Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Women and Academia
In the 1980s, women were greatly outnumbered by men as faculty members, accounting for only 27 percent of all academic faculty, according to Academic Women Working towards Equality (Bergin and Garvey Publishers, 1987). This number was an increase of about 5 percent over the period 1942–1962, according to the same study. By contrast, women reached their peak in terms of representation among faculty members in 1879–1880 when they made up 36 percent of all faculty in U.S. colleges and universities. According to the National Resource Council’s Humanities Doctorates in the United States, 1991 Profile (National Academy Press, 1994), about one-third of all PhD candidates in History between 1981 and 1988 were women.

Detection of Tumors
Ultrasound imaging, also known as ultrasonography, is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses high frequency sound waves and their echoes to help physicians get an inside view of soft tissues and body cavities. By the 1980s, ultrasound had been widely available to clinics and hospitals for years and was the method of choice for diagnosing abdominal-related pains. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, had just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1984, but because of its costs would not be widely used for diagnosis for at least another decade.

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The external plot of “You’re Ugly Too” is obviously not very important for Moore’s purposes. The plot is little more than a particular situation to highlight what is going on inside of Zoë’s head. A brief sketch of her academic career and unsuccessful romances sets the scene for her trip to New York where she meets yet another romantic cripple.

Moore’s use of a third-person narration, which closely follows the consciousness of Zoë Hendricks, allows the reader to see the woman from both the outside and the inside. The reader is thoroughly sympathetic with Zoë, particularly if the reader has experienced firsthand some of the pitfalls of academic teaching and a few unsuccessful relationships. However, one can also see that Zoë partly creates the distance between herself and others. Zoë remains appealing primarily because of her wry sense of humor when looking at both herself and her world.

Moore’s stories have been compared to the stories of Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Flannery O’Connor. The pervasive comic despair of Moore’s stories may be similar to that of O’Connor’s stories, but in theme she is much closer to Carver. Her characters rarely, if ever, achieve moments of epiphany; such a move might imply easy answers, and Moore clearly disdains easy answers to the complex angst suffered by her women characters. Moore’s style is simple, reminiscent of both Mason and Carver. However, humor is Moore’s pervading trademark. Occasionally, this humor threatens to usurp the sad, underlying truths of her stories, but in “You’re Ugly Too,” Moore maintains a fine balance.

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Throughout ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too,’’ Moore uses flashbacks, jokes, and anecdotes to complete Hendricks’s character. Although the story’s plot is sparse, the reader is given ample details of the protagonist’s dates, her relationships with her students and colleagues, and her feelings for her geographic surroundings that effectively fill in her psychology and personality.

‘‘You’re Ugly, Too,’’ seen through the point of view of the main character, is told in a witty, often sarcastic and glib tone. Hendricks’s views of her surroundings—her students, the Midwest, and the men she’s dated—are revealed through cutting and sarcastic anecdotes and jokes. Even her trip to the hospital for ultrasound tests that may reveal a fatal growth is described with wit and sarcasm. This tone acts to underscore her generally morbid and cynical view of her life.

Point of View
Although the story is narrated in a third person omniscient point of view, ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’ is told through the eyes of Zoë Hendricks, the story’s main character. Through the telling of stories and jokes, the reader is given a deep understanding of Hendricks’s daily life and personality.

‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’ takes place in Paris, Illinois, where Hendricks lives and works, and in New York City, where her sister and her sister’s boyfriend live. The Midwest,...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Aldridge, John W., ‘‘Anguish as a Second Language,’’ in Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New Assembly- Line Fiction, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992, p. 110.

Blades, John, ‘‘Lorrie Moore: Flipping Death the Bird,’’ in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 245, No. 34, August 24, 1998, pp. 31–32.

Brockway, Michelle, ‘‘The Art of Reading Lorrie Moore,’’ in Poets and Writers, Vol. 28, No. 5, September/October 2000, pp. 16–19.

Casey, John, ‘‘Eloquent Solitudes: The Short Stories of Lorrie Moore Address Life’s Essential Loneliness,’’ Review of Like Life, in Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1990, p. 3.

Cryer, Dan, ‘‘Bittersweet Quest for a Lasting Romance,’’ Review of Like Life, in Newsday, May 21, 1990.

Gaffney, Elizabeth, ‘‘Lorrie Moore: The Art of Fiction CLXVII: An Interview with Lorrie Moore,’’ in the Paris Review, Vol. 43, No. 158, Spring–Summer 2001, pp. 57–84.

Gilbert, Matthew, ‘‘Like Life: Moore’s Clever and Complex Set of Stories,’’ Review of Like Life, in Boston Globe, May 23, 1990, p. 51.

Lee, Don, ‘‘About Lorrie Moore,’’ in Ploughshares, Vol. 24, Nos. 2–3, Fall 1998, pp. 224–29.

‘‘Lives on a Short-Story Roller Coaster,’’ in Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 1990, p. 12....

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

In his 1992 book Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New Assembly-Line Fiction, John E. Aldridge criticizes writers such as Lorrie Moore for tending ‘‘to treat the personal life [of their characters] as if it were a phenomenon existing totally apart from society and without connotations that would give it meaningful relevance to a general human condition or dilemma.’’ Do you think this criticism applies to ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’? Are there social forces behind the problems Hendricks is facing, or do you agree with Aldridge that Moore treats Hendricks’s life as something apart from her social context?

In her snide remarks to her undergraduate students in Paris, Illinois, Hendricks believes she is being ironic, but her students accuse her of being sarcastic—an accusation Hendricks eventually accepts. Research the definitions of ‘‘sarcasm’’ and ‘‘irony.’’ What is the difference between the two terms, and do you agree with the students that Hendricks is being sarcastic? Where, if anywhere, can you find irony in ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’?

The history department Hendricks teaches for recently faced a sex-discrimination suit, and Hendricks is the only woman currently teaching there. Research the male-female ratios in academia in general, and in history departments in particular. Is Hendricks’s experience unique, or are women widely represented as professors in academia? What are the...

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Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

A recording of Lorrie Moore reading ‘‘You’re Ugly, Too’’ can be found in the audio version of The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin, an abridged version of the collection is available on cassette and an unabridged version is available on CD.

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Self-Help (1985), Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories, largely consists of her master’s thesis at Cornell, where she studied under the writer Allison Lurie. Many of the stories in Self- Help are written in the second person and display the wit and humor that Moore has come to be known for.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994) is Moore’s second and most accomplished novel. In it, a disillusioned, middle-aged woman vacationing in Paris looks back to her girlhood in a small Adirondack tourist town near the Canadian border.

Allison Lurie, who mentored Moore at Cornell, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for Foreign Affairs, a novel about two academics living and working in France. Fred Turner is an attractive, twentynine- year-old English professor and Vinnie Miner is an English professor in her 50s, divorced and not that pretty, but they share many needs and passions.

Raymond Carver, considered by many to be the master of minimalist fiction, is often mentioned as a precursor to Lorrie Moore. Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories by Raymond Carver includes a wide selection from Carver’s career.

In an interview with freelance writer Lauren Picker in Newsday, Lorrie Moore calls Alice Munro’s collection of stories Open Secrets ‘‘one of the greatest books of the century.’’

In Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New...

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