Till We Have Faces

by C. S. Lewis

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What is the significance of the title in the story of Till We Have Faces?

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This powerful novel about the life of Orual, sister of Psyche, contains much that can be learnt about humanity and our patterns of relating with others and ourselves. The title of this text relates to a central section of the novel when Orual finally is able to do what she has hoped to do throughout the entire story: deliver her complaint to the gods. She is a character who, for much of her narrative, is absolutely consumed by her bitterness at how she has been treated by the gods and what has happened to her sister, Psyche. However, when she gets this opportunity, she makes a realisation that shocks her and comes to her like an epiphany:

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?

Orual realises that the complaint that has been at the center of her soul for so long is nothing more than a "babble," because she lacks the self-awareness to understand her life, her actions and her sorrows. The final line of this quote is where Lewis took the title for this work from. It links the work to the theme of self-awareness and the journey that Orual takes throughout the novel as she begins to understand that her love for her sister, Psyche, is not actually love but selfishness. The importance of the title is emphasised by the way that Orual is a Queen famed for wearing a veil to cover her face. She does not have a "face" for most of the novel, and this symbolically supports her lack of self-awareness.

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Explicate one theme in Till We Have Faces and its significance in the story and to the modern-day reader.

One of the central themes of this important text by C. S. Lewis is that of the danger of giving one's life entirely to a vocation and the negative impact this can have on that person. The person in question is of course Orual, who is so consumed with bitterness about what happened to her sister, Psyche, that she spends the majority of her life nurturing and harbouring her complaint against the gods, longing to have her woes heard and answered. However, as Lewis makes clear, the all-consuming nature of her mission means that she is blind to her own involvement in what happened to Psyche and her own failings. The text then charts the gradual growth of self-realisation that Orual experiences, and it is only when she is able to deliver her complaint that has consumed her for so long that she realises she has lacked massively self-awareness:

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?

This central passage of the novel, from which the title is taken, identifies the dangers of giving one's life over to a cause so completely that it excludes everthing else, including love and self-knowledge. This is something that of course has massive application to 21st century readers. Identifying with a vocation or a cause too strongly can lead to disaster, as suicide bombers in various parts of the world testify. This novel then advises moderation in any vocation that its readers may choose to follow.

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