The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters Letter XX Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape notes that God has ended Wormwood’s attacks on the patient’s chastity. While this was inevitable, Screwtape argues, Wormwood should think about convincing the patient that chastity is unhealthy, or researching the eligible women who live near the patient, so that the patient can fall in love with one of them.
Lewis suggests how “Science” can be used to manipulate humans and cause corruption—the belief that chastity is bad for the health is clearly an excuse to have more sex and so give into vice.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape explains that standards of feminine beauty are invented by devils far “lower down in the lowerarchy” than either Screwtape or Wormwood. Devils influence artists, designers, and other creative humans to produce new standards of beauty that make it increasingly difficult for human beings to find partners who are kind, happy, and loyal. This helps to explain why standards of beauty change so quickly: at times, beautiful women were tall and statuesque, and at other times, they were boyish or masculine. The devils have also conspired to bring more idealized sexuality into the public arena. This creates unrealistic standards of beauty, and makes men and women hungry for bodies and faces that do not, properly speaking, exist.
Here, Lewis goes into some detail on the “lowerarchy” of Hell, clearly a parody of the “hierarchy” of human businesses and institutions. Perhaps in ironically reversing the structure of a bank or a law firm, Lewis is implying that modern human society isn’t tremendously different from Hell. We also see how art and literature can corrupt the human mind. Lewis is aware of this firsthand, having devoted a huge chunk of his life to studying European art and culture at Oxford and Cambridge. The pattern of idealizing the female body is as old as Western civilization, and Lewis knows it.
Themes
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape explains to Wormwood that he should make the patient hunger for women, of which there are two fundamental types in every man’s mind. The first type is calm, obedient, and wholesome, and the other kind is wild and mysterious. The second type, Screwtape notes, inspires men to commit adultery and acts of violence. Wormwood could induce the patient to marry a woman of the second type, an act that almost always produces misery. Screwtape concludes by encouraging Wormwood to manipulate the patient through sexual means, since sexual unhappiness is highly painful for humans, and thus highly enjoyable for devils.
While Lewis is often criticized for taking a misogynistic view of modern society (there’s a fascinating essay by Terry Castle on the sexism of The Chronicles of Narnia), it could be argued that in this section he opposes such views. Men see women as caricatures, rather whole human beings, he seems to be saying. Instead of appreciating women for their own particular qualities, men see them either as gentle “Earth mothers” or fiery “sirens.”
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon