In The Great Divorce, so far we have seen ghosts of many kinds, all with some reason to hang on to faults or obsessions of their Earthly life. We have seen only one, the man with the Lizard make the choice to let go and he was transformed into something beautiful. Now we come to the longest part devoted to one person. Up till now the focus has been on the ghost but a shift takes place here as we are drawn to look at the Spirit who comes to meet, in this case, the ghost of her Earthly husband.

There is the most incredible procession surrounding one startling person. Lewis asks who she is and there is the hint that he thinks she is Our Lady. However it turns out to be someone very great and who has no fame on Earth. Her name was Sarah Smith. This bright and beautiful Spirit on Earth was a person who brought love to all she met. MacDonald says

“Every young man or boy that met her became her son- even if it were only the boy that bought her the meat to her back door. Every girls was her daughter.”

What we glimpsed in the man who let go of the lizard, we see in much more explicit form here. This is the beauty of a soul who has truly loved. Lewis’ pondering about her being the Virgin Mary, makes us wonder how much more beautiful is the woman who was full of grace and said “Yes” to God in her humility. Probably more than Lewis’ ghostly eye could stand.

We see in Sarah Smith what true motherly love looks like. Thinking back to Michael’s mother, of whom MacDonald said that she didn’t have enough love, here we see the reality. Michael’s mother did indeed have a deficit of love for it was a whiny, snivelling, selfish grasping love compared to that of the shining glory of Sarah’s. This is a love that inspires others to love better. Everyone was made better by their contact with Sarah. Goodness has its own sense of attraction. And the ripples of goodness and love extend outwards effecting more than the original contact.

Lewis manages here what many modern writers find quite difficult. In Sarah we see true goodness and nobility and we are drawn to it. We reflected in our group that sometimes the death and funeral of a person you knew effects you more than you were expecting. You may not have thought yourself particularly close but the goodness and love of the other effected you more deeply than you realised and certainly more than the person themselves would have thought possible.

Frank: Dwarf and Actor.

Sarah meets two ghosts. One is a dwarf, holding the end of a chain, which is attached to a much taller one. Sarah’s reaction is perplexing. She addresses the dwarf and ignores the other, almost as it if it does not exist. It becomes clear that the taller ghost is a pretence, used by the shorter ghost during his life. Sarah seems only capable of seeing the truth. She wants him, as he is, not how he wants to be seen. She loves him despite the “Doll” as she refers to the other ghost. We are reminded that not only is Heaven the only true reality but in Heaven only truth will do. Deceit and falsehood can’t work here.

During the conversation there are moments when it seems as if the dwarf will let go of his false self. However Sarah’s words do no good and instead he seems to self-destruct. As with all the conversations with the Solid people, there is no hiding place left when the ghosts will not let go of those things that stop them receiving God’s love.

On the surface the choice is both stark and simple. Who wants to hold on to an image of yourself that is false when you can have Heaven? Of course in our own lives we are aware of doing the things that we don’t want to do and not doing the things we want to. St Paul had the same problem!

Sarah begins her conversation with the short ghost, Frank, by asking forgiveness from him for all that she did wrong during their life together. She has a true awareness of sin. She sees clearly where it brought chaos and disorder to her life and to those around her but she is not hamstrung by it. Sometimes we see our own sin as being worse than anybody else’s and therefore can’t be forgiven. Those who are closer to God are very aware of their sin but maybe have it in proper perspective, that being the awareness of God’s love. All the ghosts have clung onto something that is sin: pride; moaning; possessiveness; self-obsession; lust. It has become an obstacle for them in a way that it isn’t for the Spirits.

Hope is a very important aspect of this book. Even though few of the ghosts respond to the invitations in front of them there is still that sense that it is there for everyone. God’s love extends to them, even in their pathetic state. Knowing Christ and experiencing the light of the Gospel makes it possible to bring the darkness of our sin into that light and see it as it truly is. Also, looking at Christ we can see what we are meant to be. Sarah Smith is an example of someone who has done that. She has self is beautiful yet this is only a reflection of Christ’s glorious goodness. In the darkness, like Frank was can believe in our self-deception but it will not stand up to examination in the true light of heaven. Lewis uses much humour in his description of the Taller Ghost, the Tragedian. He is obviously and embarrassingly false:

“There, there,” said the Tragedian “We’ll say no more about it. We all make mistakes.” With those words there came over his features a ghostly contortion, which, I think, was meant for an indulgently playful smile.

We have discussed how the characters we come across in the book are not random. Lewis is dealing with many real attitudes, philosophies and objections to the Christian faith. There are lots of things going on in Frank. One is an investigation of those who manipulate others and a second is an investigation of pity.

Frank’s manipulation of others began as a child, with his sisters and has become so much of a habit that he began to believe the lie himself. Frank still wants to control Sarah. He can’t stand to think she can be happy without him. The problem for Frank is that Sarah is completely free because she is “in love.”

“Love!” said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then a few notes deeper, “Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?”
“How should I not?” said the Lady. “I am in Love. In love, do you understand?”

God is love and she ‘lives, moves and has her being’ in Him. Love is the air she breathes; she is in love in the way in which we are in water, when diving down in a pool. It has this almost physical feel and this makes her free.

The contrast between the two goes on. Frank has invested all his energy on his false character rather than in becoming who he was created to be. Sarah on the other hand spent her time loving those around her and now she sees the poverty of her love on Earth. The Tragedian shows a counterfeit love and this can lead to confusion, except that Sarah disarms everyone of the ham actor’s attempts to illicit pity. Frank cannot see that is it him that Sarah wants. She desires for him to be free of this absurd creation. Frank ‘struggles against joy’ and almost lets go of the chain but the struggle itself only leads to more dramatics. This point is the end of a process, started by the little boy who could get what he wanted by manipulating his sister. Here is the moment of ultimate choice however and his rejection of joy hastens his self-destruction. The Tragedian doesn’t have the choice. He isn’t real.