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The Great Divorce Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 30th, 2019

Background information about the author

Also known by his colleagues as Jack, Lewis Staples, the author of ‘The Great Divorce’ was born in Belfast in 1898. During his lifetime, he was one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century. He wrote more than 70 types of works, which ranged from poetry, science fiction, Christian apologetics, and fantasy amongst others.

He was educated at his home in Britain. When his mother died, he was left with his brother Warren. He studied English and philosophy at the Oxford University (Staples 21).

He also served in military. Upon joining the faculty of Cambridge University as a literature professor, he married his long time fiancée Joy Gresham who later succumbed to cancer in 1960 while Lewis died in 1963 at Headington, Oxford, after experiencing a heart problem.

His legacy in writing is well shared and known across the world. He was a prolific author who wrote fiction. ‘The Great Divorce’ was published in 1946 (Staples 21).

His interest in spiritual choices played a pivotal role in his writing of the book. He was motivated to write about the spirits after he read ‘Seventeenth Century’ written by Taylor Jeremy, an Anglican divine servant of God. The book introduced him to the ancient catholic notion of refrigerium.

A Summary of the Main Points or Themes

Intrigues on Heaven and Earth

The book is premised on the intrigues on heaven and earth. There are various contradictions among the question of heaven and hell. More often, people have pondered and sought answers whether it is indeed true that heaven and hell exist. The imagination and thinking of Christians are different from what the atheists’ society thinks about God in heaven and the torment in hell.

Coming from a Christian background, Lewis provides further insights on the way people feel about heaven and hell. The book begins with the narrator who boards a bus driven by a man they could not identify. “The man seemed full of light” (Staples Para. 3). The bus was driven through a visionary world on top of a mountain believed to be heaven.

Experiences in heaven are different. Every thing seemed solid, which makes it difficult for them (ghosts) to persevere and have a feeling of going back to the grey town. The narrator is the ghost who meets the spirit, which, upon repenting, enjoys the blossoms of heaven. The author presents various episodes in his allegory to portray different themes in the book.


Salvation is one of the themes that the author highlights in the book. Salvation is the path that leads people’s immortal souls to heaven. People who abide by the correct moral choices in life together with those who forgive their colleagues while at the same time seeking forgiveness of their own sins are guaranteed to see the door of heaven.

The author depicts this case when the aforementioned people meet the spirits. The narrator is the ghost who encounters a spirit that used to be a sinner but one that repented its sins to secure forgiveness. The narrator wonders why he was taken to hell after doing what is right. In fact, he “never asked for anything that was not his based on rights (Staples 25). However, the opportunity is still open for the narrator to get salvation by repenting his sins.

The spirit says, “You were not a decent man and you did not do your best…We none of us were and we none of us did…Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter” (Staples 27). The author is contended that heaven and hell are real places. Therefore, people should make a decision of where they want to go. The decision solely rests on the people either to choose what is right or wrong. Wrong choices will deny a person an opportunity to see the doors of heaven.

In fact, the author confirms how choosing what is right secures one the riches of heaven. However, making poor choices by ignoring repentance besides refusing salvation has the repercussion of facing hell. The entire book is centered on salvation, as the author examines it through related themes that have an impact on salvation such as love in all its guises, pride/vanity, faith vs. cynicism, values of ideologies, forgiveness, and anger.


Clinging on self-interest is deterrence to many. Many people make wrongful choices because they have refused to relinquish their self-interest. For instance, ghosts are often told that they need to relinquish self-interest to enter heaven. However, they have remained adamant.

Pride that is manifested through physical appearances and or any form that is visualized, artistic, or intellectual is deeply entrenched in them to deny them an opportunity to see heaven. Lewis points his recounts with people who have tied their identities to pride. For instance, women have put more emphasis on their physical attractiveness in the way they are clothed. Such things have impeded many people from seeing the light and hence the failure to get an opportunity to enter heaven.


Love is also handled in the book. The author’s way of handling love is a bit complex. Embracing true and pure godly love is viewed as the ticket for entering the kingdom of heaven. However, the same love brings many temptations, which hinder people from achieving salvation.

Love is the cause of evils. People will do blackmailing besides sabotaging the initiatives of others in a bid to achieve happiness and fame. Therefore, it is imperative that people demonstrate love towards their fellow human beings besides having a spiritual love of God, which stands out as the only way to see the kingdom of God.


The book was written at the time when national ideologies were at rift. These rifts caused a lot of harm and problems to millions of people. The ideology on capitalism and communism made countries drift apart. For instance, a relationship between Russia communist state and that of Germany, which was a capitalist, was not good (Watson 163).

Therefore, through the book, Lewis echoes popular criticisms on both countries’ ideologies contending that people’s spiritual pursuits and moral choices are above the pursuit of individual, communal, or wealthy prosperity.

Faith and cynicism

Another theme portrayed in the book is faith and cynicism. The author uses himself in reinforcing the already public formed opinions about hell and heaven. Heaven is associated with right and happiness while hell is associated with torment. Therefore, by being faithful and believing in the unseen things/spirits, people will have an upper hand in going to heaven.

They have been revealed and even seen evidenced about heaven and hell. However, this does not reduce their cynical nature. Therefore, they have been left to make their choices to have faith in what they hear and see or risk peril.

Jealousy and resentment

Lewis also depicts how people are jealous and full of resent to those above them. The ghosts are selfish and full of envy. For instance, in the book, ghosts are jealous about the magnificent look of angels demonstrated in their way of dressing and status. The ghosts resent their trait of not being angels.

They feel that it is their right to be like them. This exposition is manifested through their conversation. For instance, when told by the angels about their various faults and sins, they dislike this since they feel that the angels are overbearing. Therefore, Lewis is contending that failure to relinquish or sacrifice this resentment for love is a hindrance to enter heaven.


Forgiveness is one of the major themes that are portrayed by Lewis in the book. At every conversation between the ghosts and angels, the ghosts cling on their self-interest. They refuse to repent their sins and return to the light (Raiger 109). Even though the opportunity for absolution of their sins is presented to them, they just cannot accept.

They however cling to their egoistic and obsessive traits, a case that is likened to human beings. In various occasions, people find it difficult to relinquish their deeds for fear of losing things that they deem important and central to their lives even if such things are destructive. The fact that there is an opportunity to reshape their lives, people are still stiff and not ready to adjust and seek forgiveness.

Evaluation of the book’s usefulness

Lewis book is a depiction or rather an allegory of what the heaven and hell are like. Human beings have different perceptions about heaven and hell. The Christian ideologies contend that there is life after death. Those who do what is right usually enter heaven while those who do what is wrong enter hell. Lewis’ book is of great importance to people in terms of their actions in the society. The author uses ghosts and angels to speak about the choices that people make in their lives.

Choosing the path of right or wrong is the discretion of an individual. The book also aims at teaching people about salvation and the need to have faith. In the day-to-day interactions, people are always facing various challenges that may hinder them from entering the kingdom of Heaven.

Therefore, the book is an encouragement to the Christian faithful not to give up the fight. The journey has many challenges that may make them give up the fight. The barriers that may hinder them from entering the kingdom include failure to show love, failure to forgive, being so proud, and jealousy among other behaviors that are perceived to be against the will of God. Society sometimes is torn between parts.

The ideologies that people have are different thus affecting the way they live with each other. They cause distractions that otherwise would have been avoided. The book is written in line with the historical happenings during the 20th century. People should be guided by moral values that aim at upholding to unity.

Likewise, states and governments should pursue spiritual liberation. However, the approach that Lewis took is biased in some way. He did not factor in the concerns of the atheists. People who do not believe in the existence of heaven and life after death may not agree with the idea postulated by Lewis. It is aligned towards the lives of believers and nonbelievers. The Christian faithful people are depicted as kind-hearted, noble, honest, and selfless.

On the other hand, nonbelievers are portrayed as people that are selfish, evil, and insincere. This portrayal of the two groups of people may elicit animosity and hatred among people in the society. For instance, the atheists, having been depicted negatively, may have a bad relationship with their Christian faithful. Therefore, instead of cementing the positive coexistence, the author was in a way widening the relationships between the two.

However, regardless of the author’s inclination about hell and heaven, he reveals the pleasant fantasies that people will continue to ponder upon reading the masterwork. The biblical views about the coming of savior are perceived differently by embers of the society. Questions arise when Lewis contends that no punishment is in hell.

This therefore may have implied that the moral deeds of people could not be anything that matters. The basis of this argument is that God may not create human beings and at the same time require them to suffer. Nevertheless, the author presents this imagination as an allegory that should not be taken as literary.


Therefore, through the book, the author has spoken to many people who may have lost hope. His allegory and dream story are clear indications of what the bible says. The right choices will lead people into the right direction, which is heaven while the wrong decisions will lead them to hell. Therefore, for any person who has heaven as his/her destiny ought to have an added advantage upon reading the fascinating masterwork.

Works Cited

Raiger, Michael. “The Place of the Self in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought & Culture 13.2(2010): 109-131. Print.

Staples, Lewis. The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan Co., 1946. Print.

Staples, Lewis. Foundation: Chronology of the life of C.S., 2009. Web.

Watson, Thomas. “Enlarging Augustinian systems: C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce and Till We Have Faces.” Renascence 46.3(1994): 163-164. Print.

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