The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters Letter XXX Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape begins 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 that he thought himself a coward and therefore felt no sinful pride. His only sinful behavior was a brief moment of anger with a dog that nearly made him trip.
Earlier in the book, we were worried that the patient would lapse into sinfulness during World War II, but now his sinfulness is laughably trivial compared with what Wormwood was attempting—the patient only gets angry with a dog.
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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 tiredness can also make people more gentle and peaceful, meaning that they are actually less sinful than usual.
Again, the patient’s sin is amusing in its banality—in fact, he has not actually sinned in being tired, but only made himself slightly more susceptible to sinful behavior.
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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 raid will not be repeated. If the patient meets his lover, he will talk less than usual, while she will talk more—this can be useful for Wormwood, since it could lead to more resentment.
Screwtape shows how evil can be built out of small, seemingly ordinary moments. While he has made this point before, he sounds desperate when he makes it now—Wormwood has almost let the patient slip through his fingers.
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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 will question what the “real” world consists of, and he may even come to believe that his notion of religion has been a childish fantasy. Humans don’t understand what “real” means. At times, they treat the word to mean the bare physical facts of the universe, while at other times, they use the word “real” to refer to the emotional impact of such facts on a human consciousness. The devils’ triumph is in convincing people that only physical facts, or feelings of pain, are real, while joy and other emotional experience is “subjective” and therefore false. On the contrary, Screwtape notes, happiness is just as real as pain or the physical world.
This is arguably the most important and topical attack on literature that C.S. Lewis addresses in the book. The horror and devastation caused by World War II—the Holocaust, the air raids, etc.—pose a challenge to God’s existence and authority because they suggest that God doesn’t love humanity, doesn’t exist, or isn’t all-powerful. But Lewis dismisses these criticisms as failures of imagination. He has already explained how the grimness of death is “greatly exaggerated” in human culture. Here, he elaborates that the specific, gruesome details of World War II are no more “real” than happiness, faith, and God himself. A frequent criticism of Western philosophy is that it places more value on pain than on pleasure—it makes pain alone intellectual. Lewis insists that pleasure is just as real as pain, and this can outweigh, or at least balance out the devastation of World War II.
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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 his lover, his job, or his day-to-day life. This will be a huge victory for the devils, Screwtape concludes.
Screwtape ends by restating his aims for the patient: convince him (and, presumably, the human race) that pain is more real than pleasure. This reinforces Lewis’s argument that Christianity, contrary to popular belief, is a religion of pleasure, not suffering.
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