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Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Nerd42 » 13 May 2010, 19:02

Song: Phil Woodward - "The Grey Town"
"If you open your eyes, you'll see it's heaven."

Welcome to Hell. It's form is a bit surprising though. There are no flames, no devils with horns and pitchforks. No external punishments sent by an angry, vengeful god against the people he has elected to not elect. No "poetic justice" of highly questionable equity borrowed from the mind of Dante Alighieri. And yet as we see later in the book, much was borrowed from Dante. Just not the geography or the vision of Hell as the Inferno; a medieval torture chamber for the author's political enemies. Throughout the book, Lewis uses as few famous names as possible. We'll talk about the few exceptions as we run into them, but a remarkable aspect of this book isn't so much what it says as what it doesn't say.

Lewis's usual allusions to classical imagery are markedly absent here. Instead, Hell is a completely modern metropolis where people can come and go as they like. They can even easily get out of Hell, and don't even have to walk but can ride a bus line that's been set up specifically for their benefit. Anything bad or negative that happens to them is done by them to themselves and/or each other. God cannot be blamed for any of it. This point is hammered at again and again in The Great Divorce; that Hell is not God's fault! If you take all the people who have decided to utterly reject God and his goodness and truth and put them together into their own common space, the society that they would create for themselves would be what we call "Hell."

The Grey Town is ... grey. There's no truth here, no black and white contrast to be seen, only endless shades of grey.

Phil Woodward wrote:Sure, it’s always raining
And everyone’s complaining
But some you win, and some you lose
The most "painful" natural aspect of Hell in The Great Divorce is lousy weather. It's always raining. Not with fire and brimstone but with ... rain. Maybe in a last-ditch effort to make something grow out of there? I was always told as a child that the purpose of the rain is to make the flowers and grass grow. Perhaps in The Great Divorce we see an affirmation, even in Hell, of the truth of the words of Christ:
KJV Matthew 5:45 wrote:"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
The rain is, I think, symbolic of the fact that God is still trying to help these people, and their dislike of the rain and attempts to build imaginary houses to keep it out are symbolic of their rejection of God's help. (We'll talk about their "superpowers" for thinking houses in chapter 2)

The protagonist never comes to the better parts of the town. You have a feeling that you could get mugged anywhere around this place. It's a little bizarre that he fills Hell with the sort of bookshops that sell The Works of Aristotle. I know Lewis is more Platonic than Aristotelian but still, that bit is a little bizarre.

Most remarkable of all, the people in Hell don't realize that they're in Hell. Some seem to think they're still on Earth and some of them even think they're in Heaven!

The Ghosts of Chapter 1

Husband and wife
The wife doesn't want to go, the husband doesn't want to go, but in their mutual bickering, they have dragged each other along until they figure out that neither really wanted to go. The husband who pretends to be unselfish is, I think, obviously lying, for if he really was trying to please his wife, then he wouldn't have come because she didn't want to come. The point: married people who fight end up here and will find it difficult to both agree to get on the bus at the same time.

The Short Man and the Big Beefy Person
The Short Man wrote:"This sort of thing really makes one think twice about going at all." ... "this is hardly the sort of society I'm used to as a matter of fact."
The Short Man's sin is simple pride. He thinks he's better than everyone else - better than the protagonist in this case.

The Big Beefy Person wrote:"Not good enough for you, aren't we?"
"I'm a plain man that's what I am and I got to have my rights same as anyone else, see?"
The Big Beefy Person's sin is also pride (and violence I suppose) but it is much greater than the Short Man's. He has the pride in his own humility warned against in Screwtape Letter #14. I believe the Big Beefy Person is the same person as the Big Ghost in chapter 4, so we will get into a more detailed discussion of him when we get there.

The Genderless Young People
The Great Divorce, Chapter 1 wrote:"A moment later two young people in front of him also left us arm in arm. They were both so trousered, slender, giggly and falsetto that I could be sure of the sex of neither, but it was clear that each for the moment preferred the other to the chance of a place in the bus."
This is Lewis's critique of the "sexual revolution" or, as I would call it, regression that he could see coming all the way back in the '40s. He didn't see gender and sexuality as a biological accident but as a transcendental relationship designed by God, and here in a corrupted form, it traps two souls in Hell. We will have a deeper discussion on sexuality when we get to chapter 11. (No, not when we go bankrupt)

"Change places with you for five bob, lady."
She screams when she figures out that money is worthless in Hell because you can just think anything up and have it. I strongly suspect the Cheated Woman of having been a prostitute in life, now being willing to sell her soul for money as she had sold her body. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man:
The Abolition of Man wrote:It is the magician's bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

Critics of the Bus Driver
The Bus Driver has a hard time even getting down here, and then has to put up with the scorn of the passengers. It makes me feel sorry for him, frankly. This shows no matter what is done for these people, they will complain about it.

Is Jesus the driver? He could be.
The Great Divorce, Chapter 1 wrote:"Why don't they spend some of the money on their house property down here?"
They look at God as being like a government - and not just any government, but a welfare state. We'll talk more about that when we get to chapter 7.

We'll discuss the Tousle-Headed Poet when we get to chapter 2.

What do you find striking about the Grey Town and it's residents?
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"The Works of Aristotle" in Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Paul F. Ford » 15 May 2010, 18:50

I am racking my brain to remember where I read that "The Works of Aristotle" refers to this: http://www.exclassics.com/arist/ariintro.htm. The attentive reader will want to know that Lewis is not denigrating the real Aristotle.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Paul F. Ford » 15 May 2010, 18:52

"Hoardings" are billboards.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Paul F. Ford » 15 May 2010, 18:53

Paul Ford—self-appointed president of the "245-3617 Club" and proud member of the "245-6317 Club"; author of the Companion to Narnia and the Pocket Companion to Narnia.
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Re: "The Works of Aristotle" in Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Nerd42 » 17 May 2010, 14:40

Paul F. Ford wrote:I am racking my brain to remember where I read that "The Works of Aristotle" refers to this: http://www.exclassics.com/arist/ariintro.htm. The attentive reader will want to know that Lewis is not denigrating the real Aristotle.
Oh! Now it makes sense! LOL, thanks alot.

I guess in modern terms, they would be "adult bookstores." (that needs bigger scare quotes)
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby paminala » 17 May 2010, 15:51

I'm not sure what it says about me, but when I read the part about the "Change Places" lady I always thought she was trying to buy a better spot rather than sell hers! I went back and reread the passage and honestly it could go either way. It makes a big difference when trying to picture her "in life" though. I had thought of her as one of those people who think their money can get them where ever they need to be (designer wardrobe, 1st class travel, etc.) She reminded me of Stairway to Heaven.
It makes me wonder how much our own unconscience biases can color how we interpret characters like these.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
~ Galileo Galilei
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Nerd42 » 17 May 2010, 15:54

paminala wrote:I'm not sure what it says about me, but when I read the part about the "Change Places" lady I always thought she was trying to buy a better spot rather than sell hers! I went back and reread the passage and honestly it could go either way. It makes a big difference when trying to picture her "in life" though. I had thought of her as one of those people who think their money can get them where ever they need to be (designer wardrobe, 1st class travel, etc.) She reminded me of Stairway to Heaven.
It makes me wonder how much our own unconscience biases can color how we interpret characters like these.
You could be right. But how was she cheated if she paid to get a place nearer the front when the money's no good? We know the money's no good cause they can just think of money and it's there. (whoops, discussion on their superpowers belongs more in chapter 2. The chapter divisions in this book aren't always in the best places)

I guess if the guy took her money but wouldn't move like he promised, she was actually trying to cheat him and got angry when it didn't work.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby paminala » 17 May 2010, 16:07

The way I read it, the 1st time I read the book, this is what I understood. He offers to change places for cash, she gets out of line to "buy" the new spot but since the money is no good (which everyone else knew and is why they all laughed at her for trying it) she not only didn't get the better spot but lost the one she had. I thought the fellow was probably mocking her since he would have known the cash wouldn't be worth anything either. Please don't ask me where I got that impression, but there is so much chatter among the "crowd" about class and who is better than the others that it felt right for it to be a sin of pride that got her cast out of the line. Or maybe I had too many customers in the store where I work that day who put on airs and thought they could buy and sell everyone they met and it colored my impressions. Or maybe I'm just wrong. That has been known to happen.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby cyranorox » 17 May 2010, 21:43

The buyer effectively engages to accept the value of the payment, then reneges. She's acting the fool, he the knave.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby cyranorox » 17 May 2010, 21:48

@ Nerd:
They look at God as being like a government - and not just any government, but a welfare state.
is off. The person with house property is a landlord. You appear to be importing current sentiments about government and so-called welfare states; the image is of a private or aristocratic proprietor imho. Otherwise there would be talk about council flats. But the people in grey town aren't themselves clear about Who owns it or how it is run.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby paminala » 17 May 2010, 23:01

Critics of the Bus Driver
The Bus Driver has a hard time even getting down here, and then has to put up with the scorn of the passengers. It makes me feel sorry for him, frankly. This shows no matter what is done for these people, they will complain about it.


I wonder if it doesn't show that the more that is done for them the less they will like it? Their complaint's are primarily that the bus and bus-driver are too nicely fitted out. Maybe on some level they understand that what they are seeing really is too good for them and don't understand the sort of person that would offer it to them anyway. After all, the Town can be whatever the inhabitants imagine it to be, right? So who is making it drab and gray and dismal?
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby Nerd42 » 18 May 2010, 02:28

paminala wrote:
Critics of the Bus Driver
The Bus Driver has a hard time even getting down here, and then has to put up with the scorn of the passengers. It makes me feel sorry for him, frankly. This shows no matter what is done for these people, they will complain about it.


I wonder if it doesn't show that the more that is done for them the less they will like it? Their complaint's are primarily that the bus and bus-driver are too nicely fitted out. Maybe on some level they understand that what they are seeing really is too good for them and don't understand the sort of person that would offer it to them anyway. After all, the Town can be whatever the inhabitants imagine it to be, right? So who is making it drab and gray and dismal?
Hmm well they don't seem able to change the rain.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby paminala » 18 May 2010, 15:00

No, and it's sad really because instead of a cleansing rain that washes away their sin and brings new life, they've chosen to see a cloaking grey drizzle that is slowly disolving the remains of their humanity.
After all, even rain is subjective. Have you never seen a child playing in the rain? Compare that with the people who are stuck in it in the Town. (I wonder what they would do if one of them suddenly started laughing and splashing in puddles?)
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby cyranorox » 18 May 2010, 19:23

IIRC the apostate bishop does see it as a gentle, heavenly city. His delusional misreading does not affect the given environment. The rain cannot become a remedy for sins; if they thought so, their state would become worse; if they wished for that, perhaps it could become better. But these are mostly failed Anglicans, whose half-knowledge is from another angle than the half-knowledge of most Americans.
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Re: Chapter 1 - The Grey Town

Postby paminala » 18 May 2010, 21:18

What I meant to suggest is that they are, in a way, creating the Hell that they are in. Perhaps if a person were less willing to participate in creating Hell he would be less likely to have to live there. The idea of the bus giving the people a chance to be lifted up surely suggests that a remedy does exist (at least within Lewis' premise) if only they are willing to accept it. Otherwise the story itself has nowhere to go.
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