The Great Divorce

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Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Great Divorce, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon

The unnamed Narrator of The Great Divorce has a long, vivid dream, during which he witnesses surreal scenes from the afterlife and learns valuable lessons about Christianity, morality, and love. The fact that the novel is structured as a dream suggests two important, closely related questions: first, what are the strengths and weaknesses of dreams and fantasy as Christian teaching tools; second, to what extent can Christianity be taught at all?

Because it’s framed as a dream, the novel presents the Narrator’s experiences as subjective, rather than literally and universally true, suggesting some limits on their educational content. In interviews and essays, Lewis made it plain that his account of the afterlife shouldn’t be taken literally. Lewis believed in the afterlife, but in his novel he never claims to know everything about Heaven and Hell; instead, the book represents his imagining of how Hell and Heaven might be. Indeed, Lewis’s imagining of Hell and Heaven are altogether different from the traditional Christian Heaven and Hell: in Lewis’s novel, damned souls can choose to travel out of Hell and go to Heaven (though few do so). To make it crystal-clear that his novel isn’t offering any kind of literal truth about the afterlife, Lewis presents the Narrator’s travels as a dream—an experience that is, by definition, subjective.

But by qualifying the literal truth of his novel, Lewis focuses readers’ attention on the spiritual, metaphorical truth of the Narrator’s experiences—a kind of truth that fantasies and dreams are ideally suited to present. In his dreams, the Narrator sees bizarre people and places that teach him important Christian ideas symbolically. Often, the people he meets have their innermost qualities represented in some external form. For instance, he meets a man who “carries” his lust in the form of a tiny red lizard, and a man named Frank who pretends to be offended by controlling a giant with a chain. Similarly, the Narrator travels to places whose very geography symbolizes an emotional state—for example, going to Heaven, in The Great Divorce, involves climbing a mountain—an apt metaphor for the struggle for salvation. By externalizing and literalizing abstract concepts—lust, redemption, self-pity, etc.—the novel makes these concepts particularly easy to understand. In general, the novel’s imaginary, dreamlike plot educates people—both readers and the Narrator himself—about key Christian concepts where a literal, abstract discussion of these same concepts might fall short. (There is also a long Christian tradition of using fantasy and allegory to teach religious lessons, arguably starting with the parables of Jesus himself.)

Another noteworthy consequence of the novel’s use of fantasy and allegory is that it emphasizes the common faith of all Christians, rather than the literal differences between Christian sects. Although the novel addresses many aspects of faith, such as free will, sacrifice, love, pity, and redemption, it contains few, if any, specific mentions of Christian practices. Totally absent are mentions of baptism, Holy Communion, confirmation, etc.—rituals that, according to many sects and denominations, are essential parts of the religion. Where a literal discussion of Christianity presumably would have to discuss literal Christian rituals, Lewis’s allegorical treatment of Christianity is better-suited for discussing the spiritual, or even psychological, aspects of the faith. (For example, it would be difficult for The Great Divorce to present a ritual like communion symbolically—particularly since communion is arguably a symbolic ritual to begin with.) By emphasizing faith and spirituality and downplaying specific rituals, the novel seems to imply that Christians are defined primarily by their morality and faith, rather than their fidelity to a set of complicated, arbitrary rules—or, put another way, Christians are defined primarily by what they believe, not what they do.

Even though fantasy and metaphor can be highly effective teaching tools, they’re not enough to convince people to lead virtuous, moral lives. Dreams cannot make a human being become a Christian; they can only encourage good, Christian behavior. Ultimately, humans must exercise their free will and choose to embrace religion (see Free Will theme). Partly for this reason, The Great Divorce ends with the Narrator waking up from his dream in a cold, dark room. The Narrator must decide whether to apply the lessons he’s learned to his daily life—the same choice facing readers as they finish Lewis’s novel.

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Dreams, Fantasy, and Education ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Dreams, Fantasy, and Education appears in each Chapter of The Great Divorce. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Quotes in The Great Divorce

Below you will find the important quotes in The Great Divorce related to the theme of Dreams, Fantasy, and Education.
Chapter 2 Quotes

He had found himself once more isolated and had to become a conscientious objector. The indignities he suffered at this stage of his career had, he confessed, embittered him. He decided he could serve the cause best by going to America: but then America came into the war too. It was at this point that he suddenly saw Sweden as the home of a really new and radical art, but the various oppressors had given him no facilities for going to Sweden. There were money troubles. His father, who had never progressed beyond the most atrocious mental complacency and smugness of the Victorian epoch, was giving him a ludicrously inadequate allowance. And he had been very badly treated by a girl too.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Tousle-Headed Poet
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Narrator is sitting on the bus that transports damned souls out of Hell and into Heaven. On the bus, he begins talking to a young man, the Tousle-Haired Poet. Like many of the people on the bus, the Poet is a complainer: here, he complains about his parents, the army, the avant-garde, etc. In short, the Poet believes that the entire world is against him—he’s so arrogant, and so certain of his own talent and genius, that he has no choice but to blame the rest of the world whenever something goes wrong in his life.

It’s interesting to note that the Poet thinks of himself as being “different” from (and, presumably, better than) the other people on the bus. While the other people on the bus are more overtly aggressive and unlikable than the Poet, the passage suggests that everyone on the bus is guilty of the same problem: egotism. The Poet is so concerned with his own pleasure and success that he seems to have no real interest in other people, except as 1) scapegoats for his own problems, or 2) an audience for his life story. The Tousle-Haired Poet could also be considered Lewis’s caricature of the young, pseudo-Romantic intellectuals Lewis encountered during his time as a professor at Oxford and Cambridge: selfish, spoiled, idealistic to a fault, and unable to commit to anything difficult for long.

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That's one of the disappointments. I thought you'd meet interesting historical characters. But you don't: they're too far away.

Related Characters: The Intelligent Man / Ikey (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Grey Town
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

On the bus from the grey town, the Narrator speaks will several other passengers, including an intelligent man named Ikey. Ikey explains that he was somewhat surprised when he got to the grey town—he’d assumed that he would get to meet famous and interesting people from the past. In reality, Ikey explains, people who arrive in the grey town don’t get much of a chance to interact with historical people, though.

The passage represents one of the first explicit discussions of the fact that the grey town is a part of the afterlife—in other words, that Ikey and his peers have died. While Lewis hasn’t yet explained that the grey town is a version of Hell (or Purgatory), Ikey’s observations about it imply that the damned go to live in the grey town after they die.

One might think that it would be fun to spend time in the grey town, talking with famous damned souls. But, as Ikey explains here, damned souls almost never talk to one another—after they arrive in the grey town, they have a choice: either staying together, or slowly drifting apart. Because most of the souls in the grey town choose to drift apart, there are some who are now millions and millions of miles away. Many of the oldest (and, therefore, most famous) people in the grey town are now so far away that they’ll never be heard from ever again. The passage is interesting because it refutes one of William Blake’s key points in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the long poem that inspired Lewis to pen The Great Divorce. Blake posits that Hell is a Mecca of creativity and enlightenment, since so many brilliant minds have presumably gone there over the centuries. Lewis takes pains to show that Hell is anything but the “creative colony” Blake described—on the contrary, it’s a dull, lonely place.

Chapter 3 Quotes

I had the sense of being in a larger place, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider that they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got out in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. It gave me a feeling of freedom, but also of exposure, possibly of danger, which continued to accompany me through all that followed.
It is the impossibility of communicating that feeling, or even of inducing you to remember it as I proceed, which makes me despair of conveying the real quality of what I saw and heard.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Narrator finally arrives in the Valley of the Shadow of Life, though he doesn’t yet know where he is. As we’ll later learn, the Valley of the Shadow of Life is located on the “outskirts” of Heaven—it’s a kind of “decompression zone” between Purgatory and salvation. The Narrator will soon find that the damned souls who’ve traveled to the Valley of the Shadow of Life face a difficult choice: they can either choose to remain her and gradually work their way toward salvation, or they can return to the grey town for eternity.

The Valley of the Shadow of Life feels distinctly different and indescribably vast to the Narrator, perhaps reflecting the novel’s argument that Heaven—and God—is the only truly “real” thing in the universe (and again Lewis turns to fantasy and dream-logic to describe the potential wonders of God and the afterlife). Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that the Valley of the Shadow of Life represents a time for choosing, because this partially explains the Narrator’s reaction in the passage. The Narrator feels an almost indescribable sense of danger and fear—it’s as if he can sense the vast importance of the choices being made in his new environment. The passage arguably symbolizes the challenge of free will itself: although it might seem obvious that the damned souls in the Valley of the Shadow of Life should choose to be in Heaven forever, many of them choose to go back to Hell, either because they’re intimidated by the pressure of their new environment, or because they’re so used to the inertia of their life in the grey town. As the Narrator’s behavior might suggest, it’s easier for most people to continue doing the same thing than it is for them to exercise their free will and choose to do the right (but often difficult or frightening) thing.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Next moment I stepped boldly out on the surface. I fell on my face at once and got some nasty bruises. I had forgotten that though it was, to me, solid, it was not the less in rapid motion. When I had picked myself up I was about thirty yards further down-stream than the point where I had left the bank. But this did not prevent me from walking up-stream: it only meant that by walking very fast indeed I made very little progress.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolically loaded passage, the Narrator realizes that he can walk on water. There is a large, fast-flowing river in the Valley of the Shadow of Life, and the Narrator finds that he can walk on it, since he doesn’t yet have a solid body. Although the river is flowing away from the mountains in the distance, the Narrator finds that by walking very quickly, he can walk toward the mountains (sort of like someone walking up a “down” escalator).

The key word in this passage is “progress.” Indeed, the entire passage could be considered a metaphor for the good Christian’s struggle to achieve salvation. Going to Heaven (symbolized by the mountains in the distance) can be incredibly difficult—sometimes, external situations and human nature pulls humans away from Heaven and toward sin and damnation (symbolized by the river flowing away from Heaven). And yet, it’s possible—if difficult—to choose to go to Heaven anyway, even if it means fighting the “pull” of nature (i.e., walking toward the mountains against the river’s flow). Lewis further reinforces the holy, Christian nature of the Narrator’s progress by alluding to Christ’s famous miracle of walking on water—by walking on the river, the Narrator is, quite literally, modeling his actions after Christ’s, and therefore, striving to be a good Christian. The word “progress” also alludes to John Bunyan’s early Christian novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an important influence on The Great Divorce. Like the protagonist of Bunyan’s book, the Narrator struggles to be good in a world full of evil, and, slowly but surely, approaches salvation.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Fool,” he said, “put it down. You cannot take it back. There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blades of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.”
Whether the Ghost heard or not, I don't know. At any rate, after pausing for a few minutes, it braced itself anew for its agonies and continued with even greater caution till I lost sight of it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Water-Giant (speaker), The Intelligent Man / Ikey
Related Symbols: The Apple Tree
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage adds another layer of complexity to the symbolism of the apple tree. Ikey, a greedy, materialistic ghost, picks the fruit of an apple tree and tries to carry the fruit back to Hell, in order to sell it for money (despite the fact that damned souls would never spend money on apples). As Ikey drags his fruit away from the tree, an angel appears in the form of a waterfall, and tells Ikey that he’s foolish to try to bring the fruit back to Hell with him—he’ll never be able to carry it (and, as we later learn, the apple is far larger and more “real” than the entirety of Hell itself, and thus would never even fit). Furthermore, the angel insists that Ikey should stay in the Valley of the Shadow of Life and eat the fruit.

The passage is somewhat surprising, because of the Christian symbolism of the apple tree. Since the presence of the apple tree seems to allude to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve (who fell from grace after eating an apple that gave them knowledge of good and evil), one might think that consuming the apples is a sinful act, on par with Adam and Eve’s crime against God. However, the passage suggests that Ikey’s irrational desire to sell the apples in Hell is the real sin—not the consumption of the apples themselves. This is an important distinction, because it suggests that humans sin by corrupting good things—all sin is a corruption of virtue, just as the “evil” apples are only evil because of the purpose to which they are put. Moreover, the passage might suggest that knowledge and salvation aren’t mutually exclusive—according to Lewis, it is possible to have knowledge of good and evil (i.e., eat the apple) and also go to Heaven.

The passage reinforces Ikey’s obliviousness to reason and morality. He’s deluded himself into enduring physical pain, all for the sake of ephemeral material rewards. Rather than listen to reason, Ikey continues with his nonsensical business ventures.

Chapter 9 Quotes

This put me in mind to ask my Teacher what he thought of the affair with the Unicorns. “It will maybe have succeeded,” he said. “Ye will have divined that he meant to frighten her, not that fear itself could make her less a Ghost, but if it took her mind a moment off herself, there might, in that moment, be a chance. I have seen them saved so.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George MacDonald (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, MacDonald explains something the Narrator witnessed in a previous chapter. The Narrator saw a Spirit talk to a ghost who was reluctant to walk toward the mountains in the distance. In order to compel the ghost to walk toward the mountains (i.e., Heaven), the Spirit summoned a frightening herd of unicorns, which scared the ghost so much that the ghost ran off to escape them. MacDonald explains that the Spirit was trying to “shock” the ghost into running toward Heaven, and adds that sometimes, this technique has worked.

It’s important to notice that MacDonald isn’t saying that Spirits can scare souls into salvation. Throughout its history, Christianity has used fear and shock to scare people into behaving virtuously (the traditional model of Hell as a place of “fire and brimstone” is a great example). While MacDonald approves of such methods, he argues that fear itself cannot make a person believe in God or behave virtuously—rather fear is an important teaching tool because it can help people to get out of their own heads and think about their lives in a new way. At the end of the day, the only way for a person to go to Heaven is to choose to go to Heaven—fear can be helpful, not because it forces people to be good, but because it helps them think differently about themselves and the world, and perhaps can correct some of their sins and delusions.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
“I don't know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they'd say I believed in total depravity: they'd say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They'd call me . . .”
“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George MacDonald (speaker), Pam
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, MacDonald and the Narrator discuss some of the implications of the exchange they’ve just witnessed between Pam and the Spirit. The Narrator has seen that, when damned souls give up their sinful desires and impulses, the desires will be “transformed” into strengths and virtues. For instance, when a sinner gives up his lust, the lust is transformed into strength and joyful desire—symbolized by a beautiful stallion that transports the sinner to Heaven. The moral challenge, as the Narrator sees it, is this: it is easier for a lustful sinner to give up his lust than it is for a “loving” mother to give up her love for her child (a love that, as we’ve seen, can be a dangerous distraction from salvation). This leads us to the seemingly unfair conclusion that a sinful adulterer has an easier time getting into Heaven than a mother who loves her son. As MacDonald puts it, “brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is”—in other words, Pam’s love for her child, because it’s so easily mistaken for virtuous behavior, is a dangerous deterrent to salvation, whereas an adulterer’s lust, because it’s so obviously sinful, isn’t as much of a distraction from salvation.

In the passage, Lewis (in the guise of the Narrator) acknowledges that his ideas about love and salvation might seem offensive and wrong to many people. While many people believe that love is inherently good, MacDonald stresses that love can be good or bad—at its worst, it can distract people from their love for God, and therefore, from their chances of getting into Heaven. The passage shows that Lewis isn’t afraid to hold controversial opinions, if they stem from Christian doctrine. MacDonald’s final statement also reiterates the common Christian idea that it’s better to be hated and persecuted on Earth for the sake of the truth than to be popular on Earth but betray one’s faith in the process.

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.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“Don't you see what nonsense it's talking.” Merriment danced in her eyes. She was sharing a joke with the Dwarf, right over the head of the Tragedian. Something not at all unlike a smile struggled to appear on the Dwarf's face. For he was looking at her now. Her laughter was past his first defenses. He was struggling hard to keep it out, bur already with imperfect success. Against his will, he was even growing a little bigger.

Related Characters: Sarah Smith (speaker), Frank / Dwarf / Tragedian
Page Number: 126-127
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Narrator witnesses a beautiful Spirit named Sarah reunite with a ghost she knew on Earth, Frank. Frank has gone to Hell, but he appears in the Valley of the Shadow of Life in two distinct forms: a Tragedian (an enormous, overly theatrical figure) and a Dwarf (who manipulates the Tragedian with a chain). When “Frank” meets Sarah, he (the Dwarf) manipulates the Tragedian to pretend to be offended and hurt by Sarah’s behavior. Whenever Sarah says or does anything, the Tragedian overreacts and tries to manipulate Sarah into pitying him.

In short, “Frank” embodies the artificial, divided nature of self-pity. Human beings who pity themselves, as Frank clearly did, try to manipulate other people into pitying them (not unlike the way the Dwarf tries to manipulate Sarah into feeling sorry for him by moving the Tragedian into offended, hurt “poses”). The key insight of the passage is that self-pity, of the kind embodied by Frank, is a struggle against happiness. On some level, Frank knows that he’s being overdramatic and manipulative: deep-down, he wants to be happy and join Sarah in Heaven, which is why, when Sarah laughs at his theatrical posing, the Dwarf is tempted to join in.

The passage is a particularly clear example of how Lewis uses metaphor and symbolism to explain complicated psychological and philosophical ideas. By using the surreal image of a dwarf controlling a giant with a chain, Lewis gets to the heart of self-pity, showing that self-pitying people are sometimes just pretending to be hurt in order to pass on their misery to other people. Self-pity is an especially dangerous form of sin, furthermore, because it’s rooted in the denial of joy—self-pitying people could be happy if they wanted to, but they’ve become so irrational that they prefer misery.

Furthermore, Lewis suggests in this passage that laughter has a powerful quality and potential for goodness. Just like fear (in some cases), it can cause people to step outside themselves and see their narrow worldviews as ridiculous, potentially allowing them to see the larger truth. As Lewis says here, laughter can slip past even the most stubborn sinner’s “first defenses.”

Chapter 13 Quotes

All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

In this crucial passage, MacDonald reveals to the Narrator that Hell is tiny—so tiny, in fact, that it could fit in the mouth of a butterfly in Heaven. On a literal level, MacDonald’s point has some interesting implications: during the course of his travels from Hell to Heaven, the Narrator grew physically, with the result that the only way for him to return to Hell would be for him to shrink again.

On a symbolic level, MacDonald’s point suggests a number of other things. First, the idea that Hell is smaller than Heaven—indeed, almost infinitely smaller—reinforces the most fundamental point of Lewis’s novel: that Hell is not a “worthy partner” of Heaven, but a small, banal, and thoroughly insignificant part of the world. The poets and philosophers (such as William Blake) who would place Hell alongside Heaven as a vital part of the human experience are giving Hell too much credit. Evil isn’t a vast, majestic force of nature—it’s a speck of dust, an ineffectual corruption of true reality and goodness.

Furthermore, the smallness of Hell suggests another reason why the Saved can’t travel down to Hell to help the damned—they’re “too big.” Previously, the Narrator was troubled by the idea that God doesn’t send the virtuous to Hell to save the damned. But now, he sees why this should be the case: the only way for the damned to achieve salvation is for them to choose salvation: they have to “grow,” rather than forcing saved souls to “shrink.”

For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of this chapter, MacDonald brings up a final point about Christian theology. Throughout the novel, MacDonald has spoken of the importance of free will and choice: the damned, it would appear, have the freedom to choose to go to Heaven. But the Narrator raises an interesting possibility: if God is all-knowing, then surely he knows the names of the souls who will be saved in Heaven and those who will remain in Hell. Thus, it follows that the damned and the virtuous aren’t truly “choosing” their fate—God has already planned their decisions in advance.

MacDonald’s reply to the Narrator is highly complicated. His most important point is that humans differ from God because they experience the universe through the “lens” of time—whereas God, being all-powerful, experiences all moments simultaneously. (Lewis borrowed this idea from The Consolation of Philosophy by the early Christian philosopher Boethius). So although humans experience reality as a free choice between multiple options, God can see humans’ choices and the outcomes of these choices simultaneously. In short, MacDonald argues that human beings experience their decisions as free will as a consequence of their existence in time. Thus, free will exists from humans’ perspective, even if God already knows the outcome of all human choices. MacDonald’s argument parallels the ideas of the poet John Milton (a huge influence on Lewis)—Milton argued that the idea of an all-knowing God and a free humanity are not mutually exclusive at all: mankind is created “sufficient to have stood yet free to fall.” Humans “cannot know eternal reality,” and therefore they have the burden and the gift of free will.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.

Related Characters: George MacDonald (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Chessboard
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of the novel, the Narrator witnesses the surreal spectacle of an enormous chessboard, across which move human beings. MacDonald clarifies what the chessboard represents: as he explains here, the chessboard represents the universe as God sees it—a complex, interlocking set of forces and objects. God controls the universe, using his infinite wisdom and power—and yet the universe remains mysterious and unclear to a mere mortal like the Narrator.

The passage accomplishes two major things. First, it clarifies MacDonald’s complicated points about time and free will. From the perspective of the Narrator, the world is uncertain, meaning that the Narrator is always choosing what to do next. From the perspective of God, however, the universe is perfectly certain and ordered: God can see every instant in time simultaneously. The difference between God and the Narrator is as profound as the difference between a chess-piece and a chess master.

The second, arguably more important thing that the passage accomplishes is to qualify the analogies and metaphors that Lewis offers, both in this chapter and in the entire book. MacDonald uses the image of a chessboard to explain the concept of omniscience to the Narrator—but even this image, MacDonald acknowledges, can only do so much to educate the Narrator. At the end of the day, understanding the “mind of God” is beyond all human comprehension. By the same token, the surreal images and metaphors that the Narrator has witnessed during his dream might help him understand some complicated ideas and concepts, but they’re not perfect illustrations of these complicated ideas and concepts. The book itself is just about a “vision in a dream,” and not an attempt to portray the literal afterlife or the mind of God.

I awoke in a cold room, hunched on the floor beside a black and empty grate, the clock striking three, and the siren howling overhead.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, the Narrator wakes up from his dream to find that it’s early in the morning—he’s been asleep at his desk, dreaming about the afterlife.

The final sentence of the novel is very important, because it shows that the Narrator has his work cut out from him. He’s learned a lot about Christianity, good, and evil, but it’s not enough to experience these concepts in a dream. Now, the Narrator’s challenge is to go out into the world, living a life in accordance with the lessons he’s learned over the course of the novel. Being a good Christian is more difficult in real life than it is in a dream, because in real life, good and evil come in many different shapes and forms—the Narrator had an easy time separating Spirits and ghosts in his dream, but he might not be able to separate good and evil so easily in his waking life.

The passage is also full of subtle symbolism. The clock “striking three” could be an allusion to the Holy Trinity, one of the key concepts of the Christian faith. Similarly, the echo of the siren could symbolize the constant presence of death in the Narrator’s life (the novel was written during World War II, when nightly sirens alerted the English to German bombers overhead). Note also how the cold, dark room resembles the “Grey Town” of the dream—as the Narrator learned earlier, Earth has the potential to become Hell itself unless one makes the conscious choice to seek Heaven. In short, the passage illustrates the moral challenge ahead of the Narrator, and readers: to be a good Christian in a world full of religion, danger, and temptation.