This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. This week’s post comes from Becky Gregg.
The twelfth chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce opens with the narrator and George MacDonald witnessing mass numbers of Solid People singing, the combined brightness almost too much to look at directly. Looking closer, they see that the singing is to celebrate a woman who is at the center. She is radiating extreme light and happiness. Several children and animals are on either side of her. She is glorified and celebrated by everyone around her. At first it seems she is looking in the direction of the narrator and his Teacher, but in fact she is looking past them, at another Ghost.
This Ghost is seemingly not one being, but two: a tall, lanky Tragedian with a collar and chain led by a dwarf. The Ghosts and this woman know each other. The woman Spirit, named Sarah Smith, addresses the dwarf, not the Tragedian. She kisses the dwarf, who is named Frank, and apologizes to him. She asks Frank for a pardon in regards to any wrong she did him and for all the things she did not do. Instead of Frank responding, the Tragedian does, saying “We’ll speak no more about it, we all make mistakes.” The Tragedian goes on to explain that he was not even worried about any wrongdoing, but that Sarah was spending her time in the afterlife worrying about him. He is devastated to learn that she has not worried or pitied him, because there is no need for that in Heaven.
He asks her if she missed him, and again, she says there’s no need for that in the country of Heaven. They continue to go back and forth where through the mouth of the Tragedian Frank tries to get Sarah to pity him. She tells him she would not be miserable just for misery’s sake, that there was no need for guilt or pity, and that she was able to fully love.
Frank asks then if she did not love him on Earth. She explains that her love for him in the old days was fostered from her need to be loved. She loved Frank for her own sake when they were alive. Now, in Heaven, Sarah has no needs. She can love Frank fully now and is no longer loving for her own needs. Frank interprets this as Sarah no longer needing him, and he tries to make Sarah pity him. Sarah just laughs, because all of it is so unnecessary. The laugher makes Frank the dwarf more solid and less pity-seeking. Yet in the end his “unselfishness” and pity-seeking behavior conquer his desire for true happiness.
I think this spirit woman’s name even represents maybe how ordinary she was on Earth. Her being a glorious Solid Person is a symbol of how her devotion and faithfulness as an ordinary human made her a glorious celebrated spirit in Heaven. It is almost like Lewis is saying that those who are devoted in their faith during their life will be rewarded in the afterlife with celebration, like an incentive.
Later when she is telling Frank that she did not totally love him, I believe Sarah is talking about how we, as humans, have needs. Human nature calls for relationships and also the feeling of being needed and loved. I looked a little into this and found Lewis’ The Four Loves. In this he talks about Gift Love vs. Need Love. Gift Love is giving love to someone or something without personal benefit, whereas Need Love is giving love out of personal need. Humans can’t solely give Gift Love, because we have needs. There was no way Sarah could solely feel Gift Love toward Frank on Earth, because her mortal nature got in the way.
The persona of Frank being split into two beings confuses me almost. Why are both beings not optimal? It is not like one version is amazing and the other hideous. They both are odd-looking creatures. Also, why is the Tragedian being pulled by a collar and chain? There are several different paths I could go down. Could the tragedy-fueled characters symbolize the need for Frank to be pitied? Frank’s persona has become the actual man. His unselfishness – Frank giving Sarah the last stamp even though he wanted to send a letter – needed to be noticed. This leads to the self-pity that follows Frank to the afterlife.
Another reasoning for the two people representing one is the divided nature of Frank. His desire for true happiness and his desire to be pitied and recognized for his selflessness combine into one being.
This chapter gave me a lot to think on. I suppose it widened my perspective about how the way we live our lives on Earth can carry on into the afterlife, and also how “worldly thinking” (selfishness, those seven deadly sins, etc.) can honestly make us different people than who we were “meant” to be.