Till We Have Faces

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The Chains in the Well Symbol Analysis

The Chains in the Well Symbol Icon

After Psyche’s exile, Orual is haunted by the sound of the chains of the well moving in the wind, which sounds just like a girl crying in the garden. The chains act as a constant reminder of her guilt, keeping her from completely burying her old self as she tries to when she becomes Queen. She wants to forget what she did to Psyche, long refusing to acknowledge that she was at fault, but the sound of the chains is always there to dredge up the past. In fact, the chains effectively chain her to her memories of Psyche. Orual’s decision to build thick stone walls around the well to muffle the sound echoes her decision to veil her face. In both instances, she puts up a physical barrier to hide truths about herself that she doesn’t want to acknowledge.

The Chains in the Well Quotes in Till We Have Faces

The Till We Have Faces quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Chains in the Well. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition of Till We Have Faces published in 2012.
Part 1: Chapter 20 Quotes

But the change of my quarters, and later changes (for I tried every side of the house) did no good. I discovered that there was no part of the palace from which the swinging of those chains could not be heard; at night, I mean, when the silence grows deep. It is a thing no one would have found out who was not always afraid of hearing one sound; and at the same time (that was Orual, Orual refusing to die) terribly afraid of not hearing it if for once—if possibly, at last, after ten thousand mockeries—it should be real, if Psyche had come back.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Related Symbols: The Chains in the Well
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual becomes Queen, she begins to be haunted by the sound of a girl crying outside, which she rationally knows is only the sound of chains creaking in the well. Part of her always hopes that it really is Psyche, returned from exile. Though she tries sleeping in all different parts of the palace, she can always hear the sound of the chains. The fact that she can’t escape it suggests that the sound really comes from within her, representing the guilt that she feels at having caused Psyche’s exile.

The Queen feels frightened of the sound because it forces her to consider parts of herself that she doesn’t want to acknowledge—particularly her own ability to cause such harm to someone she loves. The sound also prevents her from completely killing her old self, Orual, and becoming entirely the Queen. Orual still fiercely loves Psyche and feels the pain of her loss, so as long as the sound of Psyche’s crying tortures the Queen, Orual lives on within her and she must deal with the faults of her true character.

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The Chains in the Well Symbol Timeline in Till We Have Faces

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Chains in the Well appears in Till We Have Faces. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Chapter 16
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
...the noise and calls for Psyche, but soon she realizes that it was only the chains of the well swinging in the breeze. She then sees someone dive into some bushes, and when she... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 19
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
...to bed, she thinks she hears a girl crying, but tells herself it’s only the chains in the well . She must not investigate because she is a great Queen and a brave warrior.... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 20
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...Queen moves to a different side of the palace to avoid the sound of the chains in the well . But no matter where she goes, she finds that she can still hear the... (full context)
Self-understanding Theme Icon
The Queen realizes she’ll never find a room where she can’t hear the chains in the well , so she builds ridiculously thick walls around the well. She can no longer hear... (full context)