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C.S. Lewis's "Screwtape Letters" Analysis


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The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis’s novel is about a man who finds happiness and meaning in life through Christianity, and, in the end, gains salvation and the presence of God upon his soul. And yet, Lewis tells this story as if it ends terribly and only gets worse from the beginning. Screwtape, a wise, elder demon corresponds, in thirty-one letters, with his young apprentice nephew, Wormwood; he gives him advice about how to go about stealing the soul of a British man from his first conversion to his redemption. Lewis raises major ethical points by fleshing out the mistakes and every day succumbing to sin of Christians. Lewis gives more than a few examples of this ordinary everyday Christian man giving into the temptation of sin, without even knowing it; thus, giving an extremely real insight to the reader’s own life and the decisions they, themselves, make. From judging people based off looks in his second letter to praying in his third letter to worrying about the future in his fifteenth letter, Screwtape endorses the very things the reader recognizes in his or her own actions in a scary, ‘is-there-a-demon-behind-me’ kind of way. Lewis points out major flaws in the Church on several different occasions, but one in which the “Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility” (85) had it not been for the demons’ relentless labor to oppose such outcomes. Screwtape tells Wormwood that if he cannot keep his client out of church at all than he should attach him to a ‘party church’, which is to say, churches who faction themselves off and forget the true reasoning of the congregation for lesser, meaningless reasons, such as the faceoff between “those who say ‘mass’ and those who say ‘holy communion’” (84). These are the churches that the demons would like the man to join, the ones who create hierarchies which in turn create idolatry and irreverence. Screwtape says that humans should easily see the wrong in this, but that the demons’ have “quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples” (84). Lewis makes the reader began to observe and look deeper into the congregation he or she calls home in order to ask themselves: do I attend this kind of church? The Screwtape Letters create major ethical dilemmas within the reader due to the fact that they hit so close to home. Humor is remarkably important to society, humans, clichés, etc. Lewis makes the point that humor can be used by the demons to advance their ambitions, which, of course, is the reaping of as many souls as possible to eternal damnation. Screwtape divides humor into categories: Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. He mentions how useful Humor is in general; “Humour is for them the all-consoling and the all-excusing, grace of life…Cruelty is shameful – unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke” (59). It becomes an excuse for everything humans do wrong, a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Thus, the demons can use it for their advantage because remorse must be felt in order to change from their act of cruelty or cowardice and not ignored due to humor. Though, Flippancy, Screwtape tells Wormwood, is the best of all. “If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know…It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection” (60). Humans use Flippancy to make a ridiculous side to every serious subject. Thus, the demons push their clients toward this category of Humor because it makes it easier for him or her to shrug off God and Religion rather than take the repercussions to heart, which then furthers their distance from Heaven. It is these little things that Lewis points out that make it easy to see where humans wander from the path, even when they are church-going Christians like Wormwood’s client. “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out” (25). Screwtape tells this to Wormwood in regards to people’s ignorance of prayer. Humans believe that the demons plant lies in their minds but, in reality, they merely keep from them the truth that would set them free from sin. In this case, Screwtape is referring to humans’ forgetfulness of their position and posture of their body while praying; since humans are animals, their souls are directly affected by their bodies’ actions. Thus, when humans get lazy and pray in silence without a position of bent knees or prostration it is merely a “superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service…clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time” (25). This prayer accomplishes nothing and when prolonged, brings the ‘patient’ further away from God and closer to Hell.
Screwtape also advises his nephew to misdirect his client’s attention thus negating the act of praying completely. “Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so …When they are meant to ask Him for charity, let them…start trying to manufacture charitable feelings…when they are meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave…” (26). Wormwood must misdirect his client’s thoughts to himself rather than on God and must do so without notice so as to keep the client in this state of mind every time he goes to pray. This conjuring of feeling within himself will directly affect the value he will place on praying if the outcome is as he desires rather than as it is God’s will. This is especially true when the client is praying for the spiritual salvation of those closest to him rather than the pain and weight that that person feels in life. “…his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself” (21). Humans, by nature, focus on the flaws of others and ignore those of which are within them; therefore it is easy for the demons, as Screwtape says, to manipulate his or her minds to operate in such a way that is excellent for the progression of the demons’ desires.
In order to create a very real sense of the daily temptations and sin that leads Christians awry, C. S. Lewis reverses the point of view and gives a unique outlook from the side that does the tempting. The ethical dilemmas he raises are still valid in society today: praying, church, interactions with peers, sex, marriage, etc. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis generates a necessity to look at one’s life and decide whether we are letting ourselves be influenced by outside forces or misdirected with our good intentions.

Works Cited
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan, 1943. Print.

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