The Great Divorce, Chapter 4

This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. The fourth post in our series comes from Kaylee McElroy.

Kaylee McElroy

As a first-time reader of The Great Divorce, I first have to admit that my speculations may be immediately refuted in the upcoming chapters. Perhaps none of my analysis will hold. My second confession is that I ended up thinking a lot about Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and its potential connections to this chapter (and potentially future chapters). I might be totally fabricating these parallels, but let’s have some fun with it.

In this chapter, the narrator steps aside while people from this real land approach the Ghosts. He doesn’t want to intrude upon emotional reunions, so he pretends that he wishes to explore. His underlying assumption is that, while the people look as if they are walking toward the Ghosts with a purpose, none would be looking for him. I’m not sure why he assumes this. Maybe we’ll find out in later chapters.

He walks among trees and feels the grass—more real than he is— stab his ghostly feet. He compares the feeling to that of the mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen. That little mermaid longed to “be where the people are” (yet our narrator only visited the new land because of boredom) and thus agreed to give away her voice and comfort in exchange for legs. The little mermaid feels as if she is “treading upon sharp knives,” though she walks with exceptional grace. The little mermaid and the narrator are both in new worlds. Perhaps they are both worlds that will ultimately bring them more pain than the feeling of knives in feet.

The little mermaid, after giving up her voice, her comfort, and her old world, did not survive. In fact, her grandmother described how humans have immortal souls, but mermaids only become sea foam. She did not even survive into an afterlife. She could only gain an immortal soul if the following conditions were met:

Unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind.

The narrator is already in an afterlife, and perhaps he will survive (at least long enough to narrate the book, I’d hope) but will experience pain in the same way that Big Ghost did. May he also have to revisit his past, with all its guilt and discomfort? Though it may be premature, I predict that this all-encompassing love of a man denied to the little mermaid may be God’s gift to the narrator. The little mermaid is told that such love cannot be granted to her, because humans think that the mermaids’ tails are ugly. Perhaps God feels the same way about our sin, yet has love for us that surpasses the disgust for our transgressions.

The man who visited the Big Ghost said that the journey to the mountains was full of joy, but also full of work. I wonder what work the narrator will have to experience, and whether he will experience that joy that the man alluded to. Will he be able to confront his past in a way the Big Ghost was unable to? The little mermaid’s sisters all forgot about the allure of the land soon after first seeing it. Will the narrator, just as the little mermaid, be alone in his desire to continue despite the obstacles? If he is, I still wonder who will come to greet him, if anyone, and if he is somehow unique.

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