Conformity or individuality? Security or freedom? Both questions are brought up repeatedly in the tale of Tally Youngblood, a confused young “ugly” who is ensnared in the spiderweb of lies and manipulation she calls “society”. But is the society in Uglies that bad? Scott Westerfield weaves an intricate and multilayered dystopian story and yet…Upon deeper thinking, you have to ask. Is it really a dystopian society?
In Uglies all people upon reaching the age of 16 must undergo a surgery to make them “pretty”, and once completed they are free to lose themselves in a life of carefree reveling. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? At least, it did before it was revealed that upon receiving surgery, they would also be receiving a brain lesion making them both complacent and rather simpleminded. This is soon discovered by Tally Youngblood as she lives in the Rusties camp, a group of outcasts who live similarly to the society that had caused humanities original downfall (presumably us).
But is undergoing the surgery and receiving the brain lesion that bad? When we look closer, the truth is the Ugly/Pretty society that currently reigns is in no ways a dystopian society. The Rusties, a society that was dependant on unsustainable resources caused the crash of humanity long ago. They had conflict, waged wars, and wreaked havoc on the environment.”Before the operation, there were wars and mass hatred and clear-cutting.” (Westerfield, 257-258) They had jealousy, hate, anger. “You want to talk about brain damage? Look at you all, running around these ruins playing commando. You’re all full of schemes and rebellions, crazy with fear and paranoia, even jealousy.” (390) In what way is the current society worse than the Rusty society?
People live carefreely. People are happy. Others will argue that the pretty world is a false paradise, one that robs everyone of things we hold key. Individuality and Freedom. But does freedom actually make you happy? Does being an individual make you happy? Or do we simply say it would make us happier because we have been taught that we should feel happier if we have more freedom if we have individuality? Just like in the Uglies book, people would be happier with less freedom.
We have always been taught that the way to maximize our happiness is to maximize our freedom, to live the way we want. The more choices we have, the more freedom we have and the more freedom we have the happier we are. Nobody questions this. But choices lead to indecision and paralysis. if Apple launched 100 different phones this year, their sales would bomb because people would have too many options to choose from. The problem isn’t the quality, it’s the hassle customers need to go through to make the “right” choice. The more choices we have, the harder for us to choose, and inevitably, people will give up on making a decision.
Freedom means choices, choices bring responsibility, and responsibility brings burden. If you did not have to make any choices at all, yet at the same time not feel oppressed, feel in complete control of your life…would you not be happier? I know that I would. Inevitably, with less freedom, People would be happier.