Last Updated September 5, 2023.
C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce is a story that blends elements of Christian philosophy, storytelling, and a generous take on Lewis's ideas on the afterlife and the nature of sin. In this novel, Lewis takes his philosophy of how sin corrupts and rots human existence to create our own personal Hell while contrasting it with the results of a pure, moral, and sanctified life.
In this novel, Lewis uses the stories of several characters with different vices to show how their descent into sin followed its natural course of worsening throughout eternity to lead these individuals into a worse and worse existence—torturing them because of their own sinful nature, not through some inherent, destructive hellfire that is divinely ordained. Lewis's point in this text is to show that, instead of the traditional view of Hell as a place of punishment for our actions, it is the natural result of our own actions.
The individuals in the novel believe they are in purgatory, thinking they are awaiting judgment because, in their opinion, their situation is not that bad—it's not "hellish". This is reflective of Lewis's view on sin nature in humans—they slip so far that they believe their evil doings are nothing striking.
When they reach Heaven, they get a view of Lewis's idea of Heaven (exemplified in his separate quote about not wanting to go to the beach because you're having too much fun making mud pies in the backyard), that Heaven is much more real and substantial than any of the flimsy things of Earth or Hell and that is satisfies much more deeply.
He departs from regular Christian theology in this moment when the characters are offered a final chance at salvation, in spite of already being in Hell. But his point is used to illustrate one of his final ideas, and one of the most poignant when it comes to his view of God's design.
When the characters reject their sin and decide to enter Heaven, the representations of their vices are transformed into beautiful and powerful aides that, instead of hindering them, assist and strengthen them. Lewis is using this as an example of how the character traits that cause vice are often, if not always, powerful gifts from God that are corrupted by sin, and if they are tamed and used for Heavenly pursuits, will be much more incredible and will be bastions of righteousness and strength.