The death of the Tragedian – How the Great Divorce changed me
The Great Divorce by C.S Lewis is one of the books that formed some of my views on heaven and hell, and the sins that confine us to a hell (on earth). One of the characters in the book, Frank – The Dwarf / Tragedian, haunted me for some time.
It wasn’t until I was confronted with a certain behaviour by a colleague that I realised I’m stuck in the very same Frank-like behaviours.
First, Let’s Meet Frank
Frank’s character is a complicated metaphor for the way humans use pity and self-loathing to manipulate other people.
Frank was known and loved by Sarah Smith, and would take advantage of her love by pretending that she’d hurt his feelings. Indeed, Frank has a long history of pretending to be sad in order to make other people feel guilty—even as a child he would do so. In the afterlife, Frank appears as two different ghosts, one small (the Dwarf), the other tall (the Tragedian).
The Dwarf represents Frank’s inner life: his self-hatred, and his manipulative tendencies. The Tragedian, on the other hand, represents the “image” of pain and sadness that Frank tries to project in order to make other people feel guilty.
Thus, in the afterlife Frank takes on a form that externalizes the psychological processes by which Frank would try to “blackmail” Sarah into feeling sorry for him.
Why I’m a lot like Frank
As a child, I was treated like a ragamuffin with an iron heart, despite being a super sensitive child. From my perspective, I had a horrible childhood and therefore ample resources to call on to create my Tragedian.
I spent most of my relationship building energies on cultivating pity by sharing tragedies of my past, at which point I would awkwardly bat away the consolation received.
However, with the help of salvation and a lot of counselling, these wounds were being healed. After some time, I no longer felt compelled to put these events on display for the sake of generating pity.
As the healing process continues, the Tragedian slowly diminishes, and my inner self-loathing dwarf grows into a full non-ghost person.
You would think that after 5 years of healing that the train would surely stop at “I’m ok station” pretty soon, but you’d be wrong.
Enter the Romanticist, My Tragedian Replacement
Unfortunately, my self-loathing hasn’t been healed completely. It is my self-loathing that underpins my Frank-like behaviour.
Since I couldn’t call on tragedy to generate pity without feeling false, I switched on my romanticised self. Presenting it to the world as my “true self”.
I carefully planned out every word and action to underline the best parts of who I am and how important this “person” is.
With “what people think of me” being the metric I use to measure my success. Even though it’s impossible to every know how successful this venture is.
Fortunately, I realised that it is such an exhausting and useless venture. I also realised that there are better things to occupy my life with.
Why I’m killing myself in the best way possible
In moments, where Frank (the dwarf) accepts Susan’s love, the Tragedian shrinks, and Frank grows. C.S Lewis leaves hints throughout the book about what Frank could look like. It is in these moments of love where he grows that you glimpse the promise of a full life.
This is where I find the death that’s good for us. As we accept the love and compassion from a compassionate God, our Tragedians and Romanticists die. Our only job is to allow them to die and to live vulnerably and truthfully in a world that’s taking the alternative approach.
Unfortunately, in the Great Divorce, Frank doesn’t let go of his Tragedian. In the end, it is the thing he becomes. A spectre of hellish nature that makes life a living hell for others.