Unit two, novel study: Big mouth and ugly girl



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Unit two, novel study: Big mouth and ugly girl




Big Mouth and Ugly Girl
Joyce Carol Oates
The following are questions related to each chapter. It is your responsibility to keep up with the readings, as well as answering ALL assigned chapter questions for that day.
If Ms. Kucinic notices (and she will), that you are not completing the questions, you may find yourself sitting in a pop quiz situation the next day.
Please answer all questions on a separate piece of paper.
Most of all have fun and enjoy the novel!
Chapter One


  1. What is the setting of the novel?



  1. Describe the following characters: Matt Donaghy, Mr. Weinberg and Stacey Flynn.

  • Matt Donaghy: he is described as brainy (intelligent) as well as humerous. He is also a perfectionist (as demonstrated with his need to get his play perfectly written)

  • Physical description: he’s tall, lanky (ungracefully thin – bony) and whippet-lean, whippet – a small slender dog of greyhound type, quick and brisk, like a whip.

  • Mr. Weinberg: good-natured, sauntering manner (strolling manner) – seems to be very easy going.

  • Had a sense of humour

  • Physical: he has graying sandy hair, a bristling beard.

  • Wears plain clothing – corduroy jacket and matching slacks.

  • Stacey Flynn: popular, very pretty, but a serious student.



  1. Identify the conflict in this chapter.



  1. Describe the atmosphere of the first chapter.

  • Suspenseful and unnerving

  • Confusion and nervousness – we do not know why the cops are questioning Matt.

Chapter Two

  1. Who is the narrator in this chapter?

  • Ursula Riggs (Ugly Girl)



  1. Why does the narrator refer to herself in the third person?

  • When she takes the alter-ego of Ugly Girl she refers to herself in third person. (alter-ego – a second personality or persona within a person)

  • But tells her story in first person because she is very self-absorbed.



  1. Describe Ursula Riggs.

  • Athletic – plays numerous sports.

  • Doesn’t have many friends.

  • Described as being “manly” – even her laugh was not a feminine laugh.

  • Has dark hair

  • Describes herself as a rebel – would like to shave her head one day.

  • An excellent student

  • A serious girl

  • She says that Ursula Riggs was a coward – fearing other people’s opinions.



  1. Describe Ugly Girl.

  • Ugly Girl is the name Ursula gives her dark side.

  • He is big, roughly dressed and defiant –will stand up to anybody, even her teachers.

  • Nobody messes with Ugly Girl because she doesn’t care what others think of her and she definitely doesn’t not put up with anyone.

  • She was mean – demonstrated when she made a mean comment to her grandma.

  • Ugly Girl wasn’t a coward and didn’t give a damn about what other people thought of her.

  • Ugly-Girl = Warrior Woman

  • She is sarcastic and has dramatic mood swings

  • Ugly Girl is the side of Ursula that is brave and doesn’t care what other people think of her



  1. What type of conflict does Ursula have to deal with? Explain.

  • Person vs self

  • She struggles with the person that she wants to be and the person that she is.

  • She does not know who she is, so she has taken upon herself the alter-ego of Ugly Girl

  • She does not want to be hurt so puts on a mask pretending that nothing bothers her.

  • Fiery Red mood – she had energy to do her best – especially on the court.

  • Inky Black mood – depressed, her feet felt like concrete blocks, she felt like she could not do anything.



  1. Identify the plot.


Chapter Three

  1. Describe Ursula’s perceived relationship with her mom and dad.

  • It seems as if her parents are not interested in her life

  • They are more interested in what her sister does because it’s the girly thing to do (be a ballerina)

  • Ursula was happy that her mom wasn’t in the audience because she would be shocked and disappointed in her.

  • Her dad wasn’t there – but he never was because he seemed to be uninterested in her life.



  1. What happened at the basketball game that made Ursula so upset?

  • They lost the game and Ursula feels like its her fault.



  1. How did Ursula’s teammates treat her after the game?

  • Nobody talked to her

  • They just left the locker room, not even Ms. Schultz (the coach)



  1. What did Ursula learn about Matt as she was leaving the school?

  • Ursula learned that Matt was accused of attempting to bomb the school.

  • But she didn’t believe this because she remembers Matt as being a guy with a lot of friends with a sense of humour – he was always nice to girls and would never do such a thing.

  • It disgusted her that people who knew Matt Donaghy believe such things.

Chapter Four

1.Identify the metaphor used at the end of this chapter. What message does it convey about Matt’s feelings?



  • His feelings are being compared to a “wide-winged black-feathered bird” who wrapped his wings around Matt and prevented him from breathing.

  • He feels trapped and overwhelmed – usually when people can’t breath they are nervous and panic.



Chapter Five
*mention of Columbine shooting – can incorporate a clip.

1.What does the “glimmer of perspiration on the principal’s upper lip” suggest about Mr. Parrish?



  • That he was nervous about the whole situation.

  • He was nervous as a principal as well – not knowing what to believe about this matter.

2. Matt says, “And if I had, I wouldn’t tell you, about it, would I?” Why does Matt say this? What does it suggest about his personality?



  • It tells us that Matt can be sarcastic and that he is intelligent.

  • It also tells us that he is trying to add humour to the matter – he is having a difficult time taking the matter seriously because he thinks that its crazy.

3. Why is comedy and humour so important to Matt?



  • It seems to be important because it lightens the situation

  • Matt seems to be the type of person that likes to joke around and not be serious

  • He does not know how to respond to serious situations




  1. What does Matt compare “the questioning, the clearing of the air” to? What does this suggest about Matt? How does this relate to the role of media in society?

  • He compares the “clearing of the air” to a TV sitcom.

  • In which he had all the good lines

  • He wants to take the situation serious but he just can’t - we see this when he starts pretending in his head to be the star of a show.




  1. Students are described as leaving their classrooms in a noisy herd. Where was Matt when this took place? What does Matt find so strange about this situation?

  • He finds it strange to be sitting in the office with these adults when the bell rang – because this indicated freedom – students are free to leave once the bell rings.




  1. What is the most important thing to Matt? Justify.

  • The way he is perceived by others – his reputation

  • When the officers asked to search his locker he did not want them to

  • He was ashamed – he did not want his peers to see his locker being searched.




  1. Describe Matt’s family life.

  • It seems like his father is constantly away – on business trips

  • His mother seems like a fragile woman – worried that there might be truth to the charge

  • It seems like she might even be suspicious of her own son – like she doesn’t know him


Chapter Six


  1. What is Ursula’s role in relation to her sister?

  • She is her big sis

  • Lisa (her sister) seems to look up to her

  • So she says that she better be a good example

  • But she thinks that her sister is intimidated by her because of her six foot stature – rather then that she looks up to her




  1. What is the one good things, as identified by Ursula that has come from the news coverage regarding the bomb from Rocky River?

  • The focus at Rocky River High won’t be on losing the basketball game that Ursula believes they should have won.




  1. What made Ursula change her mind about eating dinner with her family?

  • She is a vegetarian and she could not eat dinner with her family because meat disgusted her.

  • She decided to eat with her family when her dad said he was hurt because he doesn’t eat dinner at home a lot of nights, and when he does Ursula is in her room eating.




  1. What secret does Ursula share with Bonnie LeMoyne?

  • Bonnie LeMoyne attempted suicide by overdosing on pills when her father left the family. (barbiturates – sedatives – tending to calm or sooth)

  • Ursula was afraid that their father would leave them as well.




  1. How does Ursula know that the bomb allegations are only rumor?

  • She knows because she was in the cafeteria and she heard what Matt said.




  1. How does Ursula contact Matt? How long does it take Matt to get back to her?

  • She tries to find his phone number but has no luck – nobody answers

  • Then she calls all his friends and Denis Wheeler gives her Matt’s email address.

  • She left an email for Matt at 10:23, and the phone rang at 10:47.


Chapter Seven
*mention of Edgar Allan Poe on pg. 58


  1. What method of discipline does Mr. Parrish choose to use with Matt?

  • Mr. Parrish suspended Matt for three days

  1. What is Matt’s first reaction to Ursula’s contact with him?

  • He thinks that his friends are playing a prank on him.

  • He thinks that its Skeets way of answering to Matt’s email because none of the guys had answered him yet – because Skeet has a weird sense of humour.




  1. Why does Matt resent the fact that Skeet was not in trouble too?

  • Skeet was in the cafeteria that day too and urged Matt on.

  • Matt believes that if Skeet had not urged him on none of this would have happened.




  1. What does Matt compare this situation to?

  • He compares it to an incident when he was 12 years old and jumped off a diving board into the pool just to make the guys laugh, even though he had no idea what he was doing.

  • He hit the water with a slap that left his stomach and chest red and his nose was bleeding because he hit his head on his knee.




  1. What family member offers Matt much support and comfort in his time of need?

  • Matt’s dog Pumpkin seems to be the only one that understands him.

  • He likes to just bury his face in her fur and she would snuggled against Matt and reassure him that he’s not a psycho and that she believes in him.




  1. What is Matt’s father’s reaction when he speaks to Matt on the phone after hearing about the allegations?

  • Matt’s father tries to be supportive but all he is thinking about is the family’s reputation.

  • His company seems to be downsizing and he is worried that he might lose his job – not really trying to be supportive about Matt’s feelings.




  1. Why do both Matt and Ursula choose email as their method of communication?

  • They both preferred email because talking on the phone made them nervous and uneasy.



Chapter Eight


  1. Why does Ursula place so many phrases starting with capital letters?

  • “One of Ugly Girl’s principles (beliefs) was: Do Not Quarrel With the Enemy Unless Cornered” (68)

  • She believed that she should not argue with anybody unless she has no other choice.

  • The phrases begin with a capital letter because it demonstrates the importance of this belief as well as how serious she actually is about it.




  1. How do Ursula’s parents respond to the idea that she may get involved with investigation? What does this suggest about their values and priorities?

  • They try to convince Ursula not to get involved.

  • They are afraid that she might be accused as a conspirator and her reputation might be destroyed.

  • They are afraid that she would not get accepted into an Ivy League school because of this. (Ivy League Schools: private institutions of higher education. The term also carries with it a reputation of social elitism. Some schools include: Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown)




  1. What was one of Ugly Girl’s principles? What does this mean?

  • Principle: “Do Not Quarrel With the Enemy Unless Cornered” (68)

  • Do not argue or fight with your enemy unless absolutely necessary.




  1. Describe Mr. Parrish’s leadership skills. What does this suggest about the role of adults in the school system?



  1. What does Ursula wear when she approaches Mr. Parrish with her information? Why does she describe this to the audience?

  • Ursula looks very different on the morning when she goes to speak to Mr. Parrish – she was wearing her glittery earings (not a row of studs), her maroon satin school jacket (not a flannel man’s shirt), khakis and boots.

  • She describes this to the audience to show that she is serious and determined to help Matt Donaghy.

  • She had to look presentable in order for Mr. Parrish to take her seriously.




  1. Why does Ursula describe Mr. Parrish as her “opponent”. What does this add to the atmosphere of the novel?

  • Adults vs. students.

  • She assumes that Mr. Parrish will be against her just because he is an adult and the principal of the school.

  • The atmosphere is intense because we expect to see an argument.




  1. Does Ursula respect Mr. Parrish? Why or why not?

  • No she does not – she really tries to put him in his place.

  • She blames Mr. Parrish for taking this situation too far – she says that it was not handled right.

  • She feels that he has overreacted.

  • She even walks out of Mr. Parrish’s office without acknowledging him.




  1. What is the role of the media in this chapter?

  • The media is ruining Matt’s reputation.

  • News channels are saying that Matt’s been arrested and questioned by the police.

  • They present it as a police investigation after a crime – but Matt hasn’t done anything wrong.




  1. How did Ursula get Eveann’s mom to agree with her position regarding telling the truth about the bomb threat? What does this tell the reader about Ursula’s personality and her abilities?

  • Ursula knows the Eveann’s mom is a devout Catholic so she plays on her morals.

  • She tells Eveann’s mom that anyone who doesn’t speak up for Matt will be morally guilty of ruining his life.

  • She tells Eveann’s mother that its our Christian duty to bear witness for one another.

  • This shows us that Ursula has a persuasive personality.


Chapter Nine


  1. What does Matt keep comparing his situation to?

  • He compares it to a dark play – something that Edgar Allan Poe would write

  • “a dark, nasty comedy where people’s misery was held up to ridicule” (77)




  1. What was the only good thing that Matt’s father identifies about the situation and the media’s coverage of it? What does this suggest about Matt’s father?

  • That the name Donaghy hasn’t been printed in the paper yet




  1. How does Matt feel in this chapter?

  • He’s desperate

  • He thinks about running away – even death

  • He talks about how easy life would be if he just died – he’d fall unto a rock and crack his head – so easy (78)




  1. How is the relationship with Matt and his “friends” different than before the allegations?

  • His friends are not allowed to communicate with him

  • They only sent him short emails explaining that they can’t communicate with him because they had been advised not to.




  1. Describe the type of words used by his “friends”.

  • To “keep clear”

  • Their lawyers “advise” them to keep clear

  • They can’t “communicate” with him

  • Basically – they are not allowed to get in touch with Matt at all.




  1. Why doesn’t Mr. Weinberg reply to Matt’s message signed “Matt ‘Terrorist’ Donaghy”?

  • He probably didn’t know how to respond to it.

  • Plus all emails sent are being monitored by the police so Ms. Weinberg did not want to get involved.




  1. How does Matt end his email to Ursula? Why is this significant?

  • He signs it “Your friend Matt”

  • Its significant because two people that never spoke to each other are now friends because of this ordeal.


Chapter Ten


  1. What happens that suddenly makes Ugly Girl shy and nervous?

  • Matt begins to pay attention to Ursula

  • He treats her like his friend and she becomes nervous

  • She is shy like any other girl that speaks to a boy for the first time – perhaps she even has a crush on him




  1. How does Ugly Girl deal with her problems? Identify the two problems described in this chapter and Ugly Girl’s response to them.

  • She runs away – or ignored her problems.

  • There was talk around the school that she quit the team cold – and she ignored it.

  • Matt was going to walk to class with her and she turned around and took another corridor because she wanted to avoid him.


Chapter Eleven


  1. Why does Matt suggest that life is no longer like it used to be?

  • Nobody is friendly with him anymore

  • And he says that its like he got his life back but it’s not the same.

  • He seems to have nothing to look forward to – he calls his time “NOTHING-TIME”, “NOTHING-HOUR”, “NOTHING-DAY” –as if nothing interesting is happening in his life anymore.

  1. How has the media responded to the dropping of Matt’s charges? How does he feel about the media?

  • The media has moved on to other things now

  • He understands that anything local has to be exaggerated because nothing happens at Rocky River High.




  1. What does Matt write about that suggests he and Ursula are friends?

  • He attempts to be conversational by talking about a school project and the weather.




  1. What is the significance of Matt’s History paper topic?

  • It’s significant because he is talking about Lincoln who was hated in his time for supporting black people but who is loved and admired now.

  • This is significant to his own life because he feels that people once loved him and now they hate him.




  1. What new identity does Matt create? Why does he do this?

  • Matt-the-Mouth

  • Perhaps now he feels differently about pleasing everybody

  • Before he used to be known as the joker and would do and say anything – right now he doesn’t care about that anymore.




  1. What does Matt do after writing the email to Ursula? Why does he do this?

  • He deletes the email

  • He is probably afraid that Ursula is ignoring him just like the rest of his friends.


Chapter Twelve


  1. Why does Mr. Parrish invite Ursula into his office?

  • He invited her to his office to commend her on her good behavior and standing up for what is right when everyone else behaved negatively.

  • He commended her on behaving very maturely and responsibly. She has set a good example for everyone else.




  1. Who does Ursula identify as her best friend?

  • She considers Eveann her best friend because she helped her out with the Matt incident.

  • Eveann was also a witness for Matt and was not afraid of standing up for what is right.

  • That ordeal brought them closer.




  1. Why does Ursula’s mind go blank? What does this suggest about her and her feelings?

  • Ursula’s mind goes blank when she see’s Matt.

  • It suggests that she is nervous about talking to him – either because she feels guilty for ignoring him or because deep down she wants to be his friend.

  • She also might have deeper feelings for him that she is afraid to accept.




  1. What happened between the Rocky River and Sleepy Hallow basketball teams?

  • Sleepy Hollow walked all over the Rocky River basketball team.

  • The score was 36-22.


Chapter Thirteen


  1. What decision does Matt make in this chapter?

  • Matt decides to resign from his V.P position of the junior class.




  1. How does Mr. Bernhardt respond to Matt’s decision?

  • He isn’t surprised but wants to know the reason why.

  • He assumes that students at the school are acting negatively towards Matt.

  • Mr. Bernhardt pities him.




  1. What does Mr. Bernhardt’s response suggest about the atmosphere at Rocky River?

  • That students at Rocky River are not very supportive of each other and they might still be ridiculing Matt.

  • Not accepting.

  • Mr. Bernhardt is understanding – he must know what Matt is going through.


Chapter Fourteen


  1. What examples of censorship exist in this chapter? Who is doing the censoring in each example?

  • Censorship: the suppression of speech. Freedom of speech is restricted.

  • Matt is not allowed to publish his letter of resignation because as Mr. Steiner put it, it is not funny.

  • Mr. Steiner tries to explain to Matt that his letter is too “raw”. Considering the circumstances his situation should not be brought up in the school paper.

  • Mr. Steiner and the editorial staff are doing the censoring.




  1. Describe Matt’s letter or resignation. What is the connection between this story and Matt’s recent experience?

  • The title of his letter is “Just for the Record…”

  • Matt would express his feels about the way he has been treated.

  • He wants everyone at school to know how he feels about their behavour.

  • He wants everyone to know that he knows what they think of him – that it’s not a secret.

  • He is being treated different and wants everyone to know how he feels about it.




  1. What event changes Matt?

  • When he returned to school he expected people to welcome him and to offer apologies for the ordeal he had gone through.

  • Instead it was the opposite.

  • People avoided him and talked behind his back, he could sense it.

  • Even his friends, like Stacey were avoiding him.

  • Everyone acted uneasy around him. His friend Russ who was never in loss for words did not know what to say.




  1. How has Matt changed?

  • Matt is not longer the “joker” in the school.

  • He is angry now and no longer smiles and when he does smile it is an ironic or suspicious smile.

  • Matt is angry at the world.

  • He avoids his friends now even turning down an invitation by his friend Russ to hang out with them.

  • He seems to be moping around the house and doing nothing, however, before the accusation he was involved in many school activities.

  • He’s described as being rude, especially to his little brother Alex.




  1. What metaphor is used twice in this chapter? What comparison is being made?

  • Metaphor: “My heart is a stone” (104). “My heart is a stone – it won’t be broken again” (105).

  • His heart is being compared to a stone.

  • He will be as hard as a stone – meaning he will not let anyone into his life again.

  • He will not allow himself to be hurt again by people he cared about.

  • Therefore, he will hate everyone.




  1. Describe Matt’s home life.

  • He used to be close with his family – now he claims to hate them.

  • His parents tried to be supportive by telling him that things are fine and that he will feel better.

  • It seems to be a tense atmosphere – his mom says that he won’t even talk to her.

  • His room is smelly – which means that Matt has even let go of keeping his room tidy.

  • His mom thinks that Matt is depressed – which could be the reality – all signs point to depression.


Chapter Fifteen


  1. At what time does Matt start to write the email to Ursula? What does this suggest?

  • Matt writes the email to Ursula at 2:11am.

  • It is obvious that he cannot sleep.

  • Usually people have a problem sleeping when they are going through something.

  • Matt might be really nervous about his situation or experiencing depression.




  1. Why does Matt think that Ursula is so cool?

  • Matt thinks that Ursula is cool because she doesn’t care what people think about her.

  • She doesn’t care if people are fake to her.

  • Matt admires the fact that she is herself and is happy.




  1. What is the overall feeling of the email?

  • Very sad.

  • Matt sounds desperate to be accepted by anybody.

  • A few times in the email he says that he is lonely.




  1. What does Matt do once he finishes writing the email? Why does he do this?

  • He deletes the email because he still cares about what others think.

  • If they find out that he is friends with Ursula, he will no longer fit in, which is ironic because he already doesn’t fit in.

  • This is obvious when he says “if the guys had known, they’d have approved” regarding him deleting the email.


Chapter Sixteen


  1. What event does Ursula’s mom insist she attend?

  • A modern dance show.




  1. What happens at this event? Why does this occur?

  • Ursula leaves the show.

  • She feels suffocated sitting there – it wasn’t her “scene”.




  1. Ursula describes an event involving her father. What is this event? What affect does this have on her?

  • Ursula’s dad tells her that she is getting to be a big girl.

  • This comment makes her revaluate her looks and she realizes that she is a lot bigger than the other girls.

  • She begins to feel self-conscious about her looks and quits the swim team as a result.




  1. Describe the Brewer family. Why would these characters be incorporated into the novel?

  • They were narrow minded.

  • Were not accepting of minorities – they were against multiculturalism and were prejudice against ethnic minorities.

  • He was controversial.

  • Was against affirmative action: The term affirmative action refers to policies that take gender, race, or ethnicity into account in an attempt to promote equal opportunity.




  1. How does Ursula feel about the letter Mr. Parrish wrote praising her actions?

  • She was ashamed when she received the letter.

  • It made it seem as if she went to Mr. Parrish just to impress him.

  • She torn the letter that her dad made a copy of.




  1. Who does Ursula see at the end of this chapter? How does this make her feel?

  • Ursula thinks that she sees Matt skating with another girl.

  • She becomes nervous and wants Matt to notice her.

  • She even blushes.


Chapter Seventeen


  1. The setting being in the winter is important. Why?

  • The winter in general can be a depressing time and it reflects Matt’s feelings.

  • the chapter begins with “winter loneliness. Winter solitude”.

  • Usually people hibernate in the winter – they don’t do much.

  • Matt hasn’t been doing much anyways so the winter symbolizes his feelings.




  1. Why doesn’t Matt take Pumpkin on his hikes anymore?

  • Matt wanted to be by himself – he wanted his privacy.




  1. What was Matt’s mom crying about?

  • She received a letter in the mail with a newspaper clipping that said “your neighbors are not safe. We are not going to forget.”

  • She no longer felt safe living in Rocky River.

  • The neighbours talked about her as being the mother of the “bomb-scare boy”

  • She was sick and tired of all the gossip and the stares that she receives from the neighbours.




  1. Why was Matt scared when his mom cried?

  • His mother never cried – she was the one who always conforted others.

  • This time she was the one that needed comforting – for the first time ever Matt saw his mom in a vulnerable state.




  1. How are the people in the community responding to the Donaghy’s?

  • The nighbours don’t feel safe living near them

  • They are gossiping and treating them like criminals.




  1. Why is Matt upset at the end of this chapter?

  • His mom was not comforting Matt as usual.

  • She didn’t reassure him that it wasn’t his fault.

  • She didn’t say that his father and her still loved him.



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