Scott Westerfield’s Use of Characterization in Uglies

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About this sample


Words: 751 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 751|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021


Table of contents

  1. Direct characterization
  2. Indirect characterization
  3. Motivations of the characters
  4. Conclusion

Scott Westerfeld's novel "Uglies" is a compelling exploration of a dystopian society where every teenager undergoes surgery to become "pretty" at the age of sixteen. In this world, the concept of beauty and conformity is paramount, and the author skillfully utilizes characterization to make his characters believable and to convey essential themes and conflicts. Characterization, the process of revealing a character's personality, is employed through both direct and indirect means to create a rich narrative that explores the motivations of its central characters. In this essay, we will examine how Westerfeld masterfully employs characterization and delve into the motivations of the protagonist, Tally Youngblood, and the antagonist, Dr. Cable, to shed light on the complex dynamics of their society.

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Direct characterization

Direct characterization involves the author directly stating a character's traits. In "Uglies," Tally Youngblood serves as the protagonist, and Westerfeld uses direct characterization to introduce her character to the reader. We are told,

"Worse, she was ugly, but she hoped Peris wouldn't see her that way."

This direct statement informs the reader about Tally's current appearance and her desire not to be perceived as ugly. The term "ugly" holds immense significance in their society, as it denotes those who have not undergone the transformative surgery to become "pretty." Tally's fear of being seen as ugly is a central motivator for her actions throughout the novel.

Conversely, the antagonist in the story, Dr. Cable, is also subjected to direct characterization. Dr. Cable is portrayed as a formidable and vengeful character. The text reveals,

"...The woman became nothing but a monster, vengeful and inhuman. 'Then I'll make you a promise too, Tally Youngblood. Until you do help us to the best of your ability, you will never be pretty...'"

Here, Dr. Cable's vengeful nature is explicitly stated as she threatens Tally with a lifetime of ugliness unless she complies with her demands. This direct characterization helps establish the central conflict and antagonist's role in the story.

Indirect characterization

While direct characterization provides essential insights into characters, Westerfeld also employs indirect characterization techniques to enhance the depth and complexity of his characters. Indirect characterization involves revealing a character's traits through their words, thoughts, actions, looks, and effect on others. In the case of Tally Youngblood, Westerfeld expertly uses indirect characterization to paint a more nuanced portrait of her character.

For instance, we read,

"She put her fingers up to her face, felt the wide nose and thin lips, the too high forehead and tangled mass of frizzy hair."

Through this description, Westerfeld conveys Tally's insecurity about her physical appearance without explicitly labeling her as "ugly." This indirect approach allows readers to connect with Tally's internal struggle and self-doubt as she navigates a society that places a high premium on physical beauty.

Dr. Cable, the antagonist, also receives nuanced treatment through indirect characterization. In a scene where she shows Tally her unaltered reflection, Westerfeld writes,

"Dr. Cable pointed at the wallscreen, and an image appeared. Like a mirror, but in close up, it showed Tally as she looked right now: puffy-eyed and disheveled, exhaustion and red scratches marking her face, her hair sticking out in all directions, and her expression turning horrified as she beheld her own appearance. 'That's you, Tally. Forever…'"

This indirect characterization highlights Dr. Cable's manipulative and ruthless nature. She uses Tally's own image to emotionally manipulate her, revealing her willingness to employ psychological tactics to achieve her goals.

Motivations of the characters

As we delve into the motivations of the characters, it becomes evident that Tally's fear of being labeled "ugly" is a driving force in the narrative. Tally's longing to become "pretty" is deeply rooted in her desire for acceptance and belonging. She has looked forward to this transformation her entire life, and the prospect of being "ugly" terrifies her. Tally's choice between revealing the whereabouts of the rumored town "Smoke" and remaining "ugly" creates a gripping internal conflict that propels the story forward.

A pivotal moment in the novel illustrates this motivation:

"Dr. Cable ignored the sob that had cut through Tally's words. 'If you don't agree right now, I'll find someone else. And you'll be ugly forever.' Tally looked up, trying to see through the tears that were flowing freely now, to peer past Dr. Cable's cruel mask and find the truth. It was there in her dull, metal-gray eyes, a cold, terrible surety unlike anything a normal pretty could ever convey. Tally realized the woman meant what she said. Either Tally infiltrated Smoke and betrayed Shay, or she'd be ugly forever."

This passage underscores Tally's motivation and the high stakes she faces.

Tally's motivation is further complicated by her friendship with Peris, her best friend. She fears that if she remains "ugly," Peris will view her with disdain. The novel depicts a poignant moment when Tally's appearance deteriorates, and she seeks comfort from Peris:

"The thought of what she must look like was too much. Tally collapsed on the bed, covering her face with her hands and sobbing. Peris sat next to her and held her for a while as she cried, then wiped her nose and sat her up. 'Look at you, Tally Youngblood,' she shook her head. 'Please don't.'"

This scene underscores the depth of Tally's motivation and her desire for acceptance within her social circle.

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In conclusion, Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" masterfully employs characterization to bring his characters to life and to explore the complex motivations that drive them. Through both direct and indirect characterization, readers gain insight into the personalities and struggles of Tally Youngblood and Dr. Cable. Tally's fear of being labeled "ugly" and her longing for acceptance form the core of her motivation, while Dr. Cable's ruthlessness and desire for control are key aspects of her character. Westerfeld's skillful use of characterization elevates the narrative and provides readers with a thought-provoking exploration of beauty, conformity, and the lengths to which individuals will go to fit into societal norms.


  1. Westerfeld, S. (2005). Uglies. Simon Pulse.
  2. Bickford, T. J. (2012). Beauty, Identity, and Power in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 37(4), 409-429.
  3. Green, J. E. (2010). The Politics of Beauty and the Aesthetics of Identity in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies. The ALAN Review, 37(3), 39-46.
  4. Heit, J. (2008). Cosmetic Surgery in Uglies: An Analysis of Beauty Ideals and Their Implications. The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, 12(1), 1-14.
  5. King, J. M. (2011). Dystopian Literature and Adolescent Identity: A Comparative Analysis of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Series. The Lion and the Unicorn, 35(2), 133-149.
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Scott Westerfield’s Use Of Characterization In Uglies. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from
“Scott Westerfield’s Use Of Characterization In Uglies.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
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