The Great Divorce, as C. S. Lewis emphasizes in its Preface, is a fantasy about “trans-mortal” existence. This fantasy is cast in the form of a dream told by an anonymous narrator, the only character who has a dramatic existence both within and without the dream. It is not until the end of the work that the narrator openly discloses that his story was only a dream—although his opening words (“I seemed to be standing in a busy queue”) hint at that fact. His story, however, is replete with qualities of order, cohesion, intellectual depth, and narrative length that actual dreams never possess. As a vision of the “after-world,” The Great Divorce bears comparison with the vision of Er at the end of Plato’s Republic (388-368 b.c.e.), the New Testament book of Revelation (late first century c.e.), and Dante’s La divina commedia, c. 1320 (3 volumes; The Divine Comedy, 1802). As a novel, it is episodic and lacks a traditional plot.
Numerous autobiographical references in the narrator’s story clearly identify him as a fictional version of Lewis himself: The effect, for example, that the narrator claims (chapter 9) George MacDonald’s novel Phantastes (1858) had on him is the same effect that Lewis states (chapter 11) this novel had on him in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy (1955). Lewis, as author, portrays the narrator as pupil and employs MacDonald as a surrogate character for the expression of his own thought.
After his opening words, the narrator explains that he had been wandering through a dingy town under an evening twilight, which never turned into night, and had joined a queue at a bus stop, the only place he encountered people. Amidst a flurry of quarrels and scuffles, some drop out of the queue and the remainder take seats on an omnibus, which begins to ascend. By the time it has disembarked its noxious passengers onto a land ever on the brink of sunrise, the Tousle-Headed Poet had told the narrator of his suicide in response to a world too unenlightened to appreciate his talents. The Intelligent...
(The entire section is 886 words.)