The Great Divorce

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An intelligent, intensely curious man who became so obsessed with understanding “survival”—i.e., how to live on Earth in the best way possible—that he became impatient in the afterlife. Archibald’s example acts as a warning to scientists, theologians, and philosophers, who love the search for knowledge more than they love God.

Sir Archibald Quotes in The Great Divorce

The The Great Divorce quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Archibald or refer to Sir Archibald. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperOne edition of The Great Divorce published in 0.
Chapter 9 Quotes

There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he'd mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), Sir Archibald
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, MacDonald tells the Narrator about a man named Archibald, whose life illustrates the potential dangers of knowledge and curiosity. Archibald, Macdonald explains, spent his entire life studying the world—he devoted himself to learning about earthly matters. The problem with Archibald’s curiosity was that he became more interested in the act of discovery than in the information itself—he was at his happiest when he was pursuing knowledge, not when he attained this knowledge. The result was that, when Archibald and came to the Valley of the Shadow of Life, he refused to go to Heaven. In Heaven, he realized, he would have no reason to search for knowledge—all the happiness and joy he needed would be right in front of him. As a result, Archibald went to Hell.

Archibald’s story illustrates an important distinction between means and ends. Knowledge is important, but it’s a means to the “end” of happiness and truth. Many people mistakenly think that knowledge is important for its own sake—but according to MacDonald, this simply isn’t true. Archibald (and many other intelligent people) became so accustomed to searching for knowledge that he forgot that knowledge was just a way of attaining happiness for oneself. MacDonald will give many other examples of people who confuse ends and means, and go to Hell because of their refusal to accept their mistake.


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Sir Archibald Character Timeline in The Great Divorce

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Archibald appears in The Great Divorce. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald remembers a man named Sir Archibald . During his life, Archibald was a diligent researcher who wanted to understand “survival.” He... (full context)