Impractical Beauty Standards in Scott Westerfield’s Uglies
“Is it not good to make a society full of beautiful people” (Westerfield pg 1). In the public eye most imperfections are often seen as ugly by societal standards. Many people feel the need to alter their bodies because they think it will automatically make them happier and fix all their problems. What people don’t understand is that, they don’t have to be physically flawless to be beautiful. A person’s mind and heart can make them a beautiful person. Society focuses so much on the physical standard of beauty and not the mental standard of beauty. Uglies by Scott Westerfield shines light on the controversy in the world because society wants everyone to be physically beautiful and anyone who has imperfections needs to change.
One of the primary subjects in Scott Westerfield’s Uglies is the contention that young people have to undergo plastic surgery to transform into beautiful people. The world that Westerfield superbly depicts how we, as the general public, see magnificence. We consider excellence to be flawlessness, not a line strange, and this judgment happened because of our craving for flawlessness. People should be focused on “What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.” (Westerfield pg 86). Instead, people have pressure and judgement from society in their faces all day everyday, everywhere. A prime example is magazines, when getting any magazine the first page will undoubtedly be modified to show us how we should look. Photoshopped models are seen as enticing because individuals in society see models and motion picture stars and then they starve themselves until they feel accepted by the world.
Westerfield depicts the antagonizing beauty standards through the use of internal and external conflict real life people face, represented through fictional characters. In the dystopian novel, all teenagers must have plastic surgery when they are 16 to transform their external aesthetics. That is where the main character comes into play, Tally Youngblood cannot wait to become pretty, but her life changes when she meets Shay, a girl who wants to remain ugly. Toward the start of the novel the characters are told that pretty people have delightful and hopeful lives. Which leads to “the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same is everyone thinking the same” (Westerfield pg 113), teens including Tally believe this but in reality flaws give people individuality but society puts pressure on people to cover, change, or feel ashamed about them. As time goes on Tally comes to realize that everything, even the simplest, beings are perfect the way they were created. For example, “Nature didn’t need an operation to be beautiful. It just was” (Westerfield pg 153). When Tally realized true beauty in the world around she was able to recognize the strong beauty she possesses. Tally influenced other teenagers as they began to question their fate and whether changing their bodies was truly going to make them happier. A big question that came up was, “What happens when perfection isn’t good enough?” (Westerfield pg 207). The teens had to consider if they would be going through drastic changes for nothing.
Scott Westerfield’s Uglies is nothing short of a teaching novel because it talks about how people with flaws need to change their body to become flawless and fit in with society. Many people view themselves as ugly or not enough due to the world’s unrealistic beauty standards. This causes poor mental and physical health all because society does not see the true beauty within, it only judges what’s on the outside. When people realize their own beauty then they will be able to discover all the beautiful things the world has to offer. Impractical beauty standards are ruining the youth of the world and it needs to be put to an end. What good will the world be if it’s filled with depressed “beautiful” people?
Characterization and Motivation in Uglies by Scott Westerfield
In the novel Uglies by Scott Westerfield, the author skillfully utilizes characterization to make his characters believable. Characterization is when the writer reveals the personality of a character. Direct characterization is when the author directly states the character trait. The protagonist or main character in Uglies is Tally Youngblood. The author states,”…Worse, she was ugly, but she hoped Peris wouldn’t see her that way…” In this quote, Tally is described as ‘ugly’ because she has not undergone the surgery that every teenager goes through when they turn 16, to become a ‘pretty’, and she’s hoping her best friend, Peris wont view her as ‘ugly’. This is an example of direct characterization because the author directly states the character trait for the reader. The antagonist or the character who creates a conflict with the protagonist is Dr. Cables. According to the text, “…The woman became nothing but a monster, vengeful and inhuman. Then i’ll make you a promise too, Tally Youngblood. Until you do help us to the best of your ability, you will never be pretty…” The previous quote can be explained as the antagonist is vengeful because Tally will not tell Dr. Cable where shay is. This is a direct characterization, because the author directly states the character trait for the reader. Obviously, Scott Westerfield is a master of direct characterization.
Likewise, in the novel Uglies, Westerfield applies indirect characterization. Indirect characterization is found using what the character says, thinks, his actions, looks, effect on others. In this novel, Westerfield applies indirect characterization to the antagonist in this quote, “̈…Dr.Cable pointed at the wallscreen, and an image appeared. Like a mirror, but in close up, it showed Tally as she looked right now: puffy eyed and disheveled, exhaustion and red scratches marking her face, her hair sticking out in all directions, and her expression turning horrified as she beheld her own appearance.¨That’s you, Tally. Forever…” In this quote, Dr. Cable is showing Tally how ‘ugly’ she appears compared to the rest of the population. Westerfield does not directly say that she is doing something evil, but the readers know that what Dr.Cable is doing is very unfavorable. As for the protagonist’s indirect characterization, Westerfield did a spectacular job with writing indirect characterization for the main character, Tally. In this quote he says “̈She put her fingers up to her face,felt the wide nose and thin lips, the too high forehead and tangled mass of frizzy hair.” In this quote, it doesn’t directly say Tally is unpleasant to look at, but it says things that could signify that she is.
In my last bit of this paper, im going to explain the motivation for this novel. In this novel, our protagonist, Tally Youngblood faces many challenges. She has to choose between becoming a pretty and showing Dr. Cables where the rumored town ‘Smoke’ is. Her other option is being an ‘ugly’ forever. Tallyś motivation in my novel is her fear of being ugly. She wants to be pretty, and has looked forward to being a pretty her entire life. She must choose between her fear of being insecure and ugly her entire life, or to give up the rebellion against New Pretty Town. In the novel, it quotes ̈Dr.Cable ignored the sob that had cut through Tally ‘s words ‘..If you don’t agree right now, I ́ll find someone else. And you’ll be ugly forever.̈ Tally looked up, trying to see through the tears that were flowing freely now, to peer past Dr. Cable ‘s cruel mask, and find the truth. It was there in her dull, metal grey eyes, a cold, terrible surety unlike anything a normal pretty could ever convey. Tally realized the woman meant what she said. Either Tally infiltrated Smoke and betrayed Shay, or she´d be an ugly forever…’ This quote is further proof about Tally ́s motivation. Tally is also motivated to become a pretty because she doesn’t want her best friend, Peris, To think down upon her because she is an ugly. My final quote to support this is ‘…The thought of what she must look like was too much. Tally collapsed on the bed, covering her face with her hands and sobbing. Peris sat next to her and held her for a while as she cried, then wiped her nose and sat her up. ‘Look at you, Tally Youngblood’ She shook her head. ‘Please don’t.”…̈ And because of these quotes, that’s why I believe the motivation for Tally is fear of being ugly forever.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Science Fiction Review
The Ugly Truth in Uglies
Uglies is a science fiction novel written by Scott Westerfeld in 2005. It follows the adventures of a girl in a dystopian society set far into the future. It has all the key elements for science fiction as well as incredible dystopian design. The book is the first in a series of four. In this essay I will summarize the novel, explore its science fiction elements, identify the running themes, and explain the relation in the text and society today. Uglies is a science fiction novel that confronts many social issues that are evident today while also developing characters and a story that will continue in the following books.
Uglies takes place in the distant future after the fall of civilization as we know it. They refer to our civilians as rusties because of the rusty skeletons of the cities we lived in. Children are born into families with a mother and father. They are referred to as littlies and live with their parents until they outgrow the cute stage and become ugly. The main character, Tally Youngblood, is in this ugly phase. They children remain ugly until they turn sixteen. On their sixteenth birthday, then receive an operation that alters their face and body to the most beautiful and ideal form. Uglies are taught all their life to look forward to becoming pretty and to be disgusted with ugly faces, examining every imperfection and flaw of themselves and their peers. When they turn sixteen, they move to New Pretty town where they party and enjoy their new beauty. They will eventually get jobs and have kids and move into the suburban part of the community. Uglies are known for the tricks they pull, something Tally is quite good at. The beginning of the novel follows Tally pulling a rather large trick.
Tally Youngblood is fifteen. She grew up with a best friend name Peris. Peris was older than Tally, so he had already had the operation and moved to New Pretty town. Tally begins the novel with sneaking over to New Pretty town to see Peris. She causes some trouble and on her way home, she meets another ugly named Shay who was also sneaking around New Pretty town. Shay is different than the other uglies Tally has known. Shay and Tally become friends over the next few months. Their birthdays are on the same day, so they will have the operation at the same time. Over time, Shay confesses to Tally that she does not want to be pretty. At the time, Tally brushed it off, but a week before their birthday, Shay runs away. The night before she leaves, she tells Tally about a town in the wild, far away. The town is called the Smoke. The Smoke is a place secret from their civilization and a place where no one has the surgery to become pretty. Shay asks Tally to leave with her, but Tally refuses. Shay leaves Tally a note, written in code, with directions to the Smoke.
On Tally’s sixteenth birthday, she leaves for the operation. There is a problem and she is rushed away to Special Circumstances. There, she meets a Dr. Cable. The specials, employees of special circumstances, are harshly beautiful and have superhero-like capabilities. Dr. Cable explains to Tally that they are looking for the Smoke, so Tally must go there and activate a pendant that will send her location to the specials or else Tally will never have the pretty operation. Tally embarks on a very dangerous journey to the Smoke.
There are four main types of characters in Uglies. There are uglies, the young people who are at a transitional period in their lives. They are brainwashed and almost self-loathing as they wait to become a pretty. There are pretties, who are surgically altered to be beautiful and loved. Most of them have lesions on their brains interfering with how they think. There are smokies, the people that have run away from civilization because they do not want to become pretty. Lastly, there are specials. Specials are super humans that act as a sort of government agency trying to track down the Smoke and put it to an end.
Uglies fits in to my definition as a science fiction novel. There is lots of futuristic technology, such as hover boards and their drastic surgical capabilities. The technology is not something that is really possible today, but it is not supernatural in nature. I think it does a great job of explain the past without dwelling on it. It is still very much focused on the plot and the characters. It has elements that reminds me of the Handmaid’s Tale. Society has shifted drastically and there are reasons behind it that the characters mostly do not know or understand. A lot of science fiction will focus heavily on the science, so that is one difference I found while reading Uglies.
A huge theme of the book is changing perspectives. Tally’s perspective completely changes from the beginning of the book. She goes from anxiously awaiting turning sixteen and becoming a pretty, to working hard in the woods and fighting to change pretties back into uglies. She also completely changes her perspective on the city and what everything means, mostly because she sees the outside and learns what the pretty surgery really does. Shay’s perspective is also greatly impacted by her pretty surgery and the lesions on her brain. David, a boy from the smoke, has a perspective shift thanks to Tally and her insight into city life.
There is also the theme of consumer-based societies. When Tally is the Smoke, David gives her a pair of leather gloves from his childhood. At first, she cannot put her finger on what makes them so special. Then she decides it is the history that they hold. In her previous life, they could have basically anything they wanted. Order some new clothes or a new hover board, but everything was recycled and nothing was ever reused.
Universal equality is a big theme in the book as well. They talk about the history of the rusties and explain that everyone used to be ugly. They said people were more stupid then as well and sometimes certain people would be famous or be elected just because they were slightly less ugly than the rest. This reminds me of being in school and learning about the first presidential debate to be televised. Before the television, candidates had to be picked mostly for just what they sounded like and what they said. When the television was introduced, this added an element of public speaking and being about to perform well and look healthy and trustworthy. In this futuristic world, they explain that everyone is equal because everyone is equally beautiful. Because everyone is beautiful, no one gets an unfair advantage.
In concept, their society does sound pretty great. All of their energy is sustainable, there is no class system, no hunger or shortage, and everyone is equal. However, as the story progresses, you learn that the pretty surgery does have more consequences. We learn that the surgery not only enhances the physical appearance, but also creates lesions on the brain that make the person happier and more compliant. These lesions are reversible though, because some pretties do not have them. The pretties that do not have the brain lesions are the jobs that require them to think critically. All the doctors, firefighters, and specials have been cured of the lesions. This is where the story changes from utopia to dystopia.
The cultural context is very clear to me in this story. Our society is very much focused on beauty. In some ways, I see similarities between the uglies and our society now. The uglies are taught that they are ugly and these other people are pretty. In our capitalist society, that means that we have to buy all the things to make us pretty, but to the uglies it just means waiting to “grow up.” Also they discuss how some people had unfair advantages in the old world. For example, people born with extreme amounts of wealth had more advantages, as well as people who were born more beautiful.
When I began reading the novel, I was very much impressed with their society. At first, it seemed like everything was great. Everyone had equal opportunity and a relatively large amount of freedom. I understood the appeal of the Smoke, but at the same time I did not see the conflict. If some people are happy in the city and some people are happy outside, no problem. The conflict arises when you interfere with people’s thinking capacity and freewill. Almost all the members of this city are not mentally able to comprehend what is going on. Even if they did, they would not feel any urges to change anything about the society. The pretties are completely happy and completely taken care of. This is where I once again find some conflict in the story. Shay is turned into a pretty towards the end of the book. They found a cure for the brain lesions, but they will not giver her they medicine against her will. In her pretty brain, she is completely happy and refuses the medication. Even if the people of the Smoke are able to tell everyone in the city about the brain lesions, the people will still not want to be cured. The point here is that people need to have the free will to decide. Originally, they did not get to decide if they wanted the brain lesions. But this is what sets the smokies apart. They will not choose for the people. Shay brings up some good points in her arguments to the smokies. Maybe she was more competent then, but she was also much more angry and unhappy. She explains that she likes the way she is now and it is completely understandable. Either way, I like a story that does not have clear good and bad. I enjoyed this novel very much.
Concept of Dystopia (based on Uglies, Harrison Bergeron, and the Giver)
Dystopian Novel Essay
The big idea is, “When ideas are taken to extremes, they can have unforeseen consequences”. One of the example of an extreme idea is, trying to make everyone equal. To do that, there has to be a lot of rules that are pushed to an extreme level and often ridiculous. Examples that supports this idea comes from dystopian stories. Dystopia is an imaginary place where people are unhappy and afraid that they’re not treated fairly.
I’ll start with a short story called Harrison Bergeron. In the story, the authorities is trying to get rid of competition. Some people are better looking than others and some people are smarter than others. The people with good looks are forced to wear ugly mask at all times and smart people are forced to wear mental handicap radio in their ears that’ll make sharp noises every 20 seconds or so to keep them from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
It seems like the authorities figured out solutions to prevent competition. Everyone’s a winner, nobody has to deal with the shame of coming in last and no one has to worry about who is better. It sounds too good to be true, but we’re forgetting something. By wiping out competition, we stop growth. There will be no meaning of life if we’re all winners. From our failure and lost we learn. Competition forces us to be more creative and innovative because of course everyone wants to be at the top. It advances the human civilization, if there’s no competition in this world we might not have internet right now, there won’t be any new inventions.
It makes us more goal oriented as well. We can compare it to a communist country in real life, where everyone makes the same amount of money regardless whether they are performing brain surgery or sweeping the floors at KFC. It makes less people want to achieve great things. No one wants to go through all that schooling and become a doctor when you can get the same amount of money by becoming a Janitor (“How Communism Works”). Competition is natural, it is how the world works.
The novel“The Giver” basically tells a story of a young boy named Jonas who became the receiver and learned the truth about his so-called utopian community. They tried to reach equality in different ways, such as applying sameness. The people wear same clothes, eat the same food and live in similar houses. The committees decide everything including assigning your jobs according to your abilities to prevent competitions and unemployment. Deciding who you’ll marry and who’s in your family, so no one will have too many kids. Giving rights when you turn certain age. Ex: you are allowed ride a bike when you turn nine (Ch.6) Making people not able to see colors to prevent racism and they control the population. There are lots of ideas that are explained in the book, but I want to focus on one extreme idea that is taking memories away to create a totally peaceful and harmonious society without conflict, war, or hate.
They erase all of the people’s memory and only let the receiver keep them because memories are forever. The purpose in doing that is because some people have bad memories and experience terrible stuff that they want to forget like war, death of parents, bullying, suffering disease, etc. They want all people to be at peace with no trauma, fear and can have a fresh start. Even though we are free from the problems that are interfering us from the past, we forget the importance of memories. The memory of failure occasionally give us fear that we’ll fail again, but if you don’t remember your errors you’ll repeat them. The things that you’ve been through is what makes you who you are now, it’s what changes you. Without memories, you can’t learn anything because it takes experiences & background. It’s like taking away your identity. But most of all, if you can’t remember experiencing pain and loneliness, you can’t feel the true meaning of joy and happiness. In other words, you become emotionless. It’s like what the Giver explained in the book, “One can only experience joy and love if one understands pain and loneliness. It is cruel to allow people to continue living in numbness.” (Ch.16, page 123). The conclusion is, memories have the power to influence, guide, and enrich life.
The second novel is “Uglies”. In the utopian world in the book, everyone normal is considered ugly and despicable until they turn 16 where they’ll have a major surgery that makes you super gorgeous and not have to worry about aging. They will remove your fat, replace your skin and bones, change your eyes, etc. Everyone is brainwashed to believe that there’s only one way to look pretty, so they all look the same. Your brain is being damaged on purpose in the operation, so not just your face was changed but your personality, the real you inside was the price of beauty. You won’t be able to think and make decisions because you’ll automatically just follow whatever the authorities say. This connects to Harrison Bergeron, there will be no rebellion and no one is smarter than the others. The conclusion is everyone looking the same, everyone thinking the same.
The consequence is sacrificing millions of minds in the name of fairness and justice. They’re not really making everyone equal, they’re making everyone the same and there’s a big difference. It’s a force equalization. We’ll might figure out different ways to make people equal, but every system has flaws. They explained in Uglies that before their generations, there was the rusties. “They talked about how the rusties world fell apart; they kept making and repeating their mistakes until their world collapsed like a house of cards. Every civilization has its weakness, also there’s always one thing they depend on. If someone takes that away, all that’s left is some history.”, David (Ch.40 page 141).
Another consequences is related to The Giver which has something to do with emotions. When they took away envy, they took away love. If everyone look and think the same way, there will be no specialness. The most important thing about a person, is what makes them different from everybody else and that difference is what’s going to make someone else fall in love with you. In Uglies, people that’ve done the operation only love the appearance of other people. While Tally, the main character in Uglies fell in love with David who is just a normal guy because of his characteristic.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Definition of Beauty in the Novel.
The Defenition of Beauty?
Beauty is a word that can’t be defined. Everyone is beautiful in their own unique way. Whether you are tall, short, skinny or over-weight, the beauty of a person will always come from within. Just like everyone has their talents, everyone has their own beauty. Never let anyone define who you are because intelligence is always beautiful. In the book the Uglies, Westerfield portrays a message that Inner beauty is the most beautifullest thing of all, but Tally Youngblood lives in a body-image based society which makes her think she is complety hideous.
What is the defenition of beauty? What is the benefits to being beautiful? Would anyone be considered beautiful if everyone was beautiful? In the book , the Uglies, if you dont look a certain way then you are considered to be ugly. If you dont go through a surgery that makes you look like everyone else then you are considered ugly. What is ugly? Who determines if someone is ugly?
In the Uglies , Shay, reconigzes that everyone is beautiful no matter what society says. In the book, Shay tells her friend Tally, “Tally your nose isn’t ugly. I like your eyes too. Tally then said “My eyes? Now you’re totally crazy. They’re way too close together.” “Who says?”Shay said. “Biology says,” Tally said. “You dont believe all that crap, do you-that there’s only one way to look, and everyone’s programmed to agree on it?” Throughout the book Shay has always spoke her mind on the subject of turning “pretty” She doesnt believe in societies defenition of beauty, but believes that she is beautiful, inside and out. Shay’s disbelief in what their societes defention of pretty changes Tally’s perspective of turning pretty. Towards the end of the story, Tally begins to realize that she doesnt have to go through an operation to turn her pretty.
In regards to Tally, her belief on being pretty changes during the course of the book. At the begging of the story, all Tally could think about was turning into a pretty. She thought their beauty as almost a magical perfect art piece. “There was something magic in their large and perfect eyes, something that made you want to pay attention to whatever they said, to protect them from any danger, to make them happy. They were so…pretty.” This thought process reminds me of what the North Americans constitutes as beauty today in society. Every woman wants to look a certain. They all want to be as skinny as possible or have a pound of make-up on everyday to make theirselevs look “beautiful.”
Beauty can only been seen on the inside. Trying to be “pretty” won’t get you a nice job or pay your rent. Trying to be “pretty” wont get you a nice house or the things you want in life. Intelligence is the key to success. Those who listen and learn are the ones who are successful in life and money is never an issue. Although the Uglies has many themes, the overall purpose of the “Uglies” is that beauty comes from within.
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies: How through the Lens of Political Criticism a Story Seemingly about Beauty Becomes a Critique on Government, Free Will, and the Power of Beauty and Individuality
Young Adult Literature is shadowed by misunderstandings and biases. The genera is seen as a negative influence upon young adults or it is seen as a stepping stone in which teens use to work their way up to the “classics.” The stories in YA novels are seen as just that, stories; rather than reading the text critically like a classic novel YA texts are read in order to get young adults to read. The common thought is that critical thinking should be left to the classics because they are literature with a capital L. Reading a novel for the story is perfectly acceptable but to limit a text is wrong. Young Adult literature should be treated the same as classics as in that they should be read with critical thinking and different critical theories. I cannot read a novel without wanting to know the time in history that the novel was written—what was going on at the time that this author was writing and why did he write about this topic? Should we not do the same investigating with novels of today? They most certainly will long after you and I have left this world. Literature is embedded with history. Present literature is filled with present history and current events. So, what is the harm of thinking critically and applying critical theory to Young Adult Literature? This genera resonates with teens and adults for a reason and it is imperative that readers think critically about all literature, not just literature with a capital L.
Scot Westerfeld’s Uglies is the first book of his trilogy, the Uglies series. The protagonist, Tally, lives in a dystopian world where everyone is “equal.” Everybody has a surgery on their sixteenth birthday that turns them pretty. If everyone is pretty then everyone is equal. There are three stages in this world. At first one is ugly, pre-surgery, then one is turned into a pretty, then into a middle pretty where one “chooses” your career, and the last stage is crumblies. Tally becomes friends with a girl named Shay who runs away from the city to be with a group that lives in nature; Smoke, a place where everyone is ugly because they ran away from the surgery. Shay’s escape led to Tally being interrogated by the Specials who are the hand of force back in the city; they threaten not to let Tally have the surgery unless she help find the group that Shay fled to. Tally, regretting her decision, agrees to the terms. Once Tally arrives at Smoke her feelings begin to change and decides to hold off on alerting the authorities of her whereabouts. Tally begins to have feelings for David; however, Shay also has a crush on David and this comes between the two friends. Tally notices beauty in things that she never thought could have beauty; she sees beauty in working with her hands; she sees beauty in David’s smile, even though he is an ugly, because it shows kindness and love; she sees beauty in nature and begins to question the entire system back at the city. After learning from David’s parents, who are previous doctors who administered the surgeries, that the surgery literally changes inhibitions, lesions become present that were not present before, Tally understands why people would run away. She came to the camp a traitor but begins to embrace the ugly lifestyle. Tally’s version of beauty is disrupted and she must choose what version to embrace.
Scot Westerfeld creates a world where everyone becomes pretty and thus equal. In this world there are no diseases, no eating disorders because there is no need to look better than anyone because everyone is already pretty, and no wars or fighting over the way others look or for the colour of people’s skin. Individuality is eliminated from the equation. By looking at Uglies through political criticism we can find many topics that the author is questioning. In the in the citizens must give up their individuality; this creates a peaceful world without selfishness, but the loss of individuality is taken without consent; but like I said, harmony and peace are achieved. So, what is the harm of giving up a little personal freedom for the sake of harmony? Looking through the lens of political criticism this novel is able to challenge issues that today’s society is facing, an appreciation that can apply to many more novels in the YA genera. Westfield not only shows the dangers in his dystopian world but also complicates issues in showing that maybe not everything about an oppressive government is bad. On one hand there is the thought that people should have a choice to have the surgery but on the other hand it is for the greater good that people do not have a choice to have the surgery. With Big Brother and the NSA leaks going on in today’s news, looking at this text through the lens of political criticism seems like a good idea. Maybe this is why dystopian novels are so popular, because they deal with current issues. Had I just read the novel for the story I would not have gained so much from the novel. I also would have been doing a disservice to the author.
Throughout the novel, uglies are kept separate from the pretties by a river as well as a distinct physical difference. They live in two different cities. Since uglies are pre-surgery they have not had their inhibitions taken away, the lesions inserted. Keeping the two separate makes sure that the uglies cannot have an influence on the pretties. The river represents power. Separation is a form of power that the government utilizes. If someone is going to run away they do it as an ugly, as a young person; this has significant meaning to me. Once an ugly makes it all the way through the system they have no will power to change; they have been indoctrinated and after the operation they have literally been brainwashed; they are tied to the system for life and can no longer escape it. Tally and Shay have a conversation about hover boarding; they do not see any reason why they cannot sneak out and hover board once they are turned pretty. However, they finish their own thought, Tally says, “Besides…just because we get the operation doesn’t mean we can’t do stuff like this” and Shay responds, “But pretties never do, Tally. Never;” I believe this scene helps Tally later in the novel in understanding that the operation really does change a person (Westerfeld 49). The separation gives the appearance that becoming pretty is the only choice; so, even though they are willingly forced into an operation, Westerfeld shows that government can give off the appearance of free choice but in reality they have just stripped away all other choices.
Another power seen through the lens of political criticism is the power of individuality or the absence of individuality. The operation makes you equal but takes away individual physical characteristics. No one person is prettier than another person. In the action of stripping individuality Westerfeld shows how importance and power of individuality. Shay talks to Tally about how the rusties used to live, “Everyone judged everyone else based on appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians just because they weren’t quite as ugly as everybody else” (43). An individual could be more successful based on their individual physical characteristics. The society that Shay and Tally are a part of has an obsession with beauty but they point out flaws in the older system. Those flaws in the rusties society resemble today’s society. Even though the big critique seems to focus on Tally’s society, through the lens of political criticism I am able to stop and contemplate the above quote. I would say that we are not at the point where someone gets elected due to being better looking; however, our society thrives on the beautiful and popular. Is Westerfeld implying that our society is headed that way? There is nothing wrong with being beautiful but letting beauty influence one’s every decision can lead to destruction; it says something when people are so willing to give up individuality for peace and how bad things must have been.
The only pretties mentioned that ever escaped are David’s parents. Upon having the second surgery into adulthood, middle pretty, certain people have the lesions removed according to their profession, “Every negative worked in the same sort of profession…firefighters, wardens, doctors, politicians, and everyone who worked for Special Circumstances” (252). David’s parents explain pretties whose jobs require quick reactions or deal with danger had the lesions cured but everyone else still has the lesions in their brain. The powers in charge are limiting certain functions of the brain to certain peoples. David’s parents no longer wanted to help aid an oppressive system that essentially abduct a person’s mind thus caging them in the system for life. In the mind of David’s parents and all those who live in Smoke, the government has overstepped. Having students read this text can spark valuable discussion in the classroom. The intentions of the operation was created and implemented as a result of extreme war and chaos; people will take advantage of such circumstances. Students can engage in discussion government. Do they believe that the operation is justified if it brings peace? Would the society be the same had they not placed the lesions in the brain? If not, those in power lied about the cosmetic surgery being implemented in order to gain harmony; the cosmetic surgery means nothing but is a catalyst to take away a people’s free will.
This particular YA novel sheds possible light on a society that does not promote critical thinking and is controlled by the government. Critical thinking is power. The uglies might be willing to have the surgery but could that be as a result of being told that it is the best thing to do? Are the uglies really making their choice out of their own free will? High school students might go to college because they genuinely want to, but many go because it is what is expected. They have been taught that if they wish to succeed and get a well-paying job then they must attend college, thus many high school students blithely head into college because “it’s the thing to do.” They are told that they will find out what they want to do in college, but why is college the preferred catalyst? Once another thought, another way was presented to Tally she then is able to think and begins to think critically. Teaching one view does not promote critical thinking. While ugly, Tally still has the ability to think critically. Those who went through the surgery can think, but they become ethnocentric in a way; they think only about their way of life and everything else becomes harmful. Without views that challenge our own views, critical thinking as a form of power and as a resource goes untapped and becomes useless. If only academia would think critically about YA novels; they would come to the realization that these books are rich and oozing with pertinent issues and with potential, untapped potential. Unfortunately at this time, many of these potential novels will remain just that, potential and untapped.
Westerfeld challenges an omnipresent government and brings to light that the government keeps secretes. While using the political lens it is obvious that Westerfeld is critiquing this form of government, but at the same time of the secrecy and control can be justified. He questions what secretes the government should keep, if any. As the government back in the city keeps the Special Circumstance Division a secrete; many do not even believe that they exist, but they have that fear that they could be real; this keeps everyone in check. Through the political lens we see Tally and the rest of the runways are challenging, critiquing, and pointing out the dangers in a society in which an all seeing and all-knowing omnipresent Big Brother exists. Is the reader being challenged to think critically about their own society and government? It is difficult to read a novel and not take anything away from it. The Special Circumstance Division functions similar to how the panopticon functions; the people do not know if they are present or not present but just the possibility of the SC existing keeps order. Westerfeld creates a system where Big Brother works at its finest; however, Tally and the runaways questions and rebel against this form of government. Is the SC, in their actions, oppressing people in order to keep the secrete about the lesions or are their actions carried out to keep people safe? Even if the SC is keeping peace does that justify the caging of an individual’s free will? Westerfeld portrays a society that functions under these conditions and everything appears to be functioning smoothly. Young Adult novels like the Uglies challenge readers to contemplate these issues that are so relevant in today’s society. Is a society without personal freedom really all that bad?
Tally wanted the surgery because it was all she could think about growing up; she legitimately wanted to be a pretty, but had she known from the beginning that her brain would be filled with lesions that would remove her inhibitions would she have wanted the surgery? Is Westerfeld showing the power of an education/indoctrination? The fact that the surgery is required is overlooked by the populous and they gladly have the surgery in which they have no say how they look; surgery is their only “choice.” So, some freedoms are given up for the greater good. At what point should people say enough is enough? I think Westerfeld shows that educating people a certain way as well as a sense of fear can keep pushing the line further back. If the media and government keep painting a certain people as terrorist then most everyone will eventually see no problem with taking those people’s freedoms away in order to ensure their own freedoms remain safe; this is the same thing happening but the people are relinquishing their own freedoms. I cannot help but think about the education system and how if someone does not finish high school or college their chances of being successful diminish; essentially, if a person does not go all the way through the system then they are considered useless to society. In order to be a functional member of society a person needs education.
Specials raided Smoke and took most everyone back to the city where they will be forced into having the operation. Tally and David escape and rescue everyone that was taken but Shay has already been turned into a pretty. Maddy, David’s mother, begins working on a cure. She finds a way but there is a one percent chance that the pill could leave the volunteer a vegetable. Shay has changed due to the lesions and Tally wants Shay to take the pill. Shay never wanted the surgery but she was forced. Shay refuses to take the pill and tries to convince Tally and David into turning pretty too. Even though Shay has been changed she should still be able to use her free will; Tally thinks they should make her take the pill even though Shay does not want to take the pill; Shay is happy the that she is. Westerfeld complicates the situation with Shays refusal and Tally’s urge to force the cure upon Shay. Can people be happy in an oppressive society? Shay answers yes. Shay also points out that if Tally, Maddy, and David were to force the cure upon her then they would be no different than the city, “In a lot of ways, you and Dr. Cable are alike. You’re both convinced you’ve personally got to change the world” (392). Doctor Cable wishes to keep the lesions a secrete and stop Maddy from developing a cure because she believes it right. If Tally and Maddy force Shay to take the pill then they are no different and they become the oppressor. Even if something is in the person’s own interest one still cannot force them to do anything outside their will. Even good people with good intentions cannot and should not force their way onto people. Tally volunteers to be the subject of the cure.
Stories are written for critical thinking and life lessons just as much as they are written for entertainment. Just because something was written for the masses and for entertainment does not mean that text cannot be challenging and promote critical thinking. Every day everyone uses critical thinking; some might have an ethnocentric critical thought process but they are still analyzing information as they see it, touch it, or as they read it. Every person has the functions and capabilities to think critically; however, in order to really tap into one’s ability to think critically one must branch out and observe actions, places, people, and situations that they are not typically accustom to being around. Applying critical theory to YA novels is a great way to expand not only the minds of young adults but of parents and those in academia. Time and time again I find myself recommending a YA novel and I have to defend it; I tell the person that it is deep and challenges current issues. When someone recommends a classic to me they just tell me it is by this author or that author and therefore it is good and valuable. Why is it that people will discretely read a YA novel but flaunt that they are reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? Some books might be better than others; but the key word is “book;” I did not say some genera’s are better nor does any one genera have deeper meaning than the other. Unfortunately, many parents and those involved in academia look down upon an entire genera; they are in a sense ethnocentric when it comes to what qualifies as quality literature. When reading classics students are told to look for themes, students are told to apply the text to events that took place when the text was written, and students are told to apply currents issues or today’s society; but why are schools and teachers trying to teach yesterday’s novels to today’s readers? If YA is taught in the classroom it is often to accompany a classic. Should not classics be able to stand alone? Should not YA novels be able to stand alone? Classics should not be the only books to which critical thinking can be applied. When critical thinking/critical theory is used on any book the complexities of the both the book and the critical thinking are portrayed. If teens are going to be reading YA novels then they should be taught how to pull complexities from those novels. They should not be led to think that critical thinking is for the classics only. Are we teaching students to only think critically about certain books and dismissing other novel’s validity? Young people already want to read YA novels because they resonate with them. Think of how much more meaning they could pull from those novels if they were taught to read those books through a critical theory lens. How much more social commentary could teachers get their students join in? Even if all the students do is ask questions, critical thinking happened. Even if the teacher does not have an answer, students still participated in discussion about the many issues that YA novels deal with. If critical theory in YA novels can possibly change and better the education system then hope lurks in the future that academia might catch on to this way of thinking.
Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. Simon Pulse ed. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011. Print.