Till We Have Faces

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Love and Devouring 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.
Love and Devouring Theme Icon

This novel envisions love first and foremost as a destructive force that consumes the lives of those who feel it. Ungit, the major goddess worshipped in Glome, corresponds to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Whereas Aphrodite is usually imagined as a beautiful, seductive goddess, Ungit is portrayed as a cruel goddess who demands frequent blood sacrifices, and she is embodied by a chunk of grotesque uncut rock. This symbolism shows that Ungit’s dominating presence in Glome makes the destructive aspect of love particularly powerful, whether Ungit herself spreads it, or its natural presence among the people leads them to worship this side of Ungit.

When the Priest proclaims that Psyche must be sacrificed to the Shadowbrute, he suggests that when the Brute takes her, he will have sex with her and consume her, and in fact “the loving and the devouring are all the same thing” (49). Love drives the plot of the novel, mysterious and terrible in its ability to cause more pain than any other force.

Orual loves three people throughout her life: Psyche, the Fox, and Bardia. She devours all of their lives with her love, forcing Psyche to betray her husband and be banished, selfishly embracing the Fox’s decision not to return home to Greece, and working Bardia to death on the battlefield and in the council room. In these instances, for love to be destructive, both parties must feel it. In other words, Orual loves all three of these people, but they also love her, and they only sacrifice themselves the way they do because of their devotion to her. Orual’s love makes her selfish, as she cares more for having her beloveds near her and paying attention to her than she does for their happiness and safety. Ironically, Orual is driven to destructive actions because she believes that Psyche and Bardia don’t love her as she loves them, but in fact they willingly face their own destruction for the sake of their devotion to Orual. Much of Orual’s cruelty comes from a delusion that she is unloved and unlovable, probably stemming from her father’s dislike of her and constant reminders of her ugliness.

Throughout the course of her life, Orual discovers different ways to love, or to interpret the idea of love. In trying to decide what to do about Psyche’s apparent delusion that she’s married to a god, Orual comes to believe that there is more to love than wanting to see the loved one happy. Instead, true love requires Orual to work for the moral and physical good of Psyche, her beloved. The problem is that Orual and Psyche don’t agree on what is best for Psyche, and Orual never considers that she might not have the right to decide Psyche’s future. In this way, she comes to devour Psyche’s ideal life with her jealous love, leading to Psyche wandering the earth in banishment. As Psyche remarks, Orual comes to use her love for Psyche and Psyche’s love for her as a weapon. She threatens to kill herself and does wound herself in order to coerce Psyche into betraying her husband, knowing that Psyche can’t stand the thought of Orual’s suicide. Even though Orual’s strategy works, it also ruins the trust and love that Psyche previously felt for her sister. Orual believes that, because she has raised Psyche and loved her, Psyche belongs to her. She does not acknowledge Psyche’s right to free will, instead thinking she deserves Psyche’s loyalty.

Ansit finally makes Orual see the destructive nature of her love when she tells her bluntly that she worked Bardia to death. Ansit acts as a counterexample to Orual’s way of loving, as she knows that she must allow those she loves, specifically Bardia and Ilerdia, to live their lives in the way that they desire, even if it means that she sees less of them. Her love is not possessive, as Orual’s is. Similarly, the Fox recognizes the need to control his love. When Orual proposes that she will battle Argan, the Fox feels terrified that she’ll die. He tries to convince her not to fight, but she ignores him. He later apologizes for using his love for her as a form of coercion to pull Orual from her desired path, which is exactly what Orual did to Psyche.

Writing as a Christian, Lewis seems to distinguish between selfish, earthly love and selfless, divine love. While Orual’s love is of the earthly variety, Psyche’s represents the epitome of divine love. Psyche wants to help those around her, as demonstrated when she tries to heal the mob of townspeople who come to the palace gates with the fever, the sort of selfless act that Orual would never do. The truly divine nature of this kind of love is proven when Psyche is chosen to love a god as his wife, and then to become a goddess herself. From a Christian viewpoint, then, Orual can only begin to love God when she rejects the selfish love that she has felt her whole life and begins to care for Psyche in a less possessive way.

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Love and Devouring Quotes in Till We Have Faces

Below you will find the important quotes in Till We Have Faces related to the theme of Love and Devouring.
Part 1: Chapter 5 Quotes

And when the Brute is Ungit it lies with the man, and when it is her son it lies with the woman. And either way there is a devouring... many different things are said... many sacred stories... many great mysteries. Some say the loving and the devouring are all the same thing. For in sacred language we say that a woman who lies with a man devours the man.

Related Characters: The Priest of Ungit (speaker), The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Related Symbols: Ungit
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Priest is explaining to the King how the Great Offering works—in other words, what will happen to Psyche when they sacrifice her. Although the Fox challenges the logic of the way the Priest talks about the gods, the Priest himself feels entirely comfortable with the contradictions and mysteries that make up his religion and he doesn’t believe that contradiction and mystery make faith any less true. This passage shows that the gods are not stable entities, but instead they can instead take on each other’s identities or temporarily become something else. The Brute, the monster that will take the human sacrifice, seems to be an independent entity that is simultaneously either Ungit or Ungit’s son. Later, a similar process allows Orual, Ungit, and Psyche to blend in and out of each other.

Furthermore, the Brute has sex with the sacrifice, but it also consumes the sacrifice, possibly through the same action. None of this makes logical sense, as the Fox would be quick to point out. But throughout the novel, loving and devouring are paired, particularly in association with Ungit. It becomes clear that Orual’s love always involves a devouring of her beloved’s life, since she feels the need to entirely possess anyone she loves. This sort of love is lesser than the pure love that Psyche can feel, which is also the love that the ultimate god at the end of the book demands.

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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.

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 11 Quotes

For the world had broken in pieces and Psyche and I were not in the same piece. Seas, mountains, madness, death itself, could not have removed her from me to such a hopeless distance as this. Gods, and again gods, always gods... they had stolen her. They would leave us nothing. A thought pierced up through the crust of my mind like a crocus coming up in the early year. Was she not worthy of the gods? Ought they not to have her? But instantly great, choking, blinding waves of sorrow swept it away....

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Page Number: 120-21
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs after Orual realizes that Psyche lives in a divine palace that Orual cannot see or feel. It seems worse to her that they should be in the same physical place but living apparently on different planes—mortal and divine—as opposed to being separated only by distance. Orual exhibits her jealousy of the gods, choosing to believe that they kidnapped Psyche rather than acknowledging that Psyche went to them more or less readily. She seems to imagine a struggle of mortals versus gods in which the gods take everything wonderful from the humans, and she hates them for their ability to draw the best people willingly to their realms.

For a moment, Orual does find herself wondering whether she’s being unfair. She considers Psyche’s rightful place, which, by implication, would be the one in which Psyche would be most happy. However, Orual’s way of loving doesn’t allow her to put her beloved’s happiness before her own. Her grief at the thought of entirely losing Psyche to the gods overpowers any consideration of what would be best for Psyche.

“Get up, girl,” I said. “Do you hear me? Do as you’re told. Psyche, you’ve never disobeyed me before.”

She looked up (wetter every moment) and said, very tender in voice but hard as stone in her determination, “Dear Maia, I am a wife now. It’s no longer you that I must obey.”

I learned then how one can hate those one loves. My fingers were round her wrist in an instant, my other hand on her upper arm. We were struggling.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral) (speaker), The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Page Number: 126-27
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual meets Psyche in the valley, they argue about whether the palace really does exist and whether Psyche should stay there or come home with Orual. When it begins to rain, the fact that Psyche gets wet seems to Orual to prove that the palace is a figment of Psyche’s imagination, since Psyche insists that they’re inside, sheltered from the rain. Orual commands her to come under her cloak to stay dry, but Psyche refuses.

Though Orual technically only commands Psyche in reference to their immediate situation in the rain, her sentiment applies to their entire situation. Orual, in her position as an older sister and mother figure, believes Psyche should obey Oural’s will and abandon this imagined palace. The fact that Orual becomes so enraged when Psyche declares that her allegiance has shifted to her husband, the god of the Mountain, proves the existence of the jealousy that Orual denies she feels. Orual can’t stand the idea that Psyche might belong to someone else, as Orual’s love makes her want to possess and control Psyche. Furthermore, Orual’s love mixes dangerously with hatred, meaning that no matter how much she insists that she acts for Psyche’s own good, hatred motivates her actions just as much as the love she claims to work for.

Part 1: Chapter 12 Quotes

I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? Would a woman see her lover happy as a coward? My hand went back to the sword. “She shall not,” I thought.... However things might go, whatever the price, by her death or mine or a thousand deaths... Psyche should not—least of all, contentedly—make sport for a demon.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral), The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

On the trip home from the valley, Bardia tells Orual that he believes Psyche is sleeping with a monster, and Orual tries to decide what to do about it. She knows that Psyche is happy in her current situation, no matter how much Orual may hate it. She doesn’t often examine her way of loving, and when she does now, she consciously chooses to love in a destructive way, thinking this the best and truest way to love.

Essentially, Orual decides that she knows what is best for Psyche, and she has a responsibility to guide Psyche towards this path even if it reduces Psyche’s happiness. In fact, her sense of responsibility is so strong that she would rather kill herself or Psyche than see Psyche remain in a situation that Orual finds dishonorable. Bardia’s wife, Ansit, will later expose the faults in this way of thinking, insisting that those who love must allow their beloveds to live their lives as they wish. Love is not a contract of possession as Orual wants it to be. Orual’s logic here begins to push her love towards hatred.

Part 1: Chapter 14 Quotes

You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred. Oh, Orual—to take my love for you, because you know it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture—I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here.

Related Characters: Psyche (Istral) (speaker), Orual (The Queen)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual is trying to convince Psyche to look at her lover’s face when he comes to her that night, Orual stabs herself in the arm to show that she feels desperate enough to kill both herself and Psyche if Psyche doesn’t obey. Up until now, Psyche has mostly tried to be understanding of Orual’s position, but at this point she can no longer deny that Orual does wrong.

Psyche recognizes that Orual’s way of loving verges on hatred. Orual is abusing Psyche, but she can’t fool Psyche into thinking that she owes Orual this act against her husband. Psyche sees that Orual is using Psyche’s love for Orual to coerce Psyche into doing her bidding, since Psyche obviously doesn’t want Orual to kill herself. Orual doesn’t see anything wrong in this, as she believes that the outcome will be for Psyche’s own good. In fact, she thinks that she’s committing an act of love herself. Not until much later will she realize that for love to be true, it cannot be used to control the beloved’s life.

Part 1: Chapter 18 Quotes

“Fool!” I said to myself. “Have you not yet learned that you are that to no one? What are you to Bardia? ...His heart lies at home with his wife and her brats. If you mattered to him he’d never have let you fight. What are you to the Fox? His heart was always in the Greeklands. You were, maybe, the solace of his captivity. They say a prisoner will tame a rat. He comes to love the rat—after a fashion. But throw the door open, strike off his fetters, and how much’ll he care for the rat then?”

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), The Fox, Bardia, Ansit
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

When Orual becomes the Queen, she frees the Fox from slavery. When she realizes that he’s considering going home to the Greeklands, she feels betrayed. She can’t imagine her life without the Fox, and she thought that the same was true for him.

To Orual, the fact that the Fox would consider leaving her for his homeland proves that he doesn’t love her as completely as she thought. She hates that everyone could live just fine without her, as she knows she couldn’t live without them. She can’t understand that the Fox can love her and also have people and places he loves elsewhere. She loves him possessively, thinking that her love gives her the right to keep him from leaving. Later, she’ll realize that if she loved him truly, she would have forced him to leave and seek what he was missing rather than using her love to guilt him into staying.

Furthermore, Orual thinks that if Bardia really loved her, he would have prevented her from dueling Argan, because he wouldn’t have wanted to see her put in danger. To her, love means doing whatever it takes to keep the beloved at one’s side, even if it doesn’t make the beloved happy. In truth, Bardia supported Orual’s decision to fight because he respected her abilities and knew that the duel would do her good as Queen. He allowed her to live her life as she wished, which is a much more genuine form of love than Orual’s form of love.

Part 1: Chapter 20 Quotes

I must now pass quickly over many years... during which the Queen of Glome had more and more a part in me and Orual had less and less. I locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best I could somewhere deep down inside me; she lay curled there. It was like being with child, but reversed; the thing I carried in me grew slowly smaller and less alive.

Related Characters: Orual (The Queen) (speaker), Psyche (Istral)
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

After Psyche’s exile, Orual becomes the Queen and finds that the work of running a country beneficially distracts her from her grief at the loss of her sister. She also finds that she can become someone new as Queen and thus completely bury the old Orual, whom she thinks of as being weak and full of pain. Though she doesn’t acknowledge it, the old Orual is also wracked with guilt at the role she played in ruining Psyche’s life. In burying Orual inside the more noble and stoic role of the Queen, she can also deny her guilt and avoid examining the awful deeds she has committed in the name of love. Though the gods will eventually force Orual to recognize what she has done and who she really is, making herself into an entirely new person allows her to delay this painful process.

Orual likens the process of repressing her old self to a sort of inverse pregnancy. As she becomes more the Queen and less Orual, she also taps into conventionally masculine aspects of herself. She kills a man in a duel to affirm her reign and, by veiling her face, denies everyone the ability to judge her based on her appearance, which is how women are typically judged. She even feels that Bardia and the Fox work better with her because they treat her like a fellow man. It seems, then, that in exercising her masculinity, she also represses her femininity, particularly her ability to feel emotion. In trying to kill the more feminine Orual, the Queen performs the opposite of the process that is seen as the ultimate feminine one—pregnancy. Her femininity withers, and instead of growing a life, she shrinks one to nothingness.

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.

Part 2: Chapter 1 Quotes

And so take away from him his work, which was his life... and all his glory and his great deeds? Make a child and a dotard of him? Keep him to myself at that cost? Make him so mine that he was no longer his? ...He was to live the life he thought best and fittest for a great man—not that which would most pleasure me.

Related Characters: Ansit (speaker), Orual (The Queen), Bardia
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

When Bardia dies, the Queen goes to visit his widow, Ansit. Ansit accuses the Queen of working Bardia to death, and the Queen doesn’t understand why Ansit wouldn’t have told her earlier, before it was too late. Ansit explains that she had to allow Bardia to do what gave him happiness and fulfillment, even though it took him away from her.

Ansit exhibits the pure form of love that Orual cannot understand or practice. While Orual thinks love entitles her to possess and control her beloved, Ansit argues that love must allow the beloved to retain his independence. True love requires sacrifice and pain from the lover and true love aims at all times for the happiness of the beloved. Orual’s way of loving reduces her beloveds to objects that she jealously guards, while Ansit’s love supports Bardia in becoming more himself than he could be without her. Ansit recognizes that possessive love only makes bitterness grow between the lovers, since they cannot pursue their own desires outside of their desires within the relationship. Orual has done to Psyche exactly what Ansit has refused to do to Bardia, and it has ruined both of their lives.

Oh, Queen Orual, I begin to think you know nothing of love.... Perhaps you who spring from the gods love like the gods. Like the Shadowbrute. They say the loving and the devouring are all one, don’t they? ...You’re full fed. Gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s—both your sisters’.

Related Characters: Ansit (speaker), Orual (The Queen), Psyche (Istral), Redival, The Fox, Bardia, The god of the Grey Mountain (the Brute/the Shadowbrute)
Related Symbols: Ungit
Page Number: 264-65
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Queen is visiting Ansit after Bardia’s death, Ansit accuses her of devouring the lives of everyone she’s ever loved. She speculates that, since the royal family is supposed to have divine blood, the Queen loves in a similar way to the gods. In the Great Offering in which Psyche was sacrificed, the Priest of Ungit said that the Shadowbrute would both lie with and devour Psyche, and now Ansit likens Orual’s love to that of the Shadowbrute.

The Shadowbrute is linked to Ungit, who is also associated with this devouring love. Later, the Queen will see herself as Ungit due to the similar way of loving that Ansit perceives here—in this circumstance, the Queen will also wonder if people might see her as the Shadowbrute, which confirms the truth of Ansit’s accusation. Ansit forces Orual to see a part of herself that she has long denied. Orual defines herself by her love for others, so she doesn’t want to acknowledge that her possessive love destroys the lives of those she loves. However, this is the essential self-realization that she must come to accept in order to fulfill the god’s prophecy and become purified.