Summary

‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’ is a much more character-driven story than it is a plot-driven one. With a sparse plot, but layered with anecdotes and flashbacks that reveal the main character to be cynical and dismissive in her relationships with nearly everyone in her life, especially men, the story offers a glimpse into the thoughts and daily life of an unmarried Midwestern history professor who flies to Manhattan to spend Halloween weekend with her younger sister.

Although narrated in the third person, ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’ is told from the point of view of Zoë Hendricks who, when the story opens, has been teaching at Midwest colleges for four years. Her first teaching stint was in New Geneva, Minnesota, or ‘‘Land of the Dying Shopping Mall’’ where ‘‘[e]veryone was so blond . . . that brunettes were often presumed to be from foreign countries.’’ Her liberal arts students in Paris, Illinois, where she currently teaches—‘‘by and large good Midwesterners, spacey with estrogen from large quantities of meat and cheese . . . [who share] their parents’ suburban values . . . [and who seem] to know very little about anything. . . . ’’—do not fare much better in her eyes. Known for her eccentric behavior— students complain about her singing in class, for instance, and when asked by one student what perfume she is wearing, Hendricks replies, ‘‘Room freshener’’—she is tolerated by her ‘‘department of nine men. . . .’’ After all, the department had recently faced a sex-discrimination suit and the men are in need of a ‘‘feminine touch to the corridors.’’

Hendricks lives alone in Paris and has had poor luck in meeting men. Of the three men she has dated since moving to the Midwest, the first was a Paris bureaucrat who surveyed his own pectorals while driving and who became incensed when she brushed an ant onto his car floor....

(The entire section is 782 words.)

You're Ugly Too Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“You’re Ugly Too” is told in the third person through the perspective of Zoë Hendricks, a single woman in academia seemingly doomed to a series of unrewarding relationships with the opposite sex. Her situation is a common one for professional women, and the story would be simply depressing if not for Zoë’s wry sense of humor. When she visits her sister in New York City, she meets another single man, who turns out to be the epitome of men incapable of true intimacy.

Zoë lives in an Illinois town, incongruously named Paris, where she teaches history at a small liberal arts college with the equally incongruous name, Hilldale-Versailles. She has been hired primarily as a means of avoiding a sex-discrimination suit, and her male colleagues do not treat her seriously. Zoë’s sense of ironic humor quickly degenerates into sarcasm, and her student evaluations are slipping. She finds her students good-natured enough, but inane, lacking even minimal intellectual curiosity about anything historical or geographic.

Zoë manages to plug along in her job, saving herself by frequent trips or vacations away from the Midwest, where every man expects her to be a physically mature version of Heidi, the charming Swiss orphan in the Johanna Spyri classic novel. She is writing a book on humor in the American presidency, but her progress is slowed by her meticulous, compulsive revisions. Zoë desperately awaits the arrival of the mail each day and watches television in her bedroom into the late hours of the night. She even buys a house but quickly loses any interest in personalizing it with her own decor. In fact, she is not quite sure that the woman she sees in the mirror each day is herself.

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(The entire section is 703 words.)