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The Theological Smoke Monster: Rejecting the “Pitiful Life”

By nomaD,

  Filed under: Lost
  Comments: 6

The season premiere’s most intriguing bit of dialogue is the exchange between Ben and MonsterLocke, following Jacob’s murder and the slaughter of Ilana’s team. The absurdity of the setting (inside of the four-toed statue) and the somber tone of the discussion create a mood of fantasy and postmodernist dissonance—Waiting for Godot meets Alice in Wonderland. Locke the Smoke Monster tells Ben about the pathetic nature of John Locke’s life and death. His heartbreaking comment about John’s confusion in his final moments makes it seem that this man-monster has nothing but contempt for the “irreparably broken” man. But then he defends Locke: “He was the only one of them that didn’t want to leave. The only one, who realized how pitiful the life he’d left behind actually was.” Now we are in C.S. Lewis /Flannery O’Connor territory. The Smoke Monster’s depiction of the island’s significance illustrates the Christian ideal of the afterlife and man’s reluctance to leave behind worldly attachments. John embraces the mystical, spiritual life and rejects the comforts of his life back home. He readily engages in the work of the soul when others refuse to “let go” as Rose instructs Jack to do on the plane in the alternate universe/flash sideways world.

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In particular, this conversation recalls Lewis’s The Great Divorce, a slim fable-like novella published in 1945. The term “divorce” refers to the great chasm that exists between heaven and hell according to many Christian theologians. In the preface, Lewis claims that “if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell” (8). But it is not so much the dualism of monotheism that makes this story comparable to the recent musings found in Lost. Though we know that the island is not purgatory or any kind of afterlife, the tone of the dialogue between the residents of heaven and those of hell/purgatory is identical to not only the Smoke Monster’s monologue, but also to Jacob and “Esau’s” discussion in “The Incident.” Consider a conversation from The Great Divorce between a “spirit” of heaven and an unsuspecting resident of Hell. The spirit is trying to explain to this man where he has been dwelling for so long. “Where do you imagine you’ve been?” asks Dick, the heavenly spirit. “Ah I see,” replies the ghost, “You mean that the grey town…with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it?” The spirit replies, in no uncertain terms, that it is, in fact, Hell, “though if you don’t go back you may call it Purgatory” (36). Maybe the Smoke Monster will be equally revealing about the island’s identity (and that of his own) in forthcoming episodes.

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  • HandsomeSmitty

    John’s comfortable life back home!?!

    • Hipster Doofus

      Relatively speaking, a steady wage and a roof over your head, even with a wheelchair, is more comfortable than living in a tent, and surviving on whatever you can kill.

      It may have been less *satisfying* at home, but it was probably more comfortable.

      • Orson

        In a more philosophical sense, while the material is important, the other half of the comfort was immaterial – John was an angry man, but a man who was at home in his anger. His distance from Helen, his father and society at large (see Further Instructions) was a safety net for him. He could get by without much in the way of real social interaction – see the wargames he plays on the phone at work for evidence of his fantasist tendencies).

        Looking back, Further Instructions, like much of the unfairly derided Season 3, was a more important episode than we could have known to give it credit for at the time. Specifically, the fact that Locke is ‘amenable to coercion’. The flashback story is massive foreshadowing of the exploitation John Locke will ultimately face. Meanwhile, thanks to the island visions and the seeds of the notion that he is ‘special’ being planted, we see the Monster’s early manipulations in effect.

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