The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Summary: An attempt at refuting universalism whose Kafkaesque depiction of the afterlife ironically shows why it would be a better idea.

An allegory along the lines of Dante's Divine Comedy, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce was written, as Lewis explains in the preface, to combat the universalist notion that everyone will be saved in the end. The book takes the form of a bus ride that carries the damned from Hell to Heaven, where the narrator learns that they are offered a chance to stay there, but ultimately reject it because they prefer to remain in Hell.

Following is an extended review of the book containing comments on specific chapters, concluded by overall impressions. Some chapters have been omitted, since they contain no material I wish to make any specific remarks about; in any event, every claim both explicitly and implicitly made in this book has been answered elsewhere on this site.


In the opening chapters of the book, we find that Hell is a bleak, dreary gray town, vast and lonely, hovering in a perpetual rainy twilight. Wandering through abandoned streets, the narrator finally stumbles across a bus stop, where a group of people are waiting for the bus. All of them are angry and argumentative, however, seemingly unable to tolerate each other's presence; they quarrel, assault each other or drop out of the line declaring that they didn't want to go anyway at the slightest provocation.

Finally the bus arrives, driven by an unidentified man who "seemed full of light" (p.3). The passengers pile on, and to the narrator's surprise, as they drive off the bus soars up into the air, the gray town falling away beneath it. The boundaries of the town cannot be seen, however; in fact, the higher they climb, the huger it is revealed to be, filling all the field of vision. We learn that this is because its inhabitants, unable to tolerate each other, keep moving further and further out to be away from everyone else. Since they have no physical needs, necessity does not force them together to build a functioning society. It is further explained that the average damned soul will never meet any of the interesting historical personalities that dwell there, because by now they are so far away from everyone else - millions of miles - that it would take forever to find them.

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