The Great Divorce

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Light Symbol Icon

The novel is also full of light imagery: often, holy or enlightened beings (such as the Spirits in the Valley of the Shadow of Life) are described as being blindingly bright. In general, light symbolizes the enlightenment and beauty that Christianity provides. The enlightenment of Christianity isn’t always pleasurable—at times, in fact, it can be painful and hurtful—but in the end, it is true, beautiful, and emphatically real, and it leads human beings to salvation.

Light Quotes in The Great Divorce

The The Great Divorce quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light. 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

One grows out of [light]. Of course, you haven't seen my later works. One be- comes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.

Related Characters: The Artist (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Narrator witnesses a Spirit talking to a damned soul, the Artist. The Spirit is trying to convince the Artist (who had a long, successful career before he died) to join him in Heaven. However, the Artist is too obsessed with his career and his paintings to want to go to Heaven. In particular, the Artist is afraid that in Heaven, there will be no more need for paintings or art of any kind.

The passage makes an important distinction between means and ends that parallels some of MacDonald’s points in the previous quotes. The Artist began to paint because art was a way of expressing the beauty of the universe—and therefore, the beauty of God. But, as the Artist went on in his career, he became less and less concerned with expressing the beauty of the world, and more concerned with expressing “paint for its own sake” (Lewis doesn’t say, but the transition in the painter’s career from art as a reflection of the real world to the concept of art for art’s sake might reflect the growing abstractness of 20th century art). In other words, much like Sir Archibald, the Artist has forgotten about the ultimate “end” of art (expressing the beauty of the world) and become singularly fixated on the “means” (painting itself). As a result, the Artist refuses to go to Heaven, where the “end” of beauty will be self-evident, and wants to return to Hell, where he’ll be free to indulge in the “means” of painting for its own sake.

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Light Symbol Timeline in The Great Divorce

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light appears in The Great Divorce. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
Suddenly, the bus arrives. It’s a beautiful, bright vehicle, driven by a mysterious Driver. The Driver seems “full of light,” and waves his... (full context)
Chapter 2
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Hours pass, and slowly, it becomes brighter outside. The Narrator opens the bus window to get a better view of the light,... (full context)
Chapter 3
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
...what is either an enormous cloudbank or a mountain range. The object is big and bright, and the Narrator feels “the promise of sunrise” emanating from it. As he looks up,... (full context)
Chapter 6
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
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
...the waterfall—and the Narrator realizes that what he’d thought was a waterfall is really a bright angel, who floats “like one crucified” in the air. The “Water-Giant” tells Ikey that there... (full context)
Chapter 11
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
A tall, bright angel calls out to the ghost, “Off so soon?” The ghost turns and explains to... (full context)
Chapter 12
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
As George MacDonald walks with the Narrator, the Narrator sees light flashing in the trees, as if reflected from a river (hence his question at the... (full context)
Chapter 14
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
The Narrator notices that MacDonald is becoming brighter. He hears voices singing, “Sleepers awake!” The sun rises high in the east, and the... (full context)