The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters Letter XXXI Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape begins his final letter with a different greeting: “My dear, my very dear, Wormwood, my poppet, my pigsnie.” He begins in this way to “assure” Wormwood that his professed affection for Wormwood is far from artificial. On the contrary, Screwtape insists, he loves Wormwood every bit as much as Wormwood loves him. Screwtape gloats that he is stronger than Wormwood—and as a result, when Wormwood is punished for letting a soul “slip through his fingers,” he will probably be fed to Screwtape.
The patient has died in an air raid. In the moments leading up to his death, the patient became fully conscious for the first time of the influence that Wormwood had on his mind. As he became conscious of this, he also came to realize that Wormwood no longer had any influence on his behavior. The patient died quickly—he won’t have to stay in a nursing home or a hospital. This is a disaster for the devils.
It reinforces Lewis’s argument that the patient becomes “fully conscious” in the same instance that he fully embraces Christianity and sets aside corruption altogether—this again implies that Christianity is the religion of consciousness and rationality. It’s interesting that what might seem the cruelest fate for the patient—a sudden death early in life—is actually a great blessing.
Themes
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In the final seconds before he died, the patient saw God. Wormwood, Screwtape guesses, saw God too, and cowered before him. Perhaps Wormwood was amazed that a mere human being could see God with love and affection while a devil couldn’t find the strength even to look at him. In this instant, the patient realized that at every sad or lonely moment in his life, God was standing by his side. It was also in this instant that the patient became completely aware of his sins—even more aware of them than Wormwood had been.
Screwtape’s efforts to describe the patient’s contact with God are three times removed from the patient’s actual experience. Wormwood witnessed the patient, Screwtape heard about the patient’s death from Wormwood, and we are hearing about the patient from Screwtape/Lewis. This points to the devil’s inability to understand God’s wisdom, or his love. In a moment like this, we are meant to see how laughably pitiful the devils are in their “war” against God.
Themes
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Screwtape reminds Wormwood that the patient is now in a place where Wormwood can no longer tempt him—indeed, any temptation he offers the patient will seem as disgusting as the temptations of a prostitute to a man who has just learned that his dead love is still alive.
Lewis shows that God will inevitably defeat Satan. God is the author of all true pleasure and joy, while Satan con only corrupt those pleasures.
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Here, Screwtape acknowledges that he can say no more of the patient—he has no idea what fate awaits him in Heaven, since devils aren’t allowed there. Screwtape even admits that he sometimes despairs that he doesn’t know what occurs in Heaven. The only thing that sustains Screwtape is the knowledge that the devils’ realism will ultimately defeat God’s nonsensical love. Screwtape signs his final letter, “your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
Throughout the book, Lewis has forced us to look at the human world through the eyes of a devil. Here, in the last chapter of the book, he “Sets us free,” reminding us that we are free, enlightened, and blessed in a way that devils can never be, even if they secretly want to be, as Screwtape tacitly admits. Screwtape is lost in his “zero-sum game” with Wormwood (aptly symbolized by his soon-to-be –satisfied desire to eat Wormwood alive), but our situation, unlike Screwtape’s, isn’t so hopeless. We recognize that there are times when it is inherently good to love one another and cooperate with each other. It’s important that Screwtape confesses to Wormwood that he sometimes wishes he could know God better—but only when Screwtape knows that Wormwood is about to die, and thus can’t report Screwtape to the authorities. This suggests that even devils, deep down, want to be loved by God. Ultimately, Lewis—like the other great moral teachers he references—doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. In this novel he just uses a twisted perspective to remind us of what he sees as fundamental truths.
Themes
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Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon