium of the place she’d grown up in gave her a sticky feeling along the inside of her arms, which wasn’t helped by the feel of the recyclable dorm uniform against her sensitive new skin” (Specials 6). The mere brush of a texture Tally associates with Ugliness against her Special skin unnerves Tally. As she continues into the city, “The manicured trees of the greenbelt seemed to press in around Tally, as if the city were trying to grind her down to averageness again” (Specials 6). Tally literally feels that the landscape of Uglyville is grabbing and restricting her, trying to violently destroy and grind apart her Special body. How Tally touches inanimate objects or plants says quite a bit about her relationship to touch as a Special. When she touches, she is processing whether or not people and things belong in the Special category. The dorm uniform, normally worn by Uglies, does not fit with her. Touching things that are unfamiliar threatens Tally’s identity as a Special and puts her on-edge. The programming that Specials experience ensure that the experience of touch will reinforce their desire to stay special and to keep Uglies and Pretties in their socially permitted places.Tally’s fear of becoming a regular Pretty again stems partially from a fear of losing control and having her identity altered yet again. The idea that self-injurers harm themselves to maintain a sense of self or resist allowing others to control their lives is well-supported in research. That said, a few distinctions must be drawn between the typical image of a 21st-century cutter and Tally. Tally is a character, not a human being, and therefore it is impossible to analyze her in quite the same way as the self-injurers interviewed in McLane’s article. Obviously, the cutters in McLane’s article also live in the 21st century and have probably never had complex surgical operations to alter their physical and neurological makeup. Lastly, most cutters described in McLane’s article are female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. They are engaging in self-injury because their lives have been unfairly colored by pain they cannot control and they wish to regain a sense of selfhood using pain they can control. In Tally’s case, she is using pain that she can consciously feel to help her recall feelings she cannot remember. Both Tally and the sexual abuse survivors cut to create physical symbols that can speak truths that they cannot. When people self-harm, McLane writes that, “No matter whether cut, burned, scalded, or otherwise created, the wound which is a ‘mouth’ can speak what the actual physical mouth has been forbidden to utter” (McLane 115). Tally’s self-injury does speak for her. It reminds her that she loves Zane and also reminds her that she belongs to the Cutters, a group of Specials who are distinctly separate from Pretties or Uglies. Tally’s silencing is very different from the silencing McLane describes, but it still exists. Unlike the present-day self-injurers the article describes, Tally does not risk punishment if she tells people how she really feels. She does not live in fear that she will be hurt if she talks about her love for Zane, nor does she take the same risks in admitting she loves a Pretty as sexual trauma survivors take in sharing their stories. The restrictions placed on Tally are much different. For one thing, Specials are manufactured so that they can hear each other’s voices more clearly than they can hear Pretties or Uglies. This system is in place to give Specials a sense of kinship with one another that they will not share with anyone else. Specials are equipped with skintenna which make them able to connect to a sort of Internet-like space through their skin. When she tries to speak with Zane and reconnect with him, she can barely hear his voice. She feels very confused until she “realized why Zane sounded so distant. With no skintenna in his flesh, his words didn’t come through like the other Cutters’. He wasn’t part of her clique anymore. He wasn’t special” (Specials 81). Tally’s voice has not been fully taken away, but Special Circumstances has found a way to control how and when she can use it. In Tally’s unnamed city, there are no rules or laws stating that she cannot talk about her feelings for Zane. Such laws would be unnecessary because the government works hard at making their interaction more difficult than it is worth. Beyond the language and communication barriers, there are physical boundaries keeping Uglies, Pretties, and Specials separated. Uglies (with the exception of rebel groups like David’s) live in Uglyville and are not allowed to visit Pretties. When Pretties first become pretty, they are kept occupied with constant parties. The constant excitement of pretty life and the memory-numbing effects of brain lesions keep Pretties from visiting Uglies even though they are allowed. For added difficult, many Pretties live in New Pretty Town which is on the opposite side of a river from Uglyville. The Uglies and Pretties are separated, but aware of each other’s existences. Since Specials live in the wild and only visit cities when there are problems to solve, hardly anyone knows that they exist. No one goes looking for Specials because for all they know, the Specials are an urban legend. Specials do not generally seek out Uglies or Pretties because they are hard-wired not to want to. Both physical separation and mental programming keep the three groups physically distant. Once Tally consciously decides that she wants to love Zane and wants her scars to represent that love, she feels no need to hide her scars. She can use both her literal voice and the metaphorical voice that cutting gives her quite freely, but neither can free her from her predicament. Though cutting can provide Tally with a voice that communicates her love for Zane, she needs more than an ability to communicate. Even after she tells Andrew Simpson-Smith and Shay about her love for Zane, she cannot fully remember her feelings or accept him back into her life. The government, in all likelihood, understands that words are not enough to take down society. In fact, much less is done to prevent the free communication of words than physical proximity between Uglies and Pretties. Uglies can and often do send Pretties letters, though Pretties rarely ever write back. They are allowed to send each other messages, and Pretties are technically allowed to see Uglies. It is not the sense of sound that the government fears. Uglies are also allowed to see pictures of young Pretties, and therefore it is not dangerous for Uglies and Pretties to see each other. Pretties are allowed in the controlled and sterile environment of the ugly dorms, but Uglies are not allowed in the less restricted New Pretty Town. It is touch and intimacy between these two groups that is dangerous. Uglies do desire touch with Pretties, and are sometimes even overwhelmed by this desire. When Uglies first become Pretty, they are advised to hold off on having relationships until they can handle how beautiful their potential partner is. When Tally first enters a relationship with Zane, she recalls that, “When she’d arrived in New Pretty Town, Peris had warned [her] about sex. Getting too close to other pretties could be overwhelming when you were brand new. It took time to get used to all the gorgeous faces, the perfect bodies, the luminous eyes. When everyone was beautiful, you could wind up falling in love with the first pretty you kissed” (Pretties 58). It is assumed that Uglies will desire Pretties if they are allowed to interact. Generally, Pretties reject Uglies based on the information received from their sense of sight, but David’s ability to reach Tally when she is pretty shows that Uglies are capable of seducing Pretties and causing danger if they are allowed to interact.That said, Uglies believe they are inferior to Pretties, to the point that they often sacrifice their own feelings for Pretties. During Tally’s Ugly days, she sneaks out of her city to visit her friend Peris. He has been ignoring her letters and she wants to make sure they are still best friends. Tally’s objective changes when she sees Peris and sees how attractive he has become. She embraces Peris, which makes him very uncomfortable. Unlike David, who would stand up to Peris’s cold behavior and remind him that their relationship used to mean something, Tally feels apologetic and even guilty for touching Peris. She realizes that she accidentally got mud on his suit when they hugged and becomes more concerned about this than about his cold affect toward her. “His distress [in looking at his ruined suit] just made Tally want to hug him again. She wanted to stay and clean Peris up, make sure he looked perfect for the party” (Uglies 20). Tally, like most Uglies raised within her society, has low self-esteem and is more concerned about keeping Pretties happy than about her own emotional needs. She does not even remember to be angry at him for ignoring her or writing off their friendship.Because members of the Smoke are assertive and do not yield their needs and wills to Pretties, they are more dangerous and troublesome than regular Uglies. Though somewhat rebellious and adventurous, ugly Tally was still socially programmed and believed that Pretties were more “real” than she was as an Ugly. David’s parents raised him outside the city in hiding, where he never had a chance to see a Pretty or develop low self-esteem about his natural face. He is raised believing that he has worth and dignity and does not need an operation to make him a “real” person. David’s confidence and unusual lifestyle are very attractive to Uglies. Though it is not his intention, David wins Shay’s heart, causing her to initially reject the Pretty operation. Unfortunately for Shay, David later falls in love with Tally and manages to change her entire worldview with one kiss. David’s free thinking and the meaning he ascribes to touch that is normally considered “insignificant” makes him threatening to Tally’s society. Both as an Ugly and as a Pretty, Tally’s mind is significantly changed when she touches David. Touch outside one’s “group” (e.g., Uglies touching non-Uglies, Pretties touching non-Pretties) is dangerous to the controlled society that Tally’s city cultivates. Relationships within one’s group keep people from trying to leave. When Pretties only have relationships with other Pretties, they never see any reason to leave New Pretty Town. Relationships with Uglies are seen as insignificant, so newly created Pretties who remember having boyfriends or girlfriends in Uglyville either wait for their partners to grow up and become Pretty or find new partners in New Pretty Town. Uglies do not want to run away from Uglyville because they know they can never see their friends (or significant others) who have turned sixteen and had the operation again if they do not become Pretty. Moreover, Uglies do not even believe that relationships with other Uglies can be legitimate. If they ever want to truly experience touch, they only have one choice: become Pretty. Special Circumstances sees David as an enemy because, through touch, he bridges the gap between Pretties, Uglies, and Specials, forcing people to face the implications of their society. He first does this in Uglies when he asks Tally to speak for herself about his physical appearance and not based on social programming. He asks Tally if she thinks he is ugly and she says, “It’s a pointless question. It’s not about individuals” (Uglies 276). David insists that to call a person ugly is personal and cannot be stated as an objective truth. It takes him longer to help undo Tally’s programming as she progresses through the operations. As a Special, Tally pities him for believing she was attractive as an Ugly. She recalls that David “called her beautiful, even when she was ugly” (Specials 192). Tally does not recall this event as a boost to her self-esteem, but as a life-changing experience that caused her to rebel against her upbringing. Reflecting, she decides that his admission of attraction to her “was the moment that [her] whole world had started to unravel. That was the first time she’d switched sides” (Specials 192). When she realizes the significance her relationship with David has, Tally does not feel gratitude. Instead, she uses the memory to further justify to herself why Specials are superior to Uglies. She starts to feel, “an unexpected ping of pity for poor, random-faced David” (Specials 192) and chalks his compliment up to inexperience. She figures that since he was “Raised a Smokey, he’d never had the operation, hadn’t even seen any city pretties back then. So of course he might think that ugly Tally Youngblood would be okay to look at” (Specials 192). If, as a Special, Tally were to accept that David found her beautiful and that his feelings were not based on ignorance or inexperience, she would have to admit that her society was wrong and that being a Special did not make her superior to others. Shay becomes concerned that Tally’s feelings of superiority are her own and cannot simply be blamed on the operation. She warns Tally, “Thinking like a Special is partly just human nature. It doesn’t take much convincing to make someone believe they’re better than everyone else” (Specials 293).Zane agrees with this sentiment and takes it a step farther. To him, Tally’s nearly fanatical obsession with keeping her Special body is a defense mechanism she uses to deal with her isolation and inability to touch. Zane says to her, “You’re so special no one can touch you… You’re so special you have to cut yourself to feel anything” (Specials 193). Like David who called Tally beautiful in Uglies, Zane refuses to interpret Tally the way society leads her to expect. David, who was raised outside of the city, is more consistently prone to “dangerous” observations like Zane’s. When he first sees Tally as a Pretty, he is disappointed rather than awestruck. He says, “I didn’t think it would be so… not you” (Pretties 327). David does not have a chance to build on Zane’s words until Zane has died from his experimental medication. Grieving Zane’s loss makes Tally feel less secure in her builds on what Zane and Shay have already said to her and encourages her to find her own way around the mental programming. When Tally is rude and unpleasant to him, he refuses to back down and continues to offer his support. He tells her, “You’re not alone, Tally. Don’t pretend you are” (Specials 322). This statement upsets Tally because it goes against her core belief that Specials are always alone unless they are with other Specials. He uses words to reassure her that he still cares about her, that he is sorry for what she is going through, and that he believes she can cure herself from the lesions. He reminds her that she thought her way around her Pretty lesions and says, “No matter what your city does to you, you always seem to have a choice” (Specials 319). With the pain of having her Special aloofness challenged and losing Zane, Tally becomes mostly unreceptive to compliments. He takes her hand to try to comfort her and she pulls away. She starts to worry that whatever she says “might set off another speech about how wonderful she was” (Specials 321). While she is sitting in silence, “David seemed content to sit there, probably thinking that his words were sinking in, but Tally’s silence meant nothing except that she was too tired to speak” (Specials 321). David’s words do not reach Tally at this point. She does not begin to trust or connect with him again until they embrace. Before she goes to sleep, David tells Tally that she is safe and holds her. When Tally feels him close to her, she “faintly remembered his smell from when they’d been together, what seemed like years ago” (Specials 323). For the first time as a Special, she also starts to let go of her dislike for non-Specials. She remembers that, “His ugly face had revolted her the last time she’d seen it,” (323) but then decides that she almost likes the way he looks. It is puzzling that Tally is able to at least grudgingly accept touch from David at this point, considering that earlier in the novel, Zane was completely repulsive to her. Zane, being a Pretty, should theoretically be less disturbing for Special Tally to touch than David. The difference between these two encounters is not necessarily about the two boys, but about Tally’s own willingness to be open to touch. Once Tally’s government has been challenged and defeated in the end of Specials, each of the Cutters heal from their mental programming in their own ways. Shay and Fausto get medically cured before Tally has much time to address her own programming. Shay says, “It was mostly a relief. Everything’s less intense now, less extreme. I don’t have to cut myself just to make sense of it all; none of us do. But even though things aren’t as icy, at least I don’t get furious over nothing anymore,” (Specials 292). The word “icy” has been used to describe the state of extreme metal clarity achieved through cutting. Shay tells Tally that she prefers it to needing self-injury in her life and that not having a Special mind is far preferable to being Specially programmed. Though she clearly has a bias, Shay gives Tally something very important. She tells Tally, “I didn’t want to force you to change again. I think you can cure yourself this time” (Specials 293). Tally’s freedom to make choices is pivotal to her decision to change her way of thinking. Once she learns that no one will change her mind against her will, she can grudgingly accept touch from David, despite her Special programming.Later on, when the government is taken down, Tally is allowed to choose how she wants her body to look. She chooses to keep her Special body and not undergo anymore changes. David tells her, “You just look like Tally to me” (Specials 366). David is also given the freedom to choose, and he chooses to stay ugly. Tally looks at him, “her eyes cataloging all his imperfections, the asymmetry of his features, the pores of his skin, his too-big nose. His scar. He wasn’t an ugly anymore; to her he was just David” (Specials 368).It is agency and free will that allows Tally to take control of her ability to touch. In a science-fiction post-dystopic society, author Scott Westerfeld demonstrates a transformation in the meaning and experience of touch. It is suppressed: in Uglies through social programming and in Pretties and Specials through surgical tampering. At every level, unique challenges and barriers are placed on the ability to touch and be touched. As an Ugly, Tally cannot initially accept touch because she does not believe she is yet a real person, capable of loving and being loved. As a Pretty, Tally becomes too mentally blurry to fully engage with touch, and as a Special her ability to touch seems lost altogether. Through every stage, Tally is able to think her way around these restrictions on touch and reconnect with the men in her life: Zane and David. Though this love triangle is ended tragically with Zane’s death, leaving David the only available option, David remains a constant reminder throughout the series of Tally’s personhood. Each touch with David serves as a reminder of her true feelings and of her own permanence. Though Tally is mentally programmed in ways that are not known to happen in modern society, it is touch that helps to liberate her and give her a consistent identity.Works CitedCondillac, Etienne B. Treatise on the Sensations: Translated by Geraldine Carr. University of Southern California, School of Philosophy, 1930. Print.Glucklich, Ariel. “Self and Sacrifice: a Phenomenological Psychology of Sacred Pain.” The Harvard Theological Review. 92.4 (1999): 479-506. Print.Heller-Roazen, Daniel. The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation. New York: Zone Books, 2007. Print.McLane, Janice. “The Voice on the Skin: Self-Mutilation and Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Language.” Hypatia. 11.4 (1996): 107. Print.Weber, Brenda R. “Makeover As Takeover: Scenes of Affective Domination on Makeover TV.” Configurations. 15.1 (2008): 77-99. Print.Westerfeld, Scott. Pretties. New York: Simon Pulse, 2005. Print.Westerfeld, Scott. Specials. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006. Print.Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. 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