Autobiography Of A Face Summary

Lucy Grealy

Autobiography Of A Face

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Autobiography Of A Face Summary

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Autobiography of a Face is a 1994 memoir written by Lucy Grealy. It details her childhood struggles with cancer in her jaw and the subsequent disfigurement that haunted her most of her life.

Lucy, who is a tomboy but terrible at organized sports, sustains a minor injury while playing dodgeball. This injury is the first sign that something might be wrong. After a series of doctors visits where the problem was thought to be a cyst, she is diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a deadly form of cancer. With only a 5% survival rate, Lucy begins the first in a series of surgeries and radiation therapies that will increase her chance of survival.

These surgeries involve removing part of her jaw, and leave her with a disfigured face. She is unable to go out in public without enduring the taunts of children and the stares of complete strangers. Her first plastic surgery is largely unsuccessful. Lucy doesn’t realize the danger she is in at first, but after two years of treatments, and several unsuccessful plastic surgeries, the full weight of her diagnosis hits her.

Lucy’s mother is unable to deal with these events and handles them the only way she knows how. She remains strong for her daughter and encourages her to do the same. Although this seems like the best choice at the time, it prevents Lucy from coming to terms with her feelings. She feels like she disappoints her mother every time she cries or gives in to her fear.

When she returns to school, Lucy must deal with the aftermath of her treatments. She is tormented for her appearance, so she withdraws, convincing herself that she doesn’t need anyone else. As she finishes school and enters adulthood, she admits to herself that she keeps waiting for her life to start. She can’t start to live that life until her new face arrives.

She finishes high school and attends college. She wanted to go to medical school but settles for studying poetry instead. She begins to find herself again, though she is still missing the deep connection found in romantic relationships. Her inability to find a partner is a gaping hole in her life, and although she does meet someone, her insecurity causes the relationship to end around the time she endures another failed surgery.

Towards the end of the memoir, she comes to terms with her appearance and finds that she is happy with who she is. She begins to write and manages to find another plastic surgeon. This time, the surgery is more successful. She feels a sense of closure, and realizes that she wasted lots of time trying to look like what everyone else expects. She doesn’t have to put her life on hold any longer.

The moral of the memoir is that, while society tells us that we should look and behave expects certain way, this rarely matches who we are. Lucy’s appearance caused her such pain that she was unable to live her life, even after surviving cancer. All that time flew by, and it wasn’t until she recognized that she was a whole person, even without her “new face”, that could she move on.

Lucy demonstrates a lot of courage throughout the memoir, despite her feelings of isolation. She faces down a deadly form of cancer and survives painful treatments and surgeries. When children are taunting her, or when she feels that she cannot withstand another stranger’s stare, she comforts herself knowing that she has endured more pain that many people could handle.

Lucy’s cancer could almost be identified as another character in the memoir. It grows and transforms her, and as she battles it, it changes the way she sees herself and the world. Even when she isn’t speaking directly of the disease, it is present in almost every decision she makes, transforming her from a frivolous girl to one of strength and gravity.

A significant part of the memoir details her time working at a stable with horses. It is this work that gives her some measure of peace, as horses do not judge her appearance. Her parents make great sacrifices to buy her a horse in a particularly moving part of the book, though the horse later dies. The horses’ reactions to Lucy are contrasted to those of the people she encounters, who are inordinately cruel.

Part of Lucy’s journey is realizing that others find her new appearance ugly, a fact that only dawns on her slowly. At school, the boys are especially cruel to her, and she eats lunch every day in the guidance counselor’s office in blissful isolation. For a long time, she believed that becoming ugly was a fate worse than her cancer, but at the end, she realizes that this isn’t true.

Although the surgeries became more bearable over time, the taunts and stares become more painful. It is only through a journey of self-realization that she feels free from these hurts, and when a reconstruction surgery is finally partially successful, she can leave behind society’s expectations of physical beauty behind.