C. S. Lewis’ Hell & Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky”

In my last posting I discoursed re boundaries and love, noting that everything that passes as love is not necessarily love if scrutinized carefully. Boundaries get easily confused and often we aren’t loving our “lover” or “loved one” but merely loving ourselves projected onto that person. As I said, quoting Auden, “Suppose we love not friends or wives but certain patterns in our lives,” the other person being merely a “pattern” that fulfills some need of ours.

As a result some awfully convoluted, twisted, enmeshed, disgusting relationships get hatched and, per C. S. Lewis, often end up with both parties writhing in the hell that was initiated on earth with one person’s possessive love and the other person’s lack of the wherewithal to escape. Yes, ultimately the responsibility is mutual.

Paul Bowles anecdotally illustrated such a relationship between a mother and son in his excellent novel, The Sheltering Sky. The novel, and the movie bearing the same title, portrays the two as reprehensible, disgusting, and ugly human beings. Eric, the adult son, is his aging mother’s traveling companion and is accustomed to the various and sundry indignities that go with this role. He is, among other things, her “step and fetch it” and can never do anything right. She scolds him for not being able to stand on his own two feet but he musters up the courage at one point and fires back, “But you sabotage any effort I make to become independent.” Bowles describes her as very lonely and noted that the only way she had to engage with the world was to be hostile and disputatious, especially with the hapless Eric, but with the whole world. These two characters epitomize the mother-son dyad confined to hell in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.


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