In this thesis I examine the way the concept of the self and our perception of reality are intertwined in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce (1945), and what similarities and differences can be found in the authors’ approaches to this theme. Though written by very different authors in very different contexts, I argue that through the use of allegory both writers try to convey the message that the physical world that we live in is in fact not the only reality, but a shadow of the real reality, which is the divine, invisible world. This idea is intertwined with an ontology stating that all human beings have a deficient self. Only by focusing on God and allowing him to transfer the deficient, “old self” into a “new self” can an understanding of these two levels of reality be comprehensible, according to the authors. This thesis demonstrates how the common view for the authors is that every man’s self has an unimaginable potential, and everyone was created for more than earthly life, also for an eternity in heaven.
I have concluded that although the thematic similarities are striking, the authors’ approaches to this message differ. First, because the focus in The Pilgrim’s Progress is always on heaven as the goal for people’s existence, Bunyan’s novel is characterized by a disregard for the pleasures available to people on earth much more than Lewis’ book is. Second, the two levels of reality are portrayed differently in the books. In The Pilgrim’s Progress it is done through the device of allegory as a representation of the two levels of reality, and in The Great Divorce it is done through the symbol of materiality – heaven is more solid than earth, hence more real.
For the most part, this is a close reading of the books, dwelling on the aforementioned themes in light of three main theories: 1. Christianity, particularly Protestantism and Pauline theology about a person’s self and world renunciation.2. Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophies of this earthly life as a shadow of the invisible reality.3. The relevance of allegory as a literary device that functions both as an effective conveyer of the authors’ message and as an illustration of how one level of reality can be symbolic of another, both in literature and in life.