The eyes are the window to the soul.
—Lorenzo di Medici
Traditionally, the eyes are the windows to the soul. Thus, when we see a subtle emotion in someone's face, we say that we see it in his eyes.
It doesn't matter if we can really do this. We do read emotions off people's faces, in such fantastically subtle and sensitive ways that we're often not consciously aware of them. So, wherever it really is that gives them away, we say and often believe it's in the eyes.
On occasion, the things that we're told can be seen in someone's eyes can get really subtle or really abstract - from sadness
or murderous fury
all the way to humanity or the lack thereof
or immense age
This is a trope of literature and dialogue. You need this sort of description only if you can't see the person's eyes for yourself. Live-action works generally let you interpret for yourself; drawn works will often depict the emotions graphically
Often a contributing factor to Uncanny Valley
- viewers will say there's "something wrong with their eyes", and creators that they "can't get the eyes right". A good way to deliberately create an emotional disconnect is to hide a characters eyes entirely
Has no relation to Mac of the soul
. Compare and contrast Windows to the Soul
, which express personality or power instead of emotion.
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Anime and Manga
- Played with in the 'Shining Armor' story from Astro City. Irene sees a glint in Atomicus's eyes, which she initially reads as a challenge, leading her to prod him about his secret identity until he leaves the planet, after which she understands it was fear. It seems more probable that the glint is just a glint in his eyes she can read however she pleases. He is radioactive.
- Harry Potter is the former Trope Namer, for the infamous "glint of triumph" Harry sees in Dumbledore's eyes in Book 4, which tipped everyone off that it's a huge setup.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians is only too guilty of this.
- Juliet Marillier's The Sevenwaters Trilogy does this all the time, sometimes with more than one emotion at once, thus: "She saw a mixture of triumph and dread in his eyes."
- The last line of Richard Matheson's "The Splendid Source": the hero has just been invited to join the Ancient Tradition he's been tracking down throughout the story. He's all but speechless ... "But, already, the light of consecration was stealing into his eyes."
- Danny, the Champion of the World is one of many works to discuss the phenomenon of the "eye smile" - twisting the corners of your lips upwards looks nothing like a real smile unless the eyes are doing the right thing (which in real life is probably squinting slightly rather than reflecting the innermost workings of the soul, but Truth in Television nonetheless).
- A major theme of Coraline, where the Other Mother has button eyes and wants to give Coraline the same.
- In The Dresden Files wizards can see a person's soul with their Sight if eye contact is maintained (this is why you don't look at a wizard too long. They see too much). However, there are three drawbacks: the other person can see yours too, it only works once, and you can't forget what you see. Ever.
- In The Lord of the Rings and the supplementary material, attention is often brought to Elves' bright eyes. From the descriptions they seem to invoke borderline Uncanny Valley in some characters, and especially evil-leaning characters are terrified from looking Elves' in the eyes, and even good-aligned mortals feel awe from them. The supplementary material explains explicitly that the fire of the Elvish spirit shines through their eyes much more strongly than mortal spirit.
- In The Wheel of Time series, characters get a hint that someone is evil or deceptive because they have a smile that does not touch their eyes. In truth, a genuine smile does contort the eyes, and it is apparently impossible to fake this.
- True enough. About half the muscles involved in a true smile are not under voluntary control. When you fake a smile these muscles don't activate, and since several of them connect to the portion of your skull around the eyes...
- A major recurring theme in Discworld, going back to the very first book in the series, is that the eyes are a clue to your true nature because they are the only part of your body that cannot be magically disguised, something true for gods as well as mortals. This becomes a plot point in Witches Abroad, where a character has to wear dark glasses to conceal the fact that he's a frog transmogrified into a human.
- When Elizabeth Wakefield meets the "evil twin" Margo in Sweet Valley High, she thinks that "If the eyes are the windows to the soul, this girl is evil because her eyes are cold."
- In Margin Play, Amber says this about Kasey during the meeting in the bar.
People say that the eyes are the windows to the soul; it's true, but only when the person being viewed opens that window. Charles Kasey chose that moment to, and I knew what I saw behind the black humor and artful apathy; something old and ugly and very human. Something society has always been too frightened to examine but depends on just the same. I wanted to look away but I didn't.
Live Action TV
- Played with in the Doctor Who episode, The Time of Angels; "The eyes are not the windows of the soul, they are the doors." As if those things needed to be even more terrifying.
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Your eyes look tired. Is your soul tired?"]]
- In one episode of Arrow, Fyers says he requires his men to wear balaclavas because then only the eyes are revealed, so his men are somehow more recognizable to him, which is how he can spot that Oliver is actually an intruder.
- Eyes by Kaskade featuring Mindy Glendhill features the trope's name right in the chorus.
- The Eagles "Lyin' Eyes:
I thought by now you'd realize
There ain't no way to hide your lyin eyes
- Asia's "Only Time Will Tell":
You're leaving now
It's in your eyes
There's no disguising it
- The Sanford-Townsend Band; "Smoke from a Distant Fire":
I know where you goin' to
I knew when you came home last night
'Cause your eyes had a mist
from the smoke of a distant fire