The Great Divorce
The Great Divorce E-mail

The Great Divorce

Introduction

            The Great Divorce was originally published as a serial in The Guardian from November 10, 1944 to April 13, 1945. 

            A bus-load of inhabitants from the Grey Town (or Hell) have the opportunity to visit the outskirts of Heaven.  Because of their semi-transparent appearance, the passengers are referred to as ghosts, while the citizens of Heaven have solid bodies.  A representative of Heaven greets each visitor and a conversation ensues during which the solid person tries to persuade the ghost to stay.

            Each ghost has taken a virtue or natural impulse and elevated it above all else to the point of becoming distorted and destructive.  In pride, they cling to self-righteousness, mother love, artistic talent, and doing one's duty, rather than grasp the joy and grace offered in Heaven.  Only one ghost decides to stay and surrender the obstacle that separates him from God.  Who will it be?

            In the preface, Lewis explains how he arrived at the title.  William Blake wrote "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"; Lewis would write of their divorce.  Lewis believed that life presented some either/or choices.  The attempt to embrace both alternatives and somehow transform evil into good, Lewis saw as error.  "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."  

            This book offers insight into the human condition and the seemingly innocent things that can separate us from God.  We also get a taste of Lewis's view of Heaven and Hell.  In Beyond the Shadowlands: C. S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell, Wayne Martindale traces the theme of the afterlife throughout Lewis's works, including The Great Divorce.  He summarizes Lewis's thoughts as follows:

*  Heaven is being in the presence of God and enjoying all good things that flow from his character and creativity.
*  Heaven is utter reality; Hell is nearly nothing.
*  Although Heaven is a definite place, it is more relationship than place (not unlike the experience we have in our homes)
*  All our desires are, at bottom, for Heaven.
*  Heaven is the fulfillment of human potential; Hell is the drying up of human potential.
*  We choose Heaven or Hell, daily becoming someone more suited for Heaven or someone who wouldn't like the place even if it were offered.
*  Hell is receiving our just desert; Heaven is all undeserved gift.

Wayne Martindale, Beyond the Shadowlands (2005), p. 18.