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.
Beauty vs. Ugliness ThemeTracker
Beauty vs. Ugliness Quotes in Till We Have Faces
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.
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.”
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.
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.