The Abolition of Man


C. S. Lewis

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The Abolition of Man Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis was born in Northern Ireland to Albert James Lewis, a solicitor, and Flora Lewis, the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman. Growing up, Lewis—who adopted the nickname “Jack” as a young boy—lived in a house with parents and brother Warren called Little Lea in East Belfast.  Lewis loved spending time in his father’s massive library, and he lost his mother to cancer around the age of 10. Lewis entered Oxford University in 1916, but he was soon sent to France to fight in World War I. He was injured in 1918 and thereafter returned to Oxford, where he studied classics, philosophy, and English literature. From 1925–1954, he taught English literature in Oxford’s Magdalen College. Though Lewis had been a staunch atheist since his teen years, he became a Christian in 1931 and remained a committed member of the Church of England for the rest of his life. During World War II, he delivered a series of radio addresses that became the basis for his famous work of apologetics, Mere Christianity. In 1954, Lewis became chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University’s Magdalene College. Later in life, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham, an American woman with whom he had corresponded. She died just a few years later, in 1960, and Lewis followed her in 1963.
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Historical Context of The Abolition of Man

The contents of The Abolition of Man originated as a series of three lectures—the Riddell Memorial Lectures—which Lewis delivered at King’s College, Newcastle (part of the University of Durham), from February 24–26, 1943. The Riddell Memorial Lectures were established in 1928 as a forum for the exploration of the relation between religion and contemporary thought. Though Lewis had himself converted to Christianity just a little more than a decade earlier, his lectures are also informed by his deep study of the Greek and Roman classics, philosophy, English literature, and even Norse myth. Especially in light of the devastation and psychological stress of Britain’s involvement in World War II, Lewis was interested in reaching non-scholarly audiences, too: he delivered the radio lectures which became Mere Christianity around the same period that he prepared and delivered his Riddell lectures.

Other Books Related to The Abolition of Man

That Hideous Strength (1945), the third book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, is a fictional development of the ideas which Lewis introduces in Abolition of Man, especially regarding the effects on everyday people of a world in which science and technological progress are unhindered by belief in objective values. At the time of Abolition’s publication, Lewis had already published Mere Christianity, perhaps his most famous nonfiction title, as well as Out of the Silent Planet, the first of the Space Trilogy; Perelandra, the second, would follow a few months later. Some of the works Lewis cites throughout Abolition of Man and in its Appendix include Plato’s Republic (particularly Plato’s tripartite model of humanity), Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (Aristotle speaks to the role of the emotions in ethics), The Analects of Confucius, and the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Key Facts about The Abolition of Man
  • Full Title: The Abolition of Man, or, Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools
  • When Written: 1943
  • Where Written: United Kingdom
  • When Published: 1943
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Philosophical Lectures
  • Antagonist: Gaius and Titius; improper education
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Abolition of Man

The Real Green Book. The textbook which Lewis dubs The Green Book is actually The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing, which was published in 1939 by Australians Alexander (Alec) King and Martin Ketley. He refers to King and Ketley as “Gaius” and “Titius,” which are fictitious stand-in names in classical Latin.

Dystopian Inspiration. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the third of his Space Trilogy, was published two years after the Riddell Lectures. Echoing much of the material in the third lecture, the novel portrays a dystopia in which a small group of scholars seek to undermine belief in objective reality, thereafter controlling society on a supposedly scientific basis.