Till We Have Faces

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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.
Justice Theme Icon

The entire book is, in some sense, Orual’s plea for justice, her statement of the wrongs the gods have done her. First, Ungit demands Psyche as a sacrifice, taking her from Orual’s love to a fate Orual believes will be awful. Once Orual finds Psyche alive, she feels that the gods trick her by not allowing her to see the palace in which Psyche now lives. This tears her apart from Psyche, as she must think her sister mad. Orual appeals directly to the gods, asking them to give her a sign telling her what to do about Psyche and her supposed palace, but the gods give her no answer. She is forced to guess whether or not she’s choosing the right course. When the god of the Mountain finally appears to her and banishes Psyche, Orual sees that she has chosen wrong. However, she blames this on the gods’ refusal to guide her, not on any fault of her own.

In fact, Orual is very much to blame for Psyche’s banishment. She does see the palace for herself, if only briefly, but even then she refuses to believe the vision. Furthermore, she can’t accept Psyche’s happiness, largely because she resents that Psyche can be happy without Orual in her life. As a result, Orual threatens and coerces Psyche into betraying her husband’s trust. Orual’s own jealousy of the gods, far more than the gods’ silence, leads to Psyche’s banishment from happiness.

In Part II, having written her story up to that point, Orual has gained perspective on her actions and begins to see them more truly, realizing that the just outcome is far different than she had thought. In a vision, she is brought to the court of the gods, the ultimate center of justice, to read the complaint that she has written throughout Part I. However, she finds herself instead reading a version of events stripped of the illusions about herself that she has entertained for years. Instead of her complaint being rewarded with justice for the wrongs she thought were done to her, she sees that she has been the one doing wrong. She realizes that she has found justice simply by seeing herself for who she really is, and recognizes that if true justice were to be done, she would have to be punished, not the gods.

When the Fox brings Orual to be tried by the gods, he tells her that they are not just, implying that if they were, humans would be destroyed for all the wrongs they do. The gods have set Psyche tasks as punishment for betraying her husband, but the divine sense of justice means that Orual herself, instead of Psyche, has felt all of the pain that comes from having to complete the tasks. Orual has long wanted to show her devotion to her sister by taking on pain for her, offering herself up as the sacrifice to Ungit and hoping that she, too, would be forced to beg throughout the land in punishment for forcing Psyche to look upon the face of her husband. In these instances, Psyche’s potential knowledge of Orual’s self-sacrifice could be seen as another of Orual’s desperate bids for Psyche’s devotion. It is to Orual’s credit that when she finds she has, in fact, suffered for Psyche, she is glad to have done it. Furthermore, although it seemed unfair for Psyche to be punished when Orual forced her to betray her husband, the revelation that Orual took on Psyche’s suffering shows that the gods’ justice is much fairer than previously thought.

The final component of Orual’s vision is a god—who seems to be the ultimate God—coming to judge her, gesturing to the Christian idea of souls receiving judgment at their death. Orual sees that her own reflection has become that of Psyche, and the god confirms that she has become Psyche. Since Psyche acts as a Christ figure throughout the story, Orual seems to have cleansed her soul by recognizing her own sins, and at the final judgment, with her true face revealed, she is allowed to become part of a divine being.

The gods’ justice seems harsh to humans, who complain of it as Orual does, and yet if humans could only see themselves truly, they would realize that the gods’ justice is unnecessarily kind.

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Justice Quotes in Till We Have Faces

Below you will find the important quotes in Till We Have Faces related to the theme of Justice.
Part 1: Chapter 7 Quotes

Since I write this book against the gods, it is just that I should put into it whatever can be said against myself. So let me set this down: as she spoke I felt, amid all my love, a bitterness. Though the things she was saying gave her (that was plain enough) courage and comfort, I grudged her that courage and comfort. It was as if someone or something else had come in between us. If this grudging is the sin for which the gods hate me, it is one I have committed.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Page Number: 74-75
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual goes to visit Psyche where she has been imprisoned until her sacrifice, Psyche seems quite undisturbed by her impending doom. She even points out that she’s always longed to go to the Grey Mountain and suggests that this is her fate. Orual, who by the time of writing her account is a just Queen, knows that she must be as honest as possible in telling her story in order to receive a fair judgment from her reader. She admits that, in this situation, she doesn’t want Psyche to be happy.

Orual’s love always includes jealousy, and this passage shows her jealousy of the gods, who she feels have “come in between” her and Psyche. Psyche essentially expresses her willingness to go to the gods, which Orual sees as a diminishment of Psyche’s love for her, simply because Psyche doesn’t rage against anything that separates her from Orual. This scene marks only the beginning of Orual’s resentment of Psyche’s happiness. Though she won’t acknowledge her own jealousy until the end of the book, she will eventually realize that reactions such as this one come from her jealousy of the gods’ ability to have whatever mortals they want for themselves.

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Part 1: Chapter 12 Quotes

I must lie on the steps at the great gate of that house and make my petition. I must ask forgiveness of Psyche as well as of the god. I had dared to scold her (dared, what was worse, to try to comfort her as a child) but all the time she was far above me; herself now hardly mortal.... if what I saw was real. I was in great fear. Perhaps it was not real.... Then as I rose... the whole thing was vanished.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral), The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Related Symbols: The Palace on the Mountain
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

In the brief moments of the early morning during which Orual actually sees Psyche’s palace, she perceives all of her mistakes and repents. She understands that Psyche is no longer under her power, but in fact is far superior to her in every respect. In effect, Orual realizes that she has offended the gods for no reason and she must make amends. However, even as Orual understands all of this, she also doubts her own perception of reality. In contrast to Psyche’s immediate faith when shown a glimpse of the god West-wind, Orual isn’t sure that she can trust her vision of the palace any more than she could trust its invisibility earlier. It could be a trick of the gods, or it could be her own mind fooling her. Her concerns become even more pressing when the palace vanishes.

The rest of the story actually hinges on this moment, as Orual manages to convince herself that the palace was only an illusion. Deep down, she knows it was real, but it works to her advantage to deny its existence and insist that Psyche isn’t really living with a god. Though Orual complains that the gods don’t speak clearly to humans, this moment shows that even when the gods do speak, the real problem lies in humans’ faulty listening skills.

Part 1: Chapter 15 Quotes

He made it to be as if, from the beginning, I had known that Psyche’s lover was a god, and as if all my doubtings, fears, guessings, debatings, questionings of Bardia, questionings of the Fox, all the rummage and business of it, had been trumped-up foolery, dust blown in my own eyes by myself. You, who read my book, judge. Was it so?

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral), Bardia, The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

When Psyche looks at her lover’s face, he destroys the valley and appears to Orual. He seems to know everything about her, and he makes it seem that she knew the truth all along and willfully denied it. As Orual is writing her complaint against the gods, the god’s apparent changing of the past forms one of her accusations of wrongdoing. At the same time, the fact that she asks for the reader’s judgment should make the reader really consider this question. Although she seems to expect the reader to side with her, once the god raises the question, one can see the truth in his interpretation of events.

Orual never wanted Psyche’s lover to be a god, because she didn’t want to give Psyche up to anyone else, much less to someone so clearly superior to Orual herself and someone who is likely, in Orual’s eyes, to take up all of Psyche’s love and leave Orual nothing. But Psyche would never lie to Orual, and she seemed perfectly sane. Furthermore, Orual did see the palace for a moment. This evidence probably made Orual know the truth on some level, but she made the situation seem much more complicated in her own mind so that she could find reasons to tear Psyche from her lover and have her all to herself again.

Here, the god causes Orual to come close to self-understanding, but she’s so deep in denial that even when he describes her character to her, she cannot recognize the truth of the portrait. Later, Orual will realize that this is exactly why the gods don’t speak to humans—even when they do, humans can’t listen properly until they can see themselves truly.

Part 1: Chapter 21 Quotes

For if the true story had been like their story, no riddle would have been set me; there would have been no guessing and no guessing wrong. More than that, it’s a story belonging to a different world, a world in which the gods show themselves clearly and don’t torment men with glimpses, nor unveil to one what they hide from another, nor ask you to believe what contradicts your eyes and ears and nose and tongue and fingers.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), The priest of Istra, Daaran
Related Symbols: The Palace on the Mountain
Page Number: 243-44
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Queen comes upon a temple to the goddess Istra, the priest there tells her a story that almost exactly parallels her own life, with a few essential changes that anger her. In particular, Istra’s sister in the story is able to see the god’s palace, so when she forces Istra to betray her lover, it comes entirely from jealousy. Orual has always justified her actions with the fact that she couldn’t be sure whether Psyche’s story was true or whether she was under a delusion, so she objects to the priest’s interpretation that Psyche’s exile was due to Orual’s desire to make her sister miserable.

The Queen believes that the gods have started this false version of the story to spite her. In this version, her main complaint against them, that they refuse to guide humans clearly, doesn’t hold. In the story, all of the gods’ mysteries that so frustrate Orual vanish. Her sense of injustice at their twisting of the truth leads her to write down her own version of the story. However, it eventually becomes clear to her that the priest’s tale has a lot more truth in it than she wants to admit, as she denied what she saw in order to convince herself of a reality in which her actions were acceptable.

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.

Part 2: Chapter 4 Quotes

The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered.... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Faces
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Orual has read out the truth of her motivations in her conflict with Psyche and the gods, she realizes that she actually has no accusation to make against the gods, though she has long sought justice for the wrongs she believed they did to her. Instead, she sees that she is to blame for everything that happened.

Orual’s main complaint against the gods was that they refused to guide humans clearly towards right. However, seeing herself truly for the first time, she realizes that humans are at fault for the gods’ silence. Even if the gods did try to speak to mortals (as, in fact, they have tried to speak to Orual, giving her signs such as the vision of the palace), mortals wouldn’t accept what they had to say. The gods can see the essential truth of each person that people can’t even see in themselves, and there’s no reason that gods should try to speak to the false persona that humans wear in order to keep from acknowledging their own faults.

Throughout the book, faces represent people’s true characters. Orual now realizes that she has had no face until now; in other words, she has hidden her true character from herself. She has actually denied her face in a more physical way as well, by veiling herself. Now, her veil removed, she finally sees her own face and can meet the gods. Essentially, Lewis argues that in order to find God and faith and to allow divine wisdom to be a guide, a person must first understand who they truly are.