What Does It Mean To Have A Face?
An essay on C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces"
So we’ve finally come to the end of the book, but the question still remains: What does it mean to have a face? Is having a face simply the features which those you encounter look upon? Is it simply your smile, facial expressions, and eyes? Or is there something deeper to it?
In this particular novel, ‘Till We Have Faces’, Lewis portrays another meaning for face that most people might not think about. A meaning far from eyes, lips, and nose. Having a face,according to Lewis, is the state of being selfless. Obtaining one is to understand how awful you are. In a sense then, it is like understanding you are Ungit (the ugly, cruel, all-devouring god of Glome), and becoming Psyche.
Now throughout the book we see two different characters’ experiences with the gods. This is the main key to understanding my thesis statement. How do the gods interact with the sisters in their journey to finding a face?
First off, I want to take a look at our protagonist. Orual isn’t in good standing with the gods. From her perspective, they’ve taken everything she loves, just to hurt her. And what are their reasons? That’s something Orual simply doesn’t understand. To her, the gods are unfair, cruel, and hateful. She constantly accuses them, constantly demands for them to answer her. And yet, Orual never gets her answer. It’s just the same old life, where she slaves away and the gods just take, take, take. As you can see, there’s a big problem here. But then again, how can Orual understand her motives when she doesn’t yet understand she’s Ungit?
This leads us to the second character, Psyche. Psyche has always been the most beautiful, gentle, selfless creature in all the lands. There is not a selfish bone in her body. Even Orual observed of her, “She made beauty all round her. When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver. When she picked up a toad—she had the strangest and, I thought, unchanciest love for all manner of brutes—the toad became beautiful.” Some people even call her a goddess, which isn’t far from the truth. In fact, this is why the God of the Grey Mountain takes Psyche as a sacrifice. Some people say to “devour” her. In a sense, maybe she is devoured. But the point is, Psyche is now becoming a goddess. Psyche has found her face.
The ways that the gods interact with these two characters are very different. Psyche is so selfless, she is now becoming a goddess. Orual, on the other hand, doesn’t receive her answer because she doesn’t understand that she is selfish. She doesn’t understand she’s in the wrong. So how could the gods answer her when that fact, in itself, is the answer?
But that’s not the end of Orual’s story, because eventually, Orual did realize she was Ungit. Orual finally started to understand more about herself after she started writing her book. “What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work. Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant.”
After this, Orual also admitted the gods had used her writing to change her too. “The change which the writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning; only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound. ”
As Orual began to realize she was Ungit, she was sent on many tasks, which little by little changed her more. Eventually though, she was taken to a judge to be heard. But Orual realized something while reading her accusation. “The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean … 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?”
In the end then, Orual was told by the god, “You are now Psyche.”
So what does it mean to have a face? To have a face is simply to die to yourself. The god told Orual, “Die before you die, there is no chance after.” And that is exactly what Orual had to do.
All along Orual had been searching for an answer, even demanding it of the gods, but she finally, unexpectedly, found it. “I ended my first book with the words 'no answer.' I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”
So in the end we can see that the most important journey in life is finding your face. But how can you even know what it means to have a face until you have found yours? You see the key to becoming beautiful is to first understand your ugliness. Only then will you be able to face the gods. Only then will you be able to find you face. And once we fully understand our true motives, then we will truly have a face.