Course Hero Logo

The Great Divorce | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Great Divorce Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Dec. 2019. Web. 23 Mar. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, December 20). The Great Divorce Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Great Divorce Study Guide." December 20, 2019. Accessed March 23, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Great Divorce Study Guide," December 20, 2019, accessed March 23, 2023,

The Great Divorce | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The book is written as a reflection on a dream, and begins when the Narrator suddenly finds himself in a grey town waiting for a bus. Some of the others waiting for the same bus decide to walk away before the bus arrives, but many others wait, and they are able to board when the bus arrives. The bus then moves up into the air, arriving at an open plain with mountains and what seems to be a rising or setting sun along the far horizon. When the narrator and the fellow riders emerge from the bus, they find everything on this new plain is hard to the touch. Grass cuts into their feet, small rocks are extremely heavy, and other light items are immovable.

Each bus rider is approached by a different large, glowing spirit, someone they knew in life, with whom they have brief conversations about going beyond the mountains. It becomes clear that the spirits are trying to convince the bus riders, who become transparent as they talk to the spirits, that they have come from Hell and they should come with the spirits to Heaven. Their transparency shows the Narrator that they are ghosts rather than people. In order to make the journey, the ghosts must repent of wrongs they committed on Earth, or else they choose to return to Hell.

For most, this involves an emotional or spiritual misdeed; a mother is told she must love someone more than her own lost son because of the pain her selfish grief caused the rest of her family, while a man has to accept the love of a woman who he was too insecure to believe while alive. A scholar is told that he will not be ambitious in Heaven, to which he responds that he will instead go back to Hell and write about his experiences, which he thinks people will find very interesting. The narrator witnesses many scenes wherein a spirit tries to guide a person toward Heaven, only to be rejected.

The narrator is approached by the spirit of George MacDonald, a religious writer whom C.S. Lewis admired. MacDonald tells the narrator more about the plain on which they are standing, which he calls the "Valley of the Shadow of Life." According to MacDonald, for those who return to the grey town, it will always be Hell. But for those who go on to Heaven, the grey town becomes Purgatory in their memory because of their brief time there. When asked if God will eventually save those who choose to go back to Hell, MacDonald explains that Heaven is open to all who want to go there.

The narrator then wakes up in his own study, realizing it was a dream.

The Great Divorce Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 The narrator stands waiting for a bus in a grey city.

Rising Action

2 The bus takes the narrator and others to a bright plain.

3 The narrator realizes everything is rigid and motionless; he realizes he's a ghost.

4 Spirits begin approaching the people to take them into Heaven, but many refuse.


5 The narrator is approached by the spirit of George MacDonald, his own guide.

Falling Action

6 George MacDonald explains God's perspective on humanity to the narrator.


7 The narrator wakes up in his own study.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Great Divorce? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!