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The Great Divorce

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Looking at “The Great Divorce”

C.S. Lewis is a wonderful writer who manages to place the supernatural with the spiritual in a single book. In his book, The Great Divorce, Lewis again puts the divine in a setting that would be more appropriate to a fantasy or other work of extreme fiction. This paper shall provide a summary of this book, followed by a personal response to it. The reader will come away from this paper with the knowledge of both The Great Divorce as well as my personal feelings towards this book. The Great Divorce is at its most basic level the quest of a single person through both heaven and hell. The reader could easily make a comparison between this theme and the works of Dante, but in Lewis’ book the reader sees more humor and more realistic occurrences. For example, the narrator enters into the gate to heaven and hell when he steps aboard an ordinary city bus. The book begins with a sad person – the narrator – who is walking in a very evil city. The narrator looks around and sees that everyone in this city is suffering in some way. He then gets on the bus and finds that all the passengers are ghosts. However, as the bus comes close to heaven, these ghosts once more become people and the land becomes less evil. When the narrator steps from the bus he finds that the landscape is very real and because of this he is physically hurt. Yet the ghosts are allowed to pass through this land in order to reach a city that is apparently Heaven. When the bus reaches the city of Heaven, the passengers are allowed to choose whether they want to stay as ghosts or become spirits. The implication is that the ghosts are in hell and that the spirits are in heaven, and that the choice to go to heaven is something that the human being must decide. Here, the role of the ghost is that of a human who willingly remains in hell. Sounds foolish? Not really, because in order to become a spirit and enter into heaven the ghost needs to divorce himself from something. This is the meaning of the title, The Great Divorce. The spirits ask the ghosts to get rid of things that hold them back. Examples of these things are addictions like alcohol, or bad emotions, like hate. In order to enter into heaven, the ghost must willingly put these things behind them because they have no place in paradise. One example of something that holds down a ghost from entering heaven is the ghost of Michael’s mother. This is the ghost of a woman who wishes more than anything to go back and be with her son. The woman is not a bad person and she would easily become a spirit if it weren’t for Michael, but this woman refuses to enter heaven. When a bright spirit talks to her, this spirit tries to tell her that her love for Michael is selfish. The ghost does not understand how her love for her son could be selfish and she wants Michael with her to enter into heaven. She says that Michael belongs to her and that even God cannot take her son from her. This example helps show that even love can be considered a bad emotion, since it limits the woman and prevented her from entering into heaven. This means that a personal sacrifice is necessary in order for a ghost to enter heaven and become a spirit. The presence of those things that limit the ghost are not allowed in heaven, for heaven is not a place where limitations can enter. Lewis implies that the ghost must forget the bad things that have weighed them down in order to progress into the future. Here, heaven is the future and the ghost is able to reach it through throwing away the bad parts of their personality. My personal response to The Great Divorce is that C. S. Lewis seemed to press a personal opinion on the reader. In Lewis’ opinion, it seems as though anyone can enter heaven if they only get rid of some of the bad things that they have picked up during their lifetime. But the bad things that are presented are all similar, where it seems that small problems and large problems alike are both unwanted parts of the human being. I mean that the problems faced by a person, whether it is murder or smoking, are weighed about the same in The Great Divorce. Lewis seems to present the idea that the ghosts, or the human souls, are weighted down but that the actual weights themselves don’t really matter in the end. I do not agree with this. I think that people should enter heaven but that entry is not granted to any person if they give up their bad habits or their bad emotions. If this was the case then bad mass- murderers would be allowed to walk right into heaven if they dropped their bad feelings. This seems as though there is no real punishment in the afterlife for people who commit sins, and if this is the case than shouldn’t living people take advantage of being able to sin more often? I think that God and heaven are more restrictive than this, and that while everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven some people will need to stay in hell for longer than just the time it takes them to forget their sins. However, I liked many other parts of this book. I enjoyed the problems that the ghosts face when they attempted to enter heaven, especially the scene where they tried to take an apple back to hell because the apple would then be something that was real in an unreal world. The symbolism of an apple here is like the story of Adam and Eve, where the apple is the tool used for tempting Adam into sin. In The Great Divorce, the apple is again being used as a tool of sin, for the reality in heaven cannot enter into hell. I also liked the parts where emotions can hold the ghost back, such as in the example of Michael’s mother. While most people believe that only very bad sins can keep people out of heaven, it makes sense to me that bad emotions would keep the ghosts out too. This paper has presented both a summary and my personal view on C. S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. The book provides a new look at how people enter heaven and hell, where these people remain in hell as ghosts before they lose their bad habits and emotions and enter heaven as spirits. I feel that this is a very interesting look at heaven and hell but I don’t like how easy it is for bad sinners to enter into heaven. I think that very bad sinners like murderers should be punished for some period of time before being allowed to enter heaven.

Bibliography

Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Great Divorce. New York: Simon and Schuster.…...

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