Till We Have Faces

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The Veil Symbol Analysis

The Veil Symbol Icon

Orual’s veil represents her tendency to hide a part of her, not only from others, but also from herself. The King initially forces her to wear a veil to his wedding to hide her ugliness. Later, she decides to permanently don a veil after Psyche’s exile. This act undermines the King’s power over her, as she voluntarily hides her ugliness, and when he commands her to remove the veil, she refuses in her first act of defiance against him. She realizes that the veil makes her mysterious, as people must guess what it hides. Though the veil gives her power over others, it also separates her from them, representing the way she’s cut herself off from human feeling after the loss of Psyche. By hiding her face, she becomes almost less human altogether. Perhaps she unconsciously tries to imitate the gods, who seem to her to be veiled in mystery and whom she feels Psyche chose over her.

Furthermore, Orual dons her veil around the same time that she begins to bury her old self deep within her and transform herself into the Queen. The veil, then, helps her rid herself of Orual, whose face she wears, and become someone new. Perhaps the veil even performs some sort of transformation, because the next time Orual goes into public without her veil, she believes her face has changed into that of Ungit. As the face of Ungit exposes her inner, unacknowledged character, this would mean that the veil ultimately made her face into a truer representation of herself.

The Veil Quotes in Till We Have Faces

The Till We Have Faces quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Veil. 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

My second strength lay in my veil.... [A]s years passed and there were fewer in the city... who remembered my face, the wildest stories got about as to what that veil hid.... Some said... that it was frightful beyond endurance; a pig’s, bear’s, cat’s or elephant’s face. The best story was that I had no face at all; if you stripped off my veil you’d find emptiness. But another sort... said that I wore a veil because I was of a beauty so dazzling that if I let it be seen all men in the world would run mad; or else that Ungit was jealous of my beauty and had promised to blast me if I went bareface. The upshot of all this nonsense was that I became something very mysterious and awful.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Veil, Faces, Ungit
Page Number: 228-29
Explanation and Analysis:

Orual is discussing how her reign as Queen proceeds after she kills Argan and becomes a powerful ruler. She has begun to cover her face with a veil at all times ever since Psyche went into exile, and she finds that the veil makes her particularly mysterious, giving her a certain authority over her subjects. Before, she was simply ugly. Now the absence of certainty as to her appearance means that anything at all could be behind her veil. Even if she’s still ugly, her ugliness has become mythic, giving her power in what used to be her weakness.

With her veil, the Queen puts to her own use the mysterious quality of the gods that has always so frustrated her. Ungit, particularly, has no face, as she is only an uncut rock. As a result, her followers can see her face in everything and see any face in the crevices of the rock that represents Ungit. She is not confined to being one thing. The Queen’s veil gives her a similar power and suggests that she’s already becoming Ungit even before she comes to truly believe that she is Ungit. However, the veil also allows comparisons between the Queen and Psyche, as some people say that the veil hides a beauty that makes the gods jealous, like Psyche’s. Near the end of the novel, Orual will see that she has in part become Ungit, but has also been living Psyche’s life alongside her and taking on her pain. The Queen’s veil makes her into a blank slate on which her links to both Ungit and Psyche can begin to make themselves known.

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The Veil Symbol Timeline in Till We Have Faces

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Veil appears in Till We Have Faces. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Chapter 1
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
...alarming bird’s head mask on his chest. The Priest asks whether the girls will wear veils, and the King assures him that they will, particularly to hide Orual’s face. Finally, Orual... (full context)
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
...of all the stories she’s been told of evil stepmothers. The bride is small and veiled. When the wedding party enters the wedding chamber and the bride takes off the veil,... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 16
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
That night, Orual decides to veil her face forever. When she was a child, she didn’t realize she was ugly. For... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
...later, he sends for Orual and the Fox. He orders Orual to take off her veil, but she doesn’t fear him anymore after seeing the god. She feels powerful because she... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 17
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
...Orual, calling her pretty, but she takes out her dagger and points out that she’s veiled. He replies that anyone with her voice must be beautiful. Orual has never been approached... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 18
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
...cheer Orual on. Nobles visit to show their support, and they wonder what’s behind her veil. Orual tells Trunia that they have a champion to fight for him. She calls for... (full context)
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
When Redival leaves, Trunia wants to know who Orual is and why she wears a veil. If he survives, he wants to ally with Glome by marrying into the royal family,... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 19
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
...but he doesn’t like the clothes of Glome. Then Bardia wants Orual to remove her veil for the fight so that it doesn’t hinder her vision, but she refuses. Eventually she... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 20
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
...her as a woman (essentially due to her ugliness). Her strength also comes from her veil. When people can’t see her face, they find her voice beautiful. As fewer people remember... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 21
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
...cool, and clean. The altar holds a wooden statue of a woman with a black veil over her face. The Queen likes this much better than the house of Ungit. A... (full context)
Jealousy Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
...become a goddess herself. This corresponds in the temple with the removal of the black veil from her statue. (full context)
Jealousy Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
The Queen asks when Istra’s veil will be removed. The priest of Istra says they do it every spring, but the... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 1
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
This seems so preposterous that the Queen pulls off her veil, asking whether Ansit is jealous of her face. Ansit stares at her, but not in... (full context)
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
However, their sympathy doesn’t last long. The Queen puts her veil back on and Ansit’s face hardens again. The Queen says Ansit has had her revenge... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 2
Self-understanding Theme Icon
...the years she’s been Queen seem to disappear. The King tells her to leave her veil off and come to the Pillar Room. Once there he looks around for the mirror... (full context)
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
That night, the Queen gathers a cloak and a cane. She realizes that her veil now distinguishes her, and no one will recognize her if she doesn’t wear it. She... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 3
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...platform in a gigantic cave. She sees millions of ghosts standing all around her. A veiled judge commands her veil to be removed, and tells her to read her complaint aloud.... (full context)