The Great Divorce

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"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"

The Great Divorce is an allegorical book by CS Lewis.

This book comes from the POV of an Author Avatar who finds himself in "the grey town," a dismal place where it is always twilight (the lights are on but are not welcoming) and always raining, even inside. The place seems empty and vast (there are many houses). The only queue is at a bus station, and our narrator joins it. He then describes how half the people in that queue leave it never to return.

The bus is shining and brightly colored. Those who board clamor for space despite the bus being half-empty and say bad things about the driver for no good reason. Our narrator is seated, first next to a poet who manages to generate his own Wangst, and then a man with Great Plans and a broad-minded preacher.

They get to a bright, beautiful, vast, joyous countryside which is somehow realer than where they came from. They know it is supposed to be heaven. But it is so much more real that they appear to be ghosts, and are called such through the rest of the narrative. (This does include the narrator.) They are translucent. They are not intangible, though - they are just solid enough to be hurt. And everything hurts.

Each Ghost is met by someone who was close to them who is a native, a Bright One. The Bright Ones literally give off light. Some of them are naked, some clothed - it doesn't make much difference. The Bright Ones try to encourage those they are meeting to stay and come to the mountains. Most of them fail.

The title is a reference to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lewis said in his introduction that Blake wrote of the marriage of Heaven and Hell; he was writing of their divorce.


Tropes used in The Great Divorce include:
  • A Hell of a Time: As one character points out, the Grey Town doesn't contain the expected sights associated with Hell: devils with pitchforks, sinners being tortured on flaming racks, etc. But at best, it's a depressing, rainy place where constant squabbling causes residents to spread out from everyone else and become The Aloner. Also, it's hinted that things are about to get much worse.
  • An Aesop: The intended aesop is that Heaven and Hell are incompatible, though you can change sides.
  • All Just a Dream: Jack was careful to hammer the MST3K Mantra home in the preface and the last chapter.
  • All Take and No Give: Two of the damned want to be Givers, and aren't allowed.
  • Ancient Conspiracy - the Hard-Bitten Ghost, who has Seen It All, believes that the controlling forces for both sides of all conflicts, including Heaven and Hell, are actually on the same side.
  • Author Avatar - The narrator.
  • Card-Carrying Villain - Easier to save than a Knight Templar or Well-Intentioned Extremist. If you know you're evil, you can be converted to good. If you think you're good, it's harder.
  • Conspiracy Theorist - we meet one or two of them.
  • Dead to Begin With: Every human character other than the narrator
  • Driven to Suicide: the Tousle-Headed Poet. According to him, all the bad things that happened to him were Never His Fault.
  • The End of the World as We Know It - what sunrise in Heaven will do to Hell and to anyone who's still a ghost.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" - The only people (other than Lewis and MacDonald) whose names are given are Frank and Sarah Smith.
  • Friend to All Living Things - Sarah Smith has won over practically every person and every living creature she's ever met, which is why we learn her name. The only person she couldn't win over was her husband.
  • Hard Light - "The light, like solid blocks, intolerable of edge and weight, came thundering upon my head."
  • Henpecked Husband - Robert. He never appears, but we meet his Control Freak wife.
  • Historical Domain Character: George MacDonald again. Napoleon also makes a cameo, and several others are discussed.
  • Idiot Ball - Most of the Ghosts.
  • Ignored Epiphany - Very many
  • It's the Principle of the Thing
  • Karma Houdini - Some Bright Ones appear to be this by most measures. It's a severe stumbling block for some ghosts, most notably the Big Ghost, whose guide got to Heaven via deathbed conversion.
  • Karmic Death - we see a couple of these.
  • Made of Iron - Heaven
  • Made of Plasticine - The ones from Hell.
  • Madness Mantra - "It was Soult's fault. It was Ney's fault. It was Josephine's fault. It was the fault of the English. It was the fault of the Russians."
  • The Masochism Tango - A husband and wife who leave the line for the bus quarreling. It is clear that they will go on trashing each other forever.
  • Mundane Afterlife - Hell is just a rainy twilit town that gives new meaning to "urban sprawl". This is even lampshaded by some who remark that the one draw of Hell—the chance to talk to the great sinners—is more or less impossible because of the distance.
  • My Beloved Smother - One of the more heart-wrenching conversations is on this theme.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different - We only see the Ghosts who decide to visit Heaven, but there's some discussion about Ghosts who take similar visits back to Earth.
  • Point of No Return - Any sin, unremedied, leads to this. Interestingly, this is usually symbolized as someone returning to the bus.
  • Pride - The number one factor keeping people from accepting grace.
  • The Scottish Trope - The damned never speak of Hell as Hell.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell - Indeed, the only reason the Ghosts end up in Hell is because of some rather petty issue they have.
  • Shout-Out - To an unidentified short story about Time Travel, in which the immutability of the past results in Intangible Time Travel.
  • Spirit Advisor - Every visitor from Hell gets one; though the Heavenly Beings are all fully visible to one another, the Hellish ones can only perceive depending on certain circumstances.
  • The Treachery of Images: The blessed former apostate finally gives up on trying to reason with his damned apostate friend not very long after the damned soul has gone so far off the deep end in his pseudo-intellectual diatribe that he ends up complaining about how the blessed man is talking "as if there some hard, fixed reality where things are, so to speak, 'there'."
  • Time Stands Still: Lewis had the idea for the story from a half-remembered story about a world frozen in time. Nothing the spirits do can effect any real change—Hell is always damp and miserable and Heaven is so much 'realer' than the spirits that the grass cuts into their feet instead of bending to them.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: One ghosts argues this: It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. The Bright One returns that if you knew that to be true, you could not travel in hope, because how can you hope to reach an inferior destination?
  • Was Once a Man: Many of the Hellish spirits are so bitter that there's very little left of them.
  • What Happened to the Mouse? - We never see whether the Tousle-Head Poet, the woman Ghost who gets caught in the unicorn stampede, or the possessive mother choose to stay or go.
    • Though MacDonald implies that the possessive mother probably won't stay.
  • Yandere: The possessive mother; MacDonald explains that Love Makes You Crazy in Hell, whereas Love Redeems in Heaven.