The Screwtape Letters

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Screwtape Letters Letter XXI Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape is here writing to answer Wormwood’s question about manipulating the patient’s irritability through sexual temptation. Screwtape assents that sexual temptation “is an excellent time” for attacking the patient’s irritability. Wormwood has already noticed that a good way to make the patient irritable is to steal his free time: unwanted visitors, for instance, always anger him. Thus, Wormwood must encourage the patient to believe that “his time belongs to him.”
Lewis returns to the question of ownership. While it’s intuitive to think that one owns one’s own body, life, time, etc., Lewis insists that this is a fallacy—in truth, God owns everything. To be angry with unwanted visitors, then, is to disrespect God in two ways—first, by rejecting the “gift” of friendship that God is offering, and second, by falsely claiming ownership of one’s own time.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
The assumption that the patient’s time belongs to him, Screwtape acknowledges, is absurd. The patient does not own time, any more than he owns the sun or the moon. Indeed, the patient, at least according to his Christian beliefs, is the servant of God all day. Thus, every day that the patient has nothing irritating to do except listen to an annoying friend or an unwanted visitor is actually a blessing. If the patient thought about this at all, he would realize that he shouldn’t jealously guard his own time. Wormwood’s task is therefore to prevent the patient from thinking about time at all.
In order to make his counter-intuitive point understandable, Lewis adopts the tone of a stern parent, reminding the patient that he’s lucky to have any free time at all. Lewis regards it as almost self-evident—once one reasons it out—that one’s time isn’t one’s own property, and so this point is only counter-intuitive because we’re so used to ignoring the concept of time altogether. Once again, sin is caused by ignorance, not reason.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
In general, humans are obsessed with making false claims of ownership. For example, they claim that they own their own bodies, and can do with them as they want—have copious sex, for instance. This belief is no more rational that a young child believing that he owns the house he lives in. Indeed, humans cannot truly claim that they “own” anything—God has given them everything.
Lewis brings us to the conclusion he’s already made clear—all “ownership” is an illusion. The rise of Romanticism in the 19th century depended in no small part on the idea that Lewis critiques in this chapter. Poets and authors of the time were taken with the notion that they own their own selves, and were thus free to roam the world, obligated to no one.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon