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by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies Theme of Memory and the Past

As your history teacher loves to tell you, studying the past is the only way to understand the present and guess about the future. (If your history teacher hasn't told you that, then you are the lucky exception to the rule.) So, when David shows Tally some ruins and tells her that all it took was one big shove to destroy the previous civilization, well, that makes us a little nervous about the survival of the whole pretty world. And as authoritarian governments often do, Tally's city controls information about the past so that people behave themselves in the present. And that's why, in Uglies, the past may be a clue to the present, but sometimes it's hard to know exactly what went on in the past. (Also because there was a lot of fire, which tends to make old books go bye-bye.)

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How do memories of the past get transmitted in Uglies? Tally says her school went on a field trip to the Rusty Ruins, but how does that differ from the time Shay takes her? How does the library in the city differ from the library in the Smoke? What about conversations—how much of the past do people learn from talking to each other?
  2. In several scenes, Tally is confronted with something from the past that she cannot understand but that we do (like the helicopters or the train tracks). Does knowing more than Tally make you read this story differently? Do you feel more in control when Tally is lost?
  3. Does any character have a better understanding of the past than any other? What do they do with that knowledge of the past? For instance, do you think Dr. Cable has a better understanding of the past then the Boss? Does that knowledge change the way the characters act?
  4. Are there any elements of the past that have remained in the present and how do characters respond to those remnants? For instance, what do people think about the train tracks or the helicopters or the orchids or the bridge in the city?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Uglies, Tally's present is our future—which makes her adventures partly our fault.

Uglies shows the Specials trying to control how people remember the past (it was bad, things are better, go have a drink). Except the past can never be truly controlled and often breaks out into the present in uncomfortable ways (like in magazines).

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