Have you ever wanted to be perfect? Have you ever wanted a perfect society? Imagine a place where everyone was equally beautiful, and there were no responsibilities or worries. A place where you were given everything you could’ve ever asked for. If you had a place this luxurious, would you still want it? Sometimes we think our lives would be fulfilled if we were smarter, or prettier, or more athletic. It is these times that we neglect to see how great our lives already are. This is the theme of Scott Westerfeld’s novel, Uglies. Like all great writers, Scott Westerfeld supports the theme of his novel with symbolism that is hidden in every character and event. Uglies takes place in futuristic Northern California. In this story, society is divided into two main groups, the “Uglies” and the “Pretties”. These two groups are separated by a river that runs between their cities. The reader first meets the main character, Tally, when she is sneaking across this river on a bridge to see her friend Peris. Tally quotes, “The old bridge stretched massively across the water, its huge iron framework as black as the sky. The bridge was silent, and had always seemed very wise…Tally pulled the fishing line until it turned into a wet, knotted cord.
Tally then pulled the rope and lashed it to the usual tree. One time the escape rope had pulled loose from the tree and both she and Peris swung downward into the icy river. She smiled at the memory, realizing she would rather be on that expedition-soaking wet and freezing-than dry and warm tonight, but alone” (Loc 80). This quote not only shows Tally’s route of escape, but the emptiness she feels from the separation between her and her best friend, Peris. The quote also shows the hidden symbolism in the bridge. Standing over a society where everything is constantly improving, the bridge represents the past for Pretties and Uglies. It holds the same architecture from a hundred years ago and it is one of the only artifacts left over from the apocalypse that ended the society before them.
There is a reason for the separation of Pretties and Uglies in this novel. Uglies are completely natural, they don’t wear makeup, they go to school, and they live in dorms on the Ugly side of the river. Pretties are the opposite. Pretties undergo a cosmetic surgery that makes them as perfect as possible, and they are given no responsibilities in their new life. When an Ugly turns sixteen, they are turned into a Pretty and moved across the river. While Tally is awaiting her surgery, she gazes across the river and quotes, “I could see New Pretty Town through my open window. The party towers were already lit up, and snakes of burning torches marked flickering pathways to through the pleasure gardens…Laughter and music skipped across the river like rocks thrown with just the right spin, their edges just as sharp against Tally’s nerves” (Loc 54). This quote describes a typical night in New Pretty Town, as well as Tally’s longing to be a part of a perfect society. Constantly we find ourselves gazing upon someone else’s life, wishing ours was as glamorous as theirs. Tally’s desire to be across the river symbolizes everyone is modern society wishing for a perfect life.
Lying on the outskirts of both these towns is the Rusties’ cities. “Rusties” is a term referring those who lived before this new society came into play. At first, Tally disregards these cities, seeing them as just abandoned plains. It’s not until Shay, a girl from the Uglies town and Tally’s friend, runs away on her sixteenth birthday. Shay’s birthday is the same day as Tally’s, so Tally had expected they would come out of surgery together. However, when the hover cab comes to pick up Tally, it doesn’t take her to the hospital. Instead it takes her to Special Circumstances. When she arrives at Special Circumstances, Doctor Cable is waiting to speak with her. Dr. Cable tells Tally that she is responsible for finding her friend, Shay. When Tally tells Dr. Cable that she made a promise to Shay that she would never tell anyone where she went, Dr. Cable tells Tally, “’Then I’ll make you a promise too, Tally Youngblood. Until you help us, to the very best of your ability, you will never be pretty” (Loc 1309). After hearing this, Tally reluctantly agrees to help Dr. Cable find Shay. This moment is important because it symbolizes weakness and selfishness in human nature.
Sometimes, we are willing to go against someone we love if it benefits ourselves. Tally wants to be perfect so badly that she is willing to turn her friend in to the authorities to get the operation she wants. Dr. Cable gives Tally supplies to get to the Rusties and a heart-shaped locket that she is to activate when she finds Shay. Once Tally activates it, Special Circumstances will be able to find the location of the Rusties and arrest any outlaws living there. Tally travels for several days and nights and finally gets to the Rusties. Shay is happy to see her, and immediately introduces her to all of her new friends. These friends include David, a sixteen year old that ran away from the surgery because he wanted to stay pure. When Tally meets him, she thinks to herself, “He was an ugly, but he had a nice smile. And his face held a kind of confidence Tally had never seen in an ugly before” (Loc 2180). David represents pureness and reality. In our world, we classify someone as beautiful if they have exquisite features that are rare. In Tally’s world, everyone was given these rare features, which made it so they were no longer rare. David’s features are appealing to Tally because they are rare to her. David has never gone under the knife for cosmetic surgery, and she still finds him captivating.
A few days later, David introduces Tally to his parents. Both of them were cosmetic surgeons who changed Uglies into Pretties, but they ran away once they learned the truth about the operation. The operation didn’t just make your outside pretty; it gave you a pretty mind too. It takes away negative emotions like sadness and anger, and makes you obey any authority. After hearing this, Tally decides that she would rather be ugly forever and live in the Rusties than turn them in and go back to New Pretty Town. Tally throws the heart pendant into a raging bonfire, but she doesn’t know that the heat activates the signal. On the following day, Tally wakes up to find Special Circumstances agents all over the Rusties. She runs to a cave to hide, and finds David in there.
That night, while hiding in the cave, they have a heart to heart conversation that strengthens their bond. David tells Tally, “’you always seemed to know how dangerous it was here in the Rusties. Somehow, you understood what the cities were really like. You were the only runaway who ever got it” (Loc 3698). The special bond between Tally and David symbolizes maturity in human beings. As we grow up, our wants and our needs change. For example- a birthday present that we would want as a three year old is not the same as a present we would want as a thirteen year old. Similarly, Tally’s wants have changed since she has matured at the Rockies. She no longer wants to be pretty; she just wants to have a life filled with people she loves.
Tally and David soon learn that all of their friends form the Rusties have been taken back to Special Circumstances and are now being prepped to become Pretties. When they arrive at Special Circumstances, the two of them find that Shay has already been turned. When they ask her questions about the Rusties, she has no idea what they are talking about. In perhaps the most dramatic moment of the book, Shay tells them, “’You guys sure do like to cause trouble’” (Loc 4348). Shay’s loss of memory symbolizes tragedy in the novel, for Shay was the leader of the rebellion against the immoral acts of the operation. Now, not only has she forgotten everything she knew about the surgery, but she sees her friends as criminals. Tally and David now must take up the rebellion themselves.
Tally and David free the Rusties that are being held captive in Special Circumstances, then they steal hover boards and all escape back home. Once there, David’s parents Maddy and Az admit that they have created an antidote to cure the lesions in the brain that are inserted during the Pretties Operation. However, they still need a subject to test them on before they release them to the public. Tally feels especially guilty for everything that has happened since she arrives at the Rusties, and she volunteers to travel to Special Circumstances and undergo the operation. In the final line of the novel, Tally says, “’Hi, I’m Tally Youngblood. Make me pretty” (Loc 4850). Tally’s decision to turn pretty is significant because it is actually in attempt to rebel against the operation, not fall into it like she wanted at the beginning of the novel. This decision symbolizes change, which is a huge concept in the novel. The society in this novel is constantly changing; people have the ability to change their looks completely. When Tally was at the Rusties, she found it peaceful because there was never any change. Everyone looked as unique as they had the day before. This is the reason Tally loved the Rusties so much.
Uglies ends on a high note with Tally asking to become pretty. She is sacrificing herself to benefit others, which is a far cry from the start of
the book, when she agreed to turn in her friend to become pretty. All of the character development throughout this novel was based on symbolism. Every event that Tally encountered symbolized real virtues in human nature; desire, selfishness, curiosity, maturity, responsibility, and sacrifice. Scott Westerfeld did a fantastic job of hiding these elements in his story. By the time the reader was finished with the book, he had tied up all loose ends and fully developed his characters. All in all, Westerfeld’s symbolism added up to create one big picture; beauty is defined differently by all of us. That was the point of Uglies.
Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. New York: Simon Pulse, 2005. Print.
1. I think I stuck to my original topic throughout the paper.
2. The hardest part of this paper was staying inside of the page limit. I had to summarize the book so the quotes would make sense, and that took a lot of space and left me very little to analyze.
3. The first change I made was reducing my summary of the book to as few words as possible. The second change I made was adding on to the analysis of each symbol at the end of each paragraph.
4. I’m most proud of this entire paper. I feel like my writing has improved greatly and I believe this paper will have a sky-high score.