Immediately following the events of the previous chapter, the Narrator watches Sarah laughing. The Dwarf tries his hardest to keep from laughing along with Sarah. He can see how absurd the Tragedian is being—but even so, he jerks the chain, and the Tragedian begins screaming, “You dare to laugh at it!” From this point onward, the Dwarf does not speak, and begins to shrink. Sarah begs the Dwarf to “stop acting” and join her in the mountains, but the Dwarf says nothing.
Tragically, Frank’s desire to make Sarah feel miserable now seems stronger than his desire for joy. Thus, the Dwarf becomes smaller and the Tragedian grows larger, symbolizing the way that Frank becomes increasingly invested in seeming hurt and offended, with the goal of eliciting Sarah’s pity.
Sarah begs the Dwarf to reconsider. She tells the ghost that pity can be a dangerous weapon. Pity was created to encourage happy people to help sad people. But pity can also be manipulated dishonestly to “blackmail” happy people into feeling sad for no reason. She reminds the Dwarf—who’s barely visible anymore—that he’s always been dramatic and manipulative, even as a child. The Tragedian yells, “This is all you have understood of me, after all these years!”
Here Sarah observes that sinners and unhappy people can use pity to control others—essentially, the “moral” of her interaction with Frank. Tragically, Frank refuses to listen to Sarah’s reason or respond to her kindness; he’s so invested in self-pity that he chooses to continue to act offended, even when that means sacrificing his own soul.
The Tragedian accuses Sarah of not loving him. Sarah turns to the Tragedian, as if seeing him for the first time. Confused, she explains, “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.” With these words, Frank disappears. Sarah continues to walk toward the mountains, joined by her friends the Spirits. The Spirits sing about how nothing can frighten or harm Sarah anymore.
It’s interesting to consider what Sarah does and doesn’t give Frank. She offers him love and kindness—but not pity. Pity is a dangerous emotion, Sarah suggests, because it sometimes means that people distance themselves from God and sink to the level of those they pity—people who are already full of self-pity. Sarah “fails” to save Frank from himself, but after her failure, she doesn’t allow Frank’s damnation to make her unhappy. Put another way, Spirits like Sarah try to help the damned, but they refuse to move “out of Love.”
As Sarah moves away, the Narrator asks MacDonald about Frank—he can’t help but think that it’s wrong for Sarah to be untouched by Frank’s “self-made misery.” MacDonald points out that it wouldn’t be right for Frank to have the power to torment Sarah with his self-pity. The Narrator says that there are many who believe that “the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.” MacDonald insists that this is not true—the souls who are saved rejoice in their salvation, regardless of what happens to other souls. If it were otherwise, then “Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”
The interaction between Sarah and Frank steers the Narrator to a seemingly unjust conclusion: it would be morally wrong for Sarah to pity Frank. While one might think that pity is an important component of love—and thus, of being a good human being—MacDonald argues that pity can sometimes strengthen the miserable instead of helping them find happiness: the more pity Sarah offered Frank, the more Frank would have rejoiced in his own misery, and brought Sarah down with him.
The Narrator wonders aloud why Sarah didn’t go down to Hell to visit Frank—she could have gone to the bus station to keep him company. In reply, MacDonald lets the Narrator to the ground, and the Narrator remembers how painful it is to walk along the rigid, unmoving grass. MacDonald plucks a blade of grass and shows the Narrator a tiny crack in the soil. All of Hell, MacDonald claims, is contained in this tiny crack. In order to travel from the bus station to the Valley of the Shadow of Life, the Narrator didn’t just travel in the bus; he and the other passengers grew bigger. MacDonald concludes that if a butterfly swallowed up all of Hell, “it would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.” Hell seems huge when you’re in it, but in reality it’s not. Sarah couldn’t have gone to visit Frank in Hell—she was too big.
MacDonald reveals that Hell—quite aside from being the vast, impressive “inferno” that most people picture (and that people like Blake romanticize), is actually a small, insignificant place. Similarly, evil itself is only the corrupt and weakened version of good—not a value of its own. The passage also provides a symbolic answer to the Hard-Bitten Ghost’s question about why God doesn’t free the damned (and, more generally, why an all-powerful God allows evil to survive): Spirits are too big to go back to Hell. This suggests that God allows evil to survive because the only way to fight evil would be to approach or even become evil (i.e., to “shrink” back to Hell-size). Thus, the only way for human beings to escape evil is to choose to surpass it.
The Narrator asks Macdonald what happens to human beings who remain in Hell instead of choosing to go to Heaven. MacDonald explains that God “preaches” to people in Hell, and some of them hear him. The Narrator asks Macdonald if, in the end, all humans will be saved, and MacDonald replies, “It’s ill talking of such questions.” Human beings, since they cannot see the future, can only talk about the fate of people by talking about uncertain possibilities—the possibility that people will choose God, or that they will choose Hell. The ability to choose between possibilities is the essence of freedom, and of humanity. Therefore, if human beings could see the fate of the universe, the act of doing so would destroy their sense of freedom—and therefore, they would cease to be human. Human beings must live “in time”—they must live each moment, not knowing what “eternal reality” holds.
MacDonald suggests that there are limits to what human beings can understand about “the mind of God.” The Narrator wants to know if God knows whether human beings will be saved or damned in the end. This is an interesting question, because, if the answer is yes, then it would seem that humans aren’t truly choosing their own salvation; rather, God is just deciding for them. But it is impossible to answer the Narrator’s question about the fate of humanity, because answering this question would involve taking the Narrator “out of time”—in other words, allowing the Narrator to see the past, present, and future of the universe all at once—something only God can do.