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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 703

“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...

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“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.

Zoë has had three unsuccessful relationships in her three years at this midwestern liberal arts college. The first relationship was with a parking ticket bureaucrat (his occupation suggests the paucity of available men). Their relationship ended with the suggestion that she buy new clothes. Zoë, who likes her clothes, casually flicked an ant off her sleeve, and the man got extremely upset because the ant landed in his car, a snazzy convertible (vainly inappropriate for midwestern weather). The second man was much sweeter and even appreciated the arts, but Zoë was frequently disconcerted by the odd things that he did and said. For example, he stole garnishes from her dinner plate and then acted enraged that she did not notice. A third man, Murray Peterson, was a political science professor who took Zoë on double dates with other professors and their wives. Murray would then proceed to flirt outrageously with these wives. The last of these dates ended when Zoë suggested that even a clever dog could do what the wife claimed to be her great mental feats.

Just before leaving to visit her sister in New York, Zoë discovers that she has a tumor in her abdomen. Rather than waiting to hear the diagnosis (possibly ovarian cancer), she boards the plane for New York. Once there, she learns that her sister, Evan, plans to marry Charlie, her long-term lover. Evan tells her this news immediately after complaining about the boredom and sexlessness of their relationship.

At a Halloween party held by her sister, Zoë meets Earl, a man disguised as a naked woman. He wears a body suit with large rubber breasts and strategically placed steel wool. The steel wool and rubber breasts shift throughout the evening, producing yet another comic effect. Zoë is dressed as a bonehead, but a reversal of their disguises might be more character appropriate. Zoë and Earl go out onto the balcony of this classy high-rise Manhattan apartment. The ensuing conversation serves to epitomize the impossibility of intimacy between many single men and women of the late twentieth century. Earl does not get any of Zoë’s jokes, changes the subject whenever Zoë begins to talk, and never listens to her seriously even when she brings up the serious subject of her health. The story ends with Zoë’s playful push against Earl, who is leaning on the railing of a twentieth floor balcony. Earl does not go over the railing, and Zoë claims that she was just kidding.

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