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Student Research Projects

The Question of “I” in Till We Have Faces: Gender and the Becoming of the Self

Student Jessica Landry, '12
Faculty Mentor(s) Dr. Stephen Hock
Department English
Course ENG 489: Senior Capstone

Abstract

The primary text examined in my project is Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. This novel is a re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche originally recorded by the Latin writer Apuleius. Lewis’ novel retells this myth from the perspective of Psyche’s sister. This, along with other key differences, makes a major change in the reading of the Cupid and Psyche myth. In my project, the key problem I examine is twofold: how did Lewis, an older man who did not marry until late in life, write a novel from the perspective of a woman? and how does this lack of feminine context in Lewis’ life translate into Orual, the novel’s protagonist, as well as Psyche, Orual’s sister? To answer this question, I use Jungian concepts of animus and anima. I also examine Janice Hocker Rushing’s theory of erotic mentoring, in which relationships between men and women can have major impacts on their identities, whether positive or negative. In doing so, I learned that Lewis’ late marriage to Joy Davidman may have had a major impact in his writing of Till We Have Faces. I also learned that within the novel, Orual’s relationships with men in her life have a major impact on who she is. Several of the more significant men in Orual’s life become her erotic mentors in exerting their masculine influence on Orual. In her role as the Queen, Orual embraces this masculine influence, leading to a suppression of her feminine side, or anima. This suppression leads to a distortion of Orual’s true identity in the sense that she covers up parts of herself in order to perform her role as Queen, both physically, with a veil, and psychologically. Further, Orual’s relationship with her sister Psyche is important to Orual’s identity as a woman, as well as Orual’s eventual “unveiling,” or discovery of her true identity. The final conclusion to which I arrive is that the novel portrays the evolution of Orual’s character in which she must get outside of her own identity to become her true self, a genesis that reflects a process that occurred in Lewis’ own life through his marriage to Davidman. Orual’s final unveiling is representative of a process in which she discovers how warped her identity had become in her role as Queen, an identity in which her animus or masculine persona has so suppressed her anima that her identity has been altered. Through this discovery, as well as seeing the story of her life through other eyes, Orual is able to see her true self as a balance of animus and anima.

 

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