"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"
The Great Divorce is an allegorical book by C. S. Lewis.This book comes from the POV of an Author Avatar who finds himself in "the grey town," a dismal place where it is always twilight (the lights are on but are not welcoming) and always raining, even inside. The place seems empty and vast (there are many houses). The only queue is at a bus station, and our narrator joins it. He then describes how half the people in that queue leave it never to return.The bus is shining and brightly colored. Those who board clamor for space despite the bus being half-empty and say bad things about the driver for no good reason. Our narrator is seated, first next to a poet who manages to generate his own Wangst, and then a man with Great Plans and a broad-minded preacher.They get to a bright, beautiful, vast, joyous countryside which is somehow more real than where they came from. They know it is supposed to be heaven. But it is so much more real that they appear to be ghosts, and are called such through the rest of the narrative. (This does include the narrator.) They are translucent. They are not intangible, though - they are just solid enough to be hurt. And everything hurts.Each Ghost is met by someone who was close to them who is a native, a Bright One. The Bright Ones literally give off light. Some of them are naked, some clothed - it doesn't make much difference. The Bright Ones try to encourage those they are meeting to stay and come to the mountains. Most of them fail.The title is a reference to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lewis said in his introduction that Blake wrote of the marriage of Heaven and Hell; he was writing of their divorce.
This work contains examples of the following tropes:
A Hell of a Time: As one character points out, the Grey Town doesn't contain the expected sights associated with Hell: devils with pitchforks, sinners being tortured on flaming racks, etc. But at best, it's a depressing, rainy place where constant squabbling causes residents to spread out from everyone else and become The Aloner. Also, it's hinted that things are about to get much worse.
An Aesop: The intended aesop is that Heaven and Hell are incompatible, though you can change sides.
All Take and No Give: Two of the damned want to be Givers, and aren't allowed. They literally have nothing to offer the residents of Heaven, and until they accept this they cannot enjoy paradise themselves.
Anything That Moves: One of the Ghosts appears to have grown so obsessed with sex that she is unable to conceive of any purpose for interaction other than seduction, and actually tries to seduce the Bright Ones who are trying to talk to her.
Narrator!Lewis: If a corpse already liquid with decay had risen from the grave, smeared lipstick on its gums, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Staggeringly so. One character continues to deny that "Heaven" and "God" are literal things that exist, and insists they're just metaphors. This is while he actually has died, is in the afterlife, and is talking to a resident of Heaven, who offers to take him to see God this very minute.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: One of the two main points of the story: there is no room for evil or sin whatsoever in Heaven. Many of the Ghosts refuse to go to Heaven because it will mean giving up their quirks, such as saying mean things to their loved ones.
Friend to All Living Things: Sarah Smith has won over practically every person and every living creature she's ever met, which is why we learn her name. The only person she couldn't win over was her husband and cannot even in the afterlife.
It's the Principle of the Thing: Most of the ghosts decided that accepting the help of the Bright People was a terrible violation of one important principle or another.
Karma Houdini: Some Bright Ones appear to be this by most measures. It's a severe stumbling block for some ghosts, most notably the Big Ghost, whose guide got to Heaven via deathbed conversion. The point Lewis is making is that everyone in Heaven is a Karma Houdini. It's no good saying one person deserves Heaven more than another, because in the end, no one does. The ones who make it in are those who realize they'll never earn it on their own merits, and accept Jesus' gift.
Madness Mantra / Never My Fault: "It was Soult's fault. It was Ney's fault. It was Josephine's fault. It was the fault of the English. It was the fault of the Russians."
The Masochism Tango: A husband and wife who leave the line for the bus quarreling. It is clear that they will go on trashing each other forever.
Mundane Afterlife: Hell is just a rainy twilit town that gives new meaning to "urban sprawl". This is even lampshaded by some who remark that the one draw of Hell — the chance to talk to the great sinners — is more or less impossible because of the distance.
Self-Inflicted Hell: Arguably one of the two main points of the book: The only reason the Ghosts end up in Hell is because of their own petty issues, when the chance to go to Heaven is right in front of them.
The Treachery of Images: The blessed former apostate finally gives up on trying to reason with his damned apostate friend not very long after the damned soul has gone so far off the deep end in his pseudo-intellectual diatribe that he ends up complaining about how the blessed man is talking "as if there some hard, fixed reality where things are, so to speak, 'there'."
Painting as a way to depict particular subject matters or for its own sake is also discussed between a damned artist and his more heavenly-minded friend.
Time Stands Still: Lewis had the idea for the story from a half-remembered story about a time traveller. Nothing the spirits do can effect any real change note just as nothing the time traveller could do made any difference to the past — right down to being able to bend a blade of grass or bite into a sandwich — Hell is always damp and miserable and Heaven is so much 'realer' than the spirits that the grass cuts into their feet instead of bending to them.
Unreliable Narrator: When not called on it, the ghosts will present very unreliable accounts — the Tousle-Headed Poet and the grumbling woman in particular.
Wanting Is Better Than Having: One ghost argues this: It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. The Bright One returns that if you knew that to be true, you could not travel in hope, because how can you hope to reach an inferior destination?
Was Once a Man: Many of the Hellish spirits are so bitter that there's very little left of them.
What Could Have Been: invoked Used in-universe. The apostate bishop speculates about how Christianity could have turned out differently (and, in his opinion, better) if Jesus had not been crucified, and had continued teaching throughout his life. This is, of course, Completely Missing the Point: according to Christian orthodoxy, it's Jesus' death and resurrection that makes it possible for sinners (that is, everyone) to enter heaven.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The Tousle-Head Poet simply disappears after his scene on the bus, with no indication of whether he chooses to stay or go. The audience doesn't get to see the final decisions of the possessive mother, or the woman caught in the unicorn stampede, either, although there's slightly more closure in these cases, since MacDonald gives educated guesses on what their final decisions might be (he thinks the possessive mother ultimately won't stay, but that the other woman may have a chance, providing the stampede distracts her enough to stop obsessing over herself and listen to her Guide.)