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.
Justice Quotes in Till We Have Faces
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?