How is Lorrie Moore's short story "You're Ugly, Too" about love and death?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Love and death are certainly two very dominant themes throughout Lorrie Moore's short story "You're Ugly, Too."

The theme of love, or, more specifically, the theme of failed love, is portrayed through Zoë Hendricks', the unwed protagonist, inability to find a relationship and connect with others. Zoë has moved to the Midwest where she has been teaching at various colleges for the past four years. She is currently living and teaching in Paris, Illinois. She has attempted to date three different men since moving to Paris. The first man proved to be too vain; the second proved to be too crude and uncultured; and the third proved to like to flirt with married women. When she meets Earl at her sister's Halloween party in Manhattan, though she converses with him, she is extremely distant. For example, she gets hostile when he hijacks her moment to tell her favorite doctor joke and tells a different one instead. Also, when he wants to talk optimistically about recovering from love's hurt, she deflates his hope by responding sarcastically, saying she has no hope because all the men she lives near in Paris, Illinois, are either "all married or gay." She even calls him a fag at one point and pretends to push him off the balcony.

The desire to push Earl, dressed as a naked woman, off the balcony reflects her dissatisfaction with her own life, which parallels the death theme. Though we are not told the exact problem, we know that Zoë has been having severe abdominal pains. We also know that Zoë has been to the doctor for multiple tests and that a "large, mysterious growth" has been found in her gallbladder. Though we don't know for sure, the growth may be cancerous and terminal as we can surmise based on her recitation of her favorite doctor joke, the same joke that serves as the title of the story. In the joke, a man is told by his doctor that he has "six weeks to live." When the man says he wants a "second opinion," the doctor says, "O.K. ... You're ugly, too."

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