Essay Example on C.S. Lewis: Great Divorce, Realistic Characters

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  986 Words
Date:  2023-04-09

C.S. Lewis is one of those unique writers who manage to combine large-scale allegorical thinking with meticulous attention to the style and the psychological authenticity of the characters. In his book The Great Divorce, neither the Ghosts nor the Bright People resemble two-dimensional cardboard figures. On the contrary, the characters possess pronounced individuality which makes their dialogues all the more convincing. One of the most interesting examples is the conversation between the Episcopal Ghost and his former friend Dick who comes to meet him as one of the Bright People. C.S. Lewis uses polysyndeton and powerful word choices to portray the Episcopal Ghost as a Hamletian figure blind in his learnedness and limited by his doubt, while his friend Dick's manner of speaking is characterized by efficient use of rhetorical questions and well-thought-out metaphors which show his way of thinking and arguing to be significantly superior.

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The Episcopal Ghost is represented in the text of the novel as an intellectual and a conceited person who speaks smoothly and politely to hide his fear of the truth. This characteristic is consistently reflected in his speech. He uses rather complex and elaborate wording when he is talking to his friend. When he says, "When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13) or "If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13), he is obviously striking a pose of a learned and respected person imagining himself speaking not only to his close friend, but rather to a larger audience of admirers. He asserts his superior intellectual position by addressing his Bright Friend as "my dear boy" (Lewis, 1946, p. 12-13). The Episcopal Ghost's remarks are full of polite hedging: he is speaking about subjective opinions without even admitting of a possibility that there can be an ultimate truth, which can be clearly seen in his usage of such words and phrases as "in your sense of that word" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13), "on your view" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13), "assume" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13), "suggest" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13) and "assert an opinion" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13). This character is referring to ideas, words, names, and opinions which are all abstract, subjective and conditional, while his friend focuses on such absolute notions as faith, fact, and truth. While the Episcopal Ghost lives a life of 'assuming' and 'suggesting,' in his Bright Friend's world people know, love and remember.

An important stylistic device used by C.S. Lewis to portray the Episcopal Ghost as a pretentious intellectual is a polysyndeton. This character uses the conjunction "and" abundantly in order to sound authoritative, passionate and persuasive, as one can see in his following remarks: "I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13) and "There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation" " (Lewis, 1946, p. 13). His Bright Friend, on the contrary, is using clear, logical sentences without over-simplification. The characteristic syntactic feature of his speech is his consistent usage of questions, including rhetorical ones, e.g. "When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13). These questions are meant to inspire the Episcopal Ghost to rethink his attitude and to reflect on the mere possibility of his position not being the right one. Thus, Lewis creates a distinct syntactic landscape that vividly reflects the nature and communicative aims of each character.

One of Lewis's most successful stylistic devices employed in the given fragment is his usage of metaphors in the Bright Person's remarks. Dick resorts to metaphors as effective persuasive instruments to explain the situation in which he and his friend found themselves when they were young and also how the situation has changed. The first metaphor to attract the reader's attention is an extended metaphor of a current - a current of thought, a current of fashion, an intellectual trend, even some kind of a social instinct and herd thinking. When the Bright Friend says, "We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13), he is using the image of a river or a stream to show how young people get influenced by the predominant opinions due to their youth and lack of critical thinking skills. This metaphor is further extended through Dick's usage of the image of drifting in the river when he says, "Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith" (Lewis, 1946, p. 14). The image of drifting implies a thoughtless, passive, and vaguely satisfying state of being dependent on some outer forces to choose the direction of one's movement. It is reinforced by the metaphoric image of "loaded dice" (Lewis, 1946, p. 13). An alternative is offered by the Bright Friend through another metaphor "One wrench and the tooth will be out" (Lewis, 1946, p. 14): repentance is painful, but it will lead to spiritual health. Lewis's metaphors are vivid and convincing.


All in all, one can say that though the Episcopal Ghost and the Bright Friend are nothing but spirits, C.S. Lewis makes them as look as real as human beings made of flesh and blood. The author effectively uses powerful word choices, asyndeton, rhetorical questions, and metaphors to show that Dick's clear and insightful way of thinking surpasses and outshines his friend's weak reasoning based on conceit and self-deceit.


Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan Publishing co.

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