The Great Divorce

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The Lizard Symbol Analysis

The Lizard Symbol Icon

One of the ghosts in the Valley of the Shadow of Life carries a small lizard with him; the lizard whispers in his ear, preventing him from entering Heaven. As the book makes clear, the lizard is the embodiment of lust: a dangerous, seductive force that can distract human beings from God.

The Lizard Quotes in The Great Divorce

The The Great Divorce quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Lizard. 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 11 Quotes

Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Lizard
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Narrator and MacDonald continue to discuss what they’ve witnessed in the Valley of the Shadow of Life. They’ve seen a man with a lizard—symbolizing his lust—whispering to him and keeping him from Heaven. When the man allows an angel to kill his lust, the lizard transforms into a stallion that carries the man toward Heaven. The implication of this scenario, as MacDonald explains, is that when people sacrifice their desires—whether it’s a lustful desire for sex, or a more wholesome love for one’s child—God rewards them for their sacrifice, transforming the sacrificed desire into something beautiful, and arguably returning the corrupted virtue of sin to its original, godly quality (just as the lizard was transformed into a stallion). If Pam, the woman who stubbornly refused to give up her love for her dead child, could only sacrifice her love for Michael, MacDonald explains, her love would be transformed into a “risen body” of incredible beauty and power, and Pam would be amply rewarded in Heaven. Indeed, though it is more difficult to give up her selfish love than it was for the man to give up his clearly sinful lust, that corrupted motherly love has the potential to be transformed into something far more beautiful and powerful than the “stallion” that the lustful lizard became.

The passage, when studied alongside the other three quotes from this chapter, helps to clarify Lewis’s complicated, somewhat controversial ideas about love. The notion that a mother who obsessively loves her dead child can be a sinner might strike some people as cruel. Here, Lewis arguably makes this idea more acceptable (and palatable) by showing that Pam’s reward for sacrificing her love for Michael would be enormous—since such a sacrifice is very difficult to make. In short, Lewis acknowledges that it’s very difficult for a mother to give up her love for her child and “turn back to God”—and it’s because such an act is so difficult that God rewards people who find the strength to do so.

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The Lizard Symbol Timeline in The Great Divorce

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Lizard appears in The Great Divorce. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
...another ghost, who’s carrying something on his shoulder. The ghost is carrying a small hissing lizard, and keeps yelling for the lizard to be quiet. As the lizard continues to whisper... (full context)
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...the angel that he won’t be able to go to the mountains while carrying the lizard. He’s told his lizard to keep quiet, but unfortunately, the lizard keeps making noise. The... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
After the lizard is dead, the ghost begins to change. He becomes solider and bigger, until he’s a... (full context)
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
MacDonald explains to the Narrator that the lizard was lust—a creature who has no home in the mountains. With the ghost’s assent, the... (full context)
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
...these feelings can be transformed into new, more beautiful feelings—just as the angel transformed the lizard into a beautiful horse. If Pam would temporarily give up her feelings for her son,... (full context)