- Outlander -Breaking Down The 'Outlander' Purgatory Theory And How It Relates To Jamie's Ghost
Jamie Fraser has had many swoon-worthy moments in Outlander, but perhaps the worthiest of them all came in the Season 2 finale "Dragonfly in Amber" when Jamie sent Claire through the stones to her own time. While he knows he is destined to stay in the past and fight in the Battle of Culloden, he promises one day he'll find her, even if he has to "endure 200 years of purgatory... 200 years without you."
Not only are Jamie's words heart-wrenching as these soulmates prepare to put 200 years of distance between one another, but this quote is responsible for a theory that could explain the major mystery of the Outlander series.
As readers of Diana Gabaldon's novels know, the purgatory quote comes directly from the second book in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber. Some fans have pointed to it as the possible explanation for Jamie's ghost appearing outside of Claire's bed and breakfast in the 1940s. After all, if he died in his time in the 18th-century, then it's possible his soul lingered around for 200 years until Claire's time.
Despite the fandom trying its hardest, Gabaldon isn't willing to give much information about Jamie's ghost. Over the years and in The Dipp's recent interview with her, she has stuck with the basics — in that, yes, he is indeed a ghost (and not there by time travel) and that "all will be explained" in her tenth and final Outlander novel.
When I asked Gabaldon if Jamie's Dragonfly in Amber purgatory quote was a clue about Jamie's ghost, she simply replied, "I couldn't tell you that." (Fair enough, but I had to try). And perhaps the fact that she didn't totally shut down the theory could mean there's an iota of truth to it. Let's examine how the purgatory theory could explain Jamie's ghost.
What The Theory Predicts
There are different takes on this theory. But one version Nancianne Suber, a moderator of the Facebook fan group Outlander Series Plus, told me is this: Jamie will die before Claire (I know, a tough pill to swallow, but let's be strong and keep moving...) In Book 6, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Jamie had asked that Claire return to her own time if he were to die before her. She honors that request and goes back to the 20th century where she also will eventually die.
Since they didn't die in the same timeline, their deaths are separated by some 200 years. Yet, this is Outlander and per the theory these soulmates need to be together in death. So Jamie's spirit has to wander those 200 years that separated their deaths to reconnect with her.
The 1940s Inverness appearance is just a nice purgatory pitstop before their souls are eventually reunited forever after Claire's death closer to the 1990s. As Suber said, "Jamie waited as promised in purgatory, patiently or not, all those 200 years. As 1945 finally arrived, he made his way to Craigh na Dun." The end.
The Contemplating Outlander blog on Tumblr is also on board with Suber's version. But there is no definitive purgatory theory and there are little splashes of details some people prefer to add to their version. For instance, some people think Jamie's near-death experience in the Battle of Culloden (another time he talked of purgatory in the books) explains why Jamie's ghost is 25-years-old — a factoid Gabaldon revealed to The Outlander Podcast in 2014.
Even if you think Jamie and Claire will die together in old age around the year 1800 (the year Gabaldon has said the books' story will probably end), the theory is that Jamie's talk of purgatory back in Book 2 predicts that his ghost is evidence that he's been living that 200 years of purgatory. Simple as that. (Though, not so simple for Jamie's tortured soul.)
In Starz's adaptation, Jamie appeared as the ghost in the very first episode. This was actually a nice bonus since the books never explicitly linked that it was Jamie who Frank saw. Gabaldon also told Sam Heughan and show creator Ronald D. Moore about how she intends to end the books regarding Jamie's ghost, so it better come back into play before the Starz series is over.
As for purgatory references, Jamie's passionate speech at Craigh na Dun had him saying he'd consider purgatory his "punishment that I have earned for my crimes, for I have lied, killed, stolen, betrayed, and broken trust." Since then, Jamie has gone on to lie, kill, and betray more (even if he had his reasons), so purgatory could still be in the cards for this Catholic.
He also sees Claire as a spectral vision when he's near-death in the Battle of Culloden, which could be a sign that his ghostly self will appear to her before she dies.
While he didn't reference purgatory specifically, there's another moment from the Season 4 premiere, "America the Beautiful," that could be a major clue. "Don't you see how small a thing death is between us?" Jamie asks Claire, citing the time they were separated after the Battle of Culloden when she thought he had died. "When my body dies, my soul will still be yours."
In this part in Book 4, Drums of Autumn, Jamie is more direct in his reasoning that death doesn't matter to them since he had been dead when Claire existed in the 20th century. Like on the show, he says his soul will belong to Claire even when he's dead and adds, "I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you."
Without giving away too much for TV viewers, four books later in Written in My Own Heart's Blood, Jamie also thinks that to live without Claire "would certainly be his purgatory." Based on all this, it sure seems like Jamie's spirit could hang on in purgatory until Claire's is ready to meet him in the afterlife.
So What Is Purgatory Anyway?
Let's take it back to the source, shall we? According to the Vatican's website, the Catholic church explains purgatory as: "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."
Jamie is a good man, who has committed a number of mortal sins. If he dies when he's "imperfectly purified," he might not be granted direct access to heaven. (Considering all the dangerous situations he puts himself in, it's safe to say he won't be able to pop into a confessional booth before he dies.) So maybe his soul will be in limbo waiting for that "final purification" for 200 years.
What Gabaldon Has To Say
Gabaldon isn't going to confirm if Jamie's thoughts on purgatory are a clue about his ghost, but in a discussion about what could happen to Jamie and Claire when they die on TheLitForum.com, Gabaldon didn't say Jamie won't experience purgatory when a fan questioned it.
As for the theory that Jamie's spirit has to wander for 200 years before he can meet up with Claire's spirit, Gabaldon may have debunked that. In response to a fan asking how Jamie's ghost relates to the timeline on Twitter, Gabaldon replied, "Ghosts don't exist in a place where time has meaning." She echoed that recently in the below tweet from July 2020 when someone mentioned that Jamie's ghost is 200 years in the future. She replied, "Ghosts don't have time."
According to an excerpt from Gabaldon's forthcoming novel, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, Jamie is still talking about purgatory (albeit rather playfully) with Claire in Book 9. So even if Gabaldon is trying to throw us off the scent, she's still plopping purgatory breadcrumbs in her books that could come into play. Until then, consider us in limbo.