The Screwtape Letters

The weak, young, and deeply uncertain human being whose moral progress—and lack of progress—defines the plot of the novel. Much like Wormwood, the patient is less of a character with unique thoughts, feelings, and motivations than he is a plot device allowing C.S. Lewis to construct a theory of Christianity. (In Christian fiction, there is a long tradition of “blank” characters of exactly this type—in fact, the general name we give to this kind of character—Everyman—is an allusion to a Christian morality play from the 16th century.) Even so, the patient can be taken as an embodiment of the virtues and vices of Europe at the time when C.S. Lewis wrote his book. Thus, the patient is capable of some virtues, such as honesty, loyalty, and bravery, and yet he is also weak, arrogant, and prone to exaggeration, with a bad habit of valuing new fashions more highly than old truths. Ultimately, the patient finds a Christian community for himself, and dies in an air raid during World War II, having ensured his place in Heaven.

The patient Quotes in The Screwtape Letters

The The Screwtape Letters quotes below are all either spoken by The patient or refer to The patient. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper edition of The Screwtape Letters published in 2001.
Letter I Quotes

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary”, "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

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If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don't let him get away from that invaluable "real life". But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is "the results of modem investigation". Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter VII Quotes

All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient, God
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter IX Quotes

The mere word phase will very likely do the trick. I assume that the creature has been through several of them before—they all have—and that he always feels superior and patronising to the ones he has emerged from, not because he has really criticised them but simply because they are in the past. (You keep him well fed on hazy ideas of Progress and Development and the Historical Point of View, I trust, and give him lots of modern Biographies to read? The people in them are always emerging from Phases, aren't they?)

You see the idea? Keep his mind off the plain antithesis between True and False. Nice shadowy expressions—"It was a phase"—"I've been through all that"—and don't forget the blessed word "Adolescent"…

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XII Quotes

Obviously you are making excellent progress. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. For you and I, who see that position as it really is, must never forget how totally different it ought to appear to him. We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XIV Quotes

Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 70-71
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XIX Quotes

You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. But really, Wormwood, that is the sort of question one expects them to ask! Leave them to discuss whether "Love", or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are "good" or "bad". Can't you see there's no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us. Thus it would be quite a good thing to make the patient decide that "love" is "good" or "bad".

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XXI Quotes

He regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption "My time is my own". Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XXII Quotes

I have looked up this girl's dossier and am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XXV Quotes

It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking "Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?" they will neglect the relevant questions.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient, God
Page Number: 138-139
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XXVIII Quotes

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth. While they are young we find them always shooting off at a tangent.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 155-156
Explanation and Analysis:

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Letter XXXI Quotes

Rest assured, my love for you and your love for me are as like as two peas. I have always desired you, as you (pitiful fool) desired me. The difference is that I am the stronger. I think they will give you to me now; or a bit of you. Love you? Why, yes. As dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on. You have let a soul slip through your fingers.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

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The patient Character Timeline in The Screwtape Letters

The timeline below shows where the character The patient appears in The Screwtape Letters. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter I
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
...letter, addressed to “my dear Wormwood.” A yet unnamed writer encourages Wormwood to influence “our patient” by controlling what he reads and who he talks to. The writer points out, however,... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
...falsehood, but nowadays, they’re trained to study dozens of beliefs that contradict one another. The patient thinks of beliefs as being useful or useless, not true or false. For this reason,... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
...it encourages humans to think abstractly. Wormwood’s goal, the writer concludes, is to confuse the patient, not educate him. He signs the letter, “Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.” (full context)
Letter II
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape’s second letter begins with the news that Wormwood’s patient has become a Christian. Screwtape encourages Wormwood not to despair, since many humans have flirted... (full context)
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Wormwood should try to control where the patient sits when he goes to church, Screwtape advises. The patient is a fool, meaning that... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
...moment after they’ve bravely begun a new project—which could be marriage, school, or, in the patient’s case, Christianity. This disappointment occurs because the Enemy creates humans to be free. Freedom is... (full context)
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
As the patient sits in church, looking at the odd, ugly people around him, it might occur to... (full context)
Letter III
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape references information Wormwood has given him about the patient’s mother. He advises Wormwood to talk to Glubose, a “colleague” whose job is tempting the... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape lists methods for creating a rift between the patient and his mother. The first method is to keep the patient thinking about “inner life.”... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape’s second method for creating a rift between the patient and his mother is to render the patient’s prayers for his mother vague and dull.... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape’s third method is to draw the patient’s attention to behaviors of his mother that he finds annoying. His fourth method is to... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape asks Wormwood if the patient’s mother is angry or jealous that the patient has adopted Christianity without his mother’s help.... (full context)
Letter IV
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
...encourage the praying person to think of himself, rather than of God. Thus, when the patient prays for bravery from God, Wormwood should encourage the patient to try to be brave. (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Wormwood can tamper with the patient’s prayer by encouraging him to think of God in concrete, visual terms. There are many... (full context)
Letter V
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape observes that Wormwood has experienced the thrill of success: the patient is anxious about the war, and has begun to doubt Christianity. Wormwood has encouraged this... (full context)
Letter VI
Love Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
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,... (full context)
Letter VII
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Screwtape discusses whether or not Wormwood should reveal the existence of devils to the patient. Devils should conceal their existence, Screwtape argues. In the past, however, devils would occasionally reveal... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape takes up the problem of whether to make the patient an extreme patriot or pacifist. In the end, he suggests, it doesn’t matter what the... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
If the patient is a physical coward and an uneasy believer in God, as Screwtape guesses he is,... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Whether Wormwood makes the patient an extreme pacifist or patriot, he should try to convince the patient to incorporate Christianity... (full context)
Letter VIII
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
...previously received a letter from Wormwood in which Wormwood expresses his “Great hopes” that the patient is losing his religion. Screwtape angrily tells Wormwood that he must consider the law of... (full context)
Letter X
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape has heard from Triptweeze, an associate of Wormwood’s, that the patient has made new acquaintances who are tempting him away from God. There is a middle-aged... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape acknowledges that the patient will quickly realize that his Christianity conflicts with the couple’s skeptical, secular way of looking... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape notes, amusedly, that the patient must not realize that he is being tempted. The patient probably associates the entire concept... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Screwtape advises Wormwood to encourage the patient to spend more time with the married couple, thereby causing him to neglect his work,... (full context)
Letter XI
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape has learned from Wormwood that the patient has befriended the married couple’s other friends. In his last letter, Wormwood mentioned that these... (full context)
Letter XII
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape praises Wormwood for his excellent progress in corrupting the patient, but warns him that if he moves the patient away from God too quickly, the... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Wormwood should try to inspire a feeling of vague dissatisfaction in the patient. This feeling shouldn’t be powerful enough to “shock” him back into piety, but a weak... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
...Nothing is strong.” In a sense, Nothing is the devils’ greatest weapon—Nothing will encourage the patient to avoid God and feel miserable. Screwtape encourages Wormwood to push the patient away from... (full context)
Letter XIII
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape has just received a letter from Wormwood in which Wormwood describes having let the patient “slip through his fingers.” The end result of Wormwood’s error is that the patient has... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape lists Wormwood’s errors. He allowed the patient to read a book for the patient’s own pleasure, and he allowed the patient to... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
...a thing for its own sake is that the human cannot be tempted, as the patient has been, by appeals to what other people think or enjoy. (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape encourages Wormwood to continue working on the patient. Wormwood’s most important strategy should be to prevent the patient from acting in any way... (full context)
Letter XIV
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
The patient has regained his faith in Christianity, Screwtape has learned from Wormwood, but—very alarmingly for the... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape advises Wormwood to influence the patient to forget the true meaning of humility. True humility is the forgetting of the self,... (full context)
Letter XV
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
...of his arguments about the future, Screwtape concludes that it is equally good for Wormwood’s patient to be afraid of the future or hopeful for the future. In either case, the... (full context)
Letter XVI
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape has learned from Wormwood that the patient only visits a single church. Screwtape is angry that Wormwood has not told him this... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
Screwtape discusses the two churches near the patient’s home. One is run by a vicar who tries to make his sermons as secular... (full context)
Letter XVII
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
...explains that Wormwood is clearly ignorant of history. Wormwood should talk to Glubose about the patient’s mother, who is a glutton for delicacy. It is gluttony in this form, not gluttony... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape explains the mindset of the patient’s mother. She believes in the principle of “all I want.” She thinks that her food... (full context)
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape encourages Wormwood to use the patient’s gluttony against him. Because he is a man, he is more likely to indulge in... (full context)
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
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...main use of gluttony as excess, Screwtape concludes, is that it weakens chastity. If the patient tries to repair his chastity, Wormwood should convince him to take up exercise rather than... (full context)
Letter XIX
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...from him. He adds that it would be “quite a good thing” to make the patient decide that love is either good or bad. (full context)
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The patient might decide that love is bad, Screwtape suggests. If this is the case, then he... (full context)
Letter XX
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Letter XXI
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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... (full context)
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The assumption that the patient’s time belongs to him, Screwtape acknowledges, is absurd. The patient does not own time, any... (full context)
Letter XXII
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Screwtape has learned from Wormwood that the patient is in love. Moreover, he is in “the worst kind of love” possible. Wormwood has... (full context)
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Screwtape describes the woman with whom the patient has fallen in love. She is Christian, “simpering” in her sincerity, and virginal. She is... (full context)
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Based on his description of the patient’s love interest, Screwtape criticizes God for being “a hedonist at heart.” Although God appears to... (full context)
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Screwtape knows from Wormwood’s letters that the patient has met his lover’s entire family, and visited their house many times. The house is... (full context)
Letter XXIII
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Screwtape reveals that the patient is meeting more and more Christians every day through his new lover. This means that... (full context)
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Screwtape explains the third strategy that Wormwood can use to manipulate the patient: he can appeal to arguments about the history of Christianity. Many Christian writers, he explains,... (full context)
Letter XXIV
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Screwtape has been in contact with Slumtrinket, the devil in charge of the patient’s lover. Slumtrinket has found a weakness in the patient’s lover: like so many young women... (full context)
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Screwtape explains how the new information about the patient’s lover can be used to influence the patient. He argues that young novices are always... (full context)
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Wormwood must convince the patient that his new friends and lover are “his people,” and that he has finally found... (full context)
Letter XXV
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Screwtape points out that the problem with the patient’s new friend group and community is that it is “mere Christianity.” If men must be... (full context)
Letter XXVI
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As the patient pursues a courtship of his lover, Screwtape advises that Wormwood should try to influence him... (full context)
Letter XXVII
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Screwtape criticizes Wormwood for doing very little to tempt the patient. Wormwood has tried to distract the patient from thoughts of God by encouraging him to... (full context)
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Screwtape suggests a new way of tempting the patient: “petitionary” prayers. These are prayers in which the patient asks for specific things, such as... (full context)
Letter XXVIII
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...has written, gleefully, that there will probably be air raids in the town where the patient lives. Screwtape angrily reminds Wormwood that the patient’s death would be a disaster—his soul is... (full context)
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Screwtape hopes that the patient will survive the air raids so that he will enter middle age, which is an... (full context)
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...them die very young. With this is mind, Screwtape hopes, on Wormwood’s behalf, that the patient survives and lives into old age, so that Wormwood will have ample opportunity to corrupt... (full context)
Letter XXIX
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Screwtape has learned that the Germans are certain to bomb the patient’s community, and that the patient, due to his “duties,” will be in the most dangerous... (full context)
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Of the sins that Wormwood could instill in the patient, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to avoid pride, because this would involve filling the patient with courage... (full context)
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Screwtape considers the possibility that Wormwood could fill the patient with cowardice. Cowardice is one of the only sins that Western society has not learned... (full context)
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Because Wormwood cannot safely fill the patient with cowardice, he must adopt a subtler tactic. In a moment of panic, Wormwood must... (full context)
Letter XXX
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...his letter by telling Wormwood that he has heard from the Infernal Police that the patient’s actions in the first air raid were “the worst possible.” He was terribly frightened, meaning... (full context)
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Wormwood’s only success is in making the patient extremely tired, meaning that he is more susceptible to vice. Nevertheless, Screwtape reminds Wormwood that... (full context)
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In order to capitalize on the patient’s fatigue, Wormwood must fill him with false hope. The patient should believe that the air... (full context)
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Another way that Wormwood can manipulate the patient involves his perception of reality. When the patient sees dead bodies on the ground, he... (full context)
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With Wormwood’s encouragement, the patient will come to regard the nightmares of war as more “real” than his love for... (full context)
Letter XXXI
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The patient has died in an air raid. In the moments leading up to his death, the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)