Till We Have Faces

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Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love and Devouring Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Self-understanding Theme Icon
Earthly vs. Divine Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Till We Have Faces, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, the characters’ physical appearances often reflect their interior morality and goodness. However, it’s difficult to say for sure whether characters’ appearances are only symbols of their true beings, or whether their appearances and the way others interact with them as a result forms their interior for good or evil. Specifically, Orual is taught from an early age that her ugliness will prevent her from marrying, and that people will want to keep their distance from her. As a result, when people such as Psyche, the Fox, and Bardia do love her, she guards their love particularly jealously because she finds it so hard to believe that they really love her. Psyche, on the other hand, receives the love of everyone around her because of her beauty, which makes it easy for her to love without jealousy. Her beauty gives her a sense of safety in others’ love.

In a way, Psyche and Orual are opposites. Psyche has a perfect beauty and, by extension, moral purity. Orual, on the other hand, is regarded as monstrously ugly and has a correspondingly ugly, violent, possessive character. Orual herself associates her appearance with her interior being, as she compares her early attempts to make herself prettier with her later attempts to mend her soul to satisfy the gods. Furthermore, she hides her face with a veil when she doesn’t want to acknowledge her own moral faults.

Psyche’s beauty corresponds to her pure way of loving, which allows her beloveds to maintain their independence. Meanwhile, Orual’s ugliness manifests itself in the extreme lengths to which she will go to keep the ones she loves under her control—her love hurts her beloveds, rather than nourishing them as Psyche’s love does.

Finally, beauty becomes a marker of divinity. Psyche is regarded as a goddess at first for her physical beauty, and Orual describes the gods as so beautiful that mortals can hardly bear to look upon them. The ugly Orual remains entirely detached from the gods, unable to understand the signs they send her. As she eventually works to recognize the ugliness of her soul and make it more beautiful, however, she comes to more clearly understand the mysteries of the gods. When she ultimately purifies her soul, her physical appearance becomes correspondingly beautiful. In fact, she sees her reflection as almost identical to Psyche’s. Essentially, in the book, physical beauty works as a manifestation of moral goodness and divine love.

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Beauty vs. Ugliness Quotes in Till We Have Faces

Below you will find the important quotes in Till We Have Faces related to the theme of Beauty vs. Ugliness.
Part 1: Chapter 2 Quotes

The Fox clapped his hands and sang, “Prettier than Andromeda, prettier than Helen, prettier than Aphrodite herself.”

“Speak words of better omen, Grandfather,” I said, though I knew he would scold and mock me for saying it. For at his words, though on that summer day the rocks were too hot to touch, it was as if a soft, cold hand had been laid on my left side, and I shivered.... I knew it is not good to talk that way about Ungit.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), The Fox (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Related Symbols: Ungit
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Psyche is still a child, and she, Orual, and the Fox are looking towards the Grey Mountain, where Psyche imagines having a palace. The Fox exclaims over Psyche’s beauty. This passage presents the main conflict that leads to Psyche’s sacrifice: Ungit doesn’t like mortals to be considered more beautiful than she is.

Though the Fox insists that the Divine Nature isn’t jealous, Andromeda, one of the mythical figures to whom he compares Psyche, suffered due to the gods’ jealousy of her beauty, which bodes ill for Psyche’s future. When Andromeda’s mother boasted that her daughter was prettier than certain sea nymphs, the god of the ocean sent a sea monster to the coast of their country. Similarly, Ungit will send lions to terrorize Glome. An oracle tells Andromeda’s father, the king, that he must sacrifice her to appease the gods, which is exactly what Psyche’s father will also do. Since the Fox says Psyche is prettier than Aphrodite (the Greek form of Ungit), he essentially makes the exact fatal mistake that Andromeda’s mother did in the same breath that he summons up her story.

Orual, who doesn’t shun belief in the gods the way the Fox does, seems to sense Ungit’s displeasure. As it later becomes evident that Orual is closely connected to Ungit; perhaps she is more sensitive to Ungit’s jealousy than others would be. This scene marks only the beginning of Ungit’s anger, which will tear apart all of their lives.

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Part 1: Chapter 3 Quotes

Her beauty, which most of them had never seen, worked on them as a terror might work. Then a low murmur, almost a sob, began; swelled, broke into the gasping cry, “A goddess, a goddess.” One woman’s voice rang out clear. “It is Ungit herself in mortal shape.”

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Related Symbols: Ungit
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

When the people of Glome come to the palace gates, demanding that Psyche heal them of the fever because they have heard that she healed the Fox, many of them have never seen her before. When she comes out of the palace, they are struck dumb by her beauty and hail her as a goddess. Their worship of her eventually brings Ungit’s wrath down upon Psyche, as Orual fears it will.

Psyche’s beauty initially affects the people in a way similar to how Orual imagines her own ugliness works, making them terrified. Furthermore, though they hail Psyche as the goddess Ungit, Orual is the one who will eventually become Ungit. Ironically, the people believe Ungit is distinguished by her beauty, but, in fact, the ugliest woman in the kingdom more truly represents her. The fact that people see in Psyche the goddess who eventually possesses Orual also connects Psyche and Orual through this divine presence, acting as an early indication of the link between the sisters that will allow them to complete Psyche’s tasks together later on. As seen here, the gods flow through humans, connecting humans to one another and to the gods.

Part 1: Chapter 9 Quotes

While I was in there, one of the other soldiers... came into the passage and said something to Bardia. Bardia replied, I couldn’t hear what. Then he spoke louder: “Why, yes, it’s a pity about her face. But she’s a brave girl and honest. If a man was blind and she weren’t the King’s daughter, she’d make him a good wife.” And that is the nearest thing to a love-speech that was ever made me.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Bardia
Related Symbols: Faces
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

After Bardia gives Orual her first lesson in swordsmanship, she goes into the dairy to get a drink of milk and overhears this conversation. This is a painful moment for Orual. She has known from a young age that everyone agrees that she is ugly. Her father, in particular, has often insulted her appearance, making her believe that she is unlovable. Orual never actively pursues romantic love because it seems absurd to her to think anyone would give it to her. She does eventually come to love Bardia and wish she could marry him, but this is the closest she comes (not very close at all) to hearing him echo the sentiment.

Though Bardia compliments her, he also insults her very casually, saying that he would only marry her if he never had to look at her. This is the sort of sentiment that convinces Orual she will never be loved and makes her cling so jealously to anyone who does love her. His attitude here also explains why he so often expresses a wish that she were a man: he values her character, but not her appearance. If she were a man, her appearance would matter much less, while her character would get her farther.

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.

Part 2: Chapter 3 Quotes

But to steal her love from me! ...Do you think that we mortals will find you gods easier to bear if you’re beautiful? I tell you that if that’s true we’ll find you a thousand times worse. For then (I know what beauty does) you’ll lure and entice. You’ll leave us nothing; nothing that’s worth our keeping or your taking. Those we love best—whoever’s most worth loving—those are the very ones you’ll pick out.... It would be far better for us if you were foul and ravening. We’d rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We’d rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual comes in a vision to the divine court in the mountains, she reads her complaint against the gods before a judge. However, she finds that what she reads isn’t what she wrote; in fact, she reads the truth of her motivations that she has concealed from herself for her entire life.

Orual’s speech here explains her jealousy and resentment of the gods when they took Psyche from her. She knows that as a mortal, she can hardly hope to compete with the gods for Psyche’s love. In fact, the more beautiful the gods are, the more mortals will hate them. Orual can’t stand the fact that Psyche was happy to go to the gods and that she was happier with her divine lover than she was with Orual. Orual would rather have retained complete possession of Psyche than have Psyche become loyal to someone else, but the gods’ beauty made this entirely impossible.

This passage also seems to have echoes of Lewis’s own conversion to Christianity. He converted reluctantly, only when he could see no other truth. Here, he suggests that people resent their loved ones’ faith because God is far better and more fulfilling than any human can ever be.