The Screwtape Letters


C. S. Lewis

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The Screwtape Letters Symbol Analysis

The Screwtape Letters Symbol Icon
The Screwtape Letters is a treatise on Christianity, consisting of many short observations about God, good, and evil, all expressed ironically through the character of Screwtape. While the novel is a work of fiction, it lacks many of fiction’s basic qualities. For example, there are few if any descriptions of specific places or objects. (In fact, at several points in the book Screwtape dismisses all descriptions of specific places and objects as wastes of time.) Similarly, there are very few pieces of information about the characters’ specific, individual qualities. Even after we finish the book, we have no idea what the patient looks like, where he works, what his hobbies are, etc. This means that there are few discrete symbols in the novel—few concrete details that could be said to symbolize broader themes or ideas. And yet The Screwtape Letters is a highly symbolic work of literature, in the sense that every character and event is intended to symbolize something else. The patient may not have specific tastes or character traits, but this is the whole point—because he’s a “blank slate,” he comes to symbolize the entire human race in all its strength and weakness. Similarly, when the patient struggles with one specific challengelust, for example, or jealousyhis struggle is meant to be interpreted symbolically. His experiences represent the temptation with which all human beings are confronted, at least in Lewis’s view. While there are no specific symbols in this summary, it’s important to keep in mind that The Screwtape Letters abounds with symbolism. Far more overtly than in most other works of literature, in this book the characters represent something far broader than themselves.
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