The outward appearance of faces in this novel generally corresponds to the characters’ moral essences. Psyche’s moral perfection is reflected in her stunningly beautiful face. Orual’s face, on the other hand, is horribly ugly, as her moral tendencies also prove to be. Furthermore, when she sees the face of Ungit on herself, she begins to realize that it shows she has lived a life of devouring the people around her for her own benefit. At the same time, it’s difficult to say whether the women’s essential characters exist from birth or result from the responses to their physical appearances. Psyche has always been adored for her beauty, so she has no reason to hate those around her or to seek love as jealously as Orual does. Orual, on the other hand, has always been told that she’s too ugly to love, and that she’ll never be able to marry. This undoubtedly makes her bitter against the world and leads her to cling destructively to those who do love her, filling with jealousy whenever she perceives any threat to that love. Thus, the women’s faces both influence and reflect their true moral character.
Additionally, the god’s refusal to allow Psyche to see his face acts as a test of her loyalty. In Christianity, to see the face of God is portrayed as an intensely religious and euphoric experience. Orual forces Psyche to disrespect the sacredness of this act, as Psyche tries to see the god’s face through deception. Faces, then, can be seen as sacred, and if the essence of a person is represented by their face, that essence, too, is sacred.
Orual ultimately realizes that the gods cannot “meet us face to face till we have faces” (294), implying that the having a face includes being conscious of one’s entire self, both good and bad, and understanding one’s motives and the results of one’s actions. Until then, the gods will remain silent, unwilling to waste time trying to make mortals understand what they’re willfully blind to.
Faces Quotes in Till We Have Faces
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.
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.
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?