The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters Letter VI Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape is happy to hear from Wormwood that the patient is eligible for military service. The patient should be in a state of uncertainty and anxiety about whether or not he’ll have to fight. God wants people to think about what they’re doing, while devils want people to think about what “might” happen. The patient will try to accept the possibility that he’ll have to fight as “God’s will,” but Screwtape notes that it’s far harder for people to accept multiple, contradictory possibilities than it is for them to accept one concrete event.
Again Lewis implies that Christianity is a doctrine of rationality, while sin and evil involve foolishness and confusion—in this case, frantically thinking ahead to what might happen. When a person is forced to confront many possibilities at the same time, they can obscure his knowledge of the present and prevent him from behaving sensibly in the here and now.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape alerts Wormwood to an important principle. Whenever a human thinks a Christian thought, Wormwood should focus his attention on the “thought” itself, not its object. When the patient thinks a sinful thought, Wormwood should focus his attention on the object of the thought. Thus, when the patient is lustful for a woman, he should think about the woman, not his lust itself. Contrariwise, when the patient is feeling kind or charitable, he should contemplate his own charity, not the people he wants to help.
In a previous chapter, Lewis discussed the importance of “inner life” in obscuring humans’ understanding of right and wrong. Here, he builds on that point: when humans think of their virtues as being projections of “inner life,” they have a tendency to slide into arrogance, setting themselves apart from the world. Similarly, when humans ignore their inner life altogether, they can continue to sin without considering what they’re doing. The only solution, it’s implied, is to merge “inner” and “outer” life, so that humans are always thinking about their own moral selves but also the other people whom their actions affect.
Themes
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
By the same logic, Screwtape goes on, Wormwood should convince the patient to feel malice for those nearby and love for those far away. In this way, the patient’s malice becomes more real and powerful than his love. In a sense, Screwtape concludes, the patient is a map of concentric circles. In the center is the patient’s will, then his mind, and then his imagination. Wormwood must try to keep all moral thoughts as far from the central circle as possible.
Lewis’s decision to write the book from the perspective of a devil makes very clear what Lewis doesn’t believe in, but it doesn’t always clarify what Lewis does believe. Thus, we have to extrapolate from this passage that Lewis believes humans should keep morality as close to their “will” as possible. It’s unclear, however, if malice has a legitimate part to play in will, or if it should be banished from the mind altogether.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon