The Screwtape Letters

by: C.S. Lewis

Letters 28-31

Summary Letters 28-31

Summary: Letter 28

The War is relevant, writes Screwtape, only in that it affects the Patient’s state of mind. The mere fact of air raids on the Patient’s town should be, for Wormwood, beside the point. Wormwood should be trying to keep the Patient alive. Young tempters are being swayed by Hell’s own propaganda, writes Screwtape. Hell has made humans think of death as evil, but, if their souls are prepared like the Patient’s is, death is a good thing. It brings them to the Enemy. Wormwood must remember that it is very difficult for humans to persevere. He should keep the Patient alive until middle age. Then, the Patient may become worldly and lower his guard. Even if the Patient is prosperous, Wormwood can use his good fortune to make him love the earth and not the Enemy. Young people even if they are not religious, are idealistic and detached from the world. It is easier to wean their souls off of eternal thoughts little by little over the course of many years.

Summary: Letter 29

Screwtape reopens the question of whether to make courageous, cowardly, or filled with hatred. Hell cannot make him brave, writes Screwtape. Its research department has not discovered how to produce virtues. Hatred Wormwood can manage. He should confuse the Patient and make him think he hates the Germans on behalf of women and children. And hatred is best mixed with fear. Cowardice, unfortunately, is the only vice of which Hell has failed to make men proud. So Wormwood must be careful. If he makes the Patient cowardly, it may make him pray to the Enemy for forgiveness and strength and, therefore, have the opposite of the desired effect. The best thing might be to make the Patient superstitious. His superstition will take away his presence of mind and cause him to act cowardly in a critical moment. Only cowardly action is sin. It is not sin to feel fear.

Summary: Letter 30

During the first air raid, the Patient feels very frightened. He thinks himself a coward. This is terrible news, writes Screwtape. It means the Patient feels no pride despite behaving according to his duty. If Wormwood is asking Screwtape for mercy based on his good intentions, Screwtape writes, he is committing heresy. Hell’s justice is simple: bring back food (a human soul) or be food. Wormwood should try to keep the Patient tired without letting him become exhausted. This moderate fatigue will make him irritable. Real exhaustion, however, might give him peace of mind or clear vision. Furthermore, Wormwood should give the Patient false hopes. That way, the Patient will be disappointed when relief doesn’t come. When the Patient sees gore and severed limbs, Wormwood should make him think Humans have a hard time distinguishing between emotional and physical reality. If Wormwood does well, the Patient will see blood and violence as “reality” and laughing children and good weather as “mere sentiment.”

Summary: Letter 31

Now, Screwtape addresses Wormwood affectionately as “my poppet” and “my pigsnie.” Screwtape loves Wormwood, he writes, just as much as Wormwood loves him. Now that Wormwood has failed, Screwtape cannot wait to eat him. He hopes he will be given a piece! Screwtape imagines what it was like the moment the Patient recognized Wormwood for the first time and realized Wormwood no longer had any power over him. The Patient got off easy. He had no doctor’s visits, no false hopes of recovery. He died quickly during an air raid. Screwtape is filled with rage when he imagines the Patient losing his doubts and entering eternal life. Hells two greatest weaknesses, writes Screwtape, are useless tempters like Wormwood and its Intelligence Department. He complains, again, that Hell’s forces cannot understand what the Enemy is really up to, but he has no doubt that Hell’s realism will win in the end. In the valediction of this final letter, Screwtape describes himself as Wormwood’s “increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle.”

Analysis

The twenty-eighth letter foreshadows the Patient’s death. The Patient’s unspecified duties in his town place him in areas that are directly affected by German air raids. The fact that Wormwood is advised to keep the Patient alive is a fairly strong sign that the Patient will soon die. After all, Wormwood has consistently failed to follow Screwtape’s advice concerning the Patient. Readers then get confirmation that the Patient’s soul is well prepared for Heaven. This fact encourages readers to ask themselves this difficult question: Do they want the Patient to go to Heaven, or are they rooting for Wormwood and Screwtape to win him over? The binaries offered by The Screwtape Letters, and perhaps by organized Christianity in general, where good and evil, virtue and vice, Heaven and Hell, are clearly defined categories, are not necessarily fully born out by experience. What seems good from one perspective, at one moment in time, might have negative and unforeseen consequences later on. Literary works, whether religious or secular, are a means of sorting, making sense of, or unveiling chaos. Both Christianity and fiction, then, are ways to shape, and to find form within, a disordered world.

Hell’s powers, Screwtape ultimately admits, are very limited. Though Hell is depicted as a vast corporate machine in The Screwtape Letters, the cogs within this system often spin purposelessly. Hell, it turns out, is incapable of creating or producing anything positive or material on its own. Despite Screwtape’s statements to the contrary, it remains questionable whether Hell is capable of creating even negative feelings. It seems, instead, that the most Hell’s agents can do is misdirect human energy away from positive activities and positive outlets. Devils cannot create hatred inside people, they can only tempt people into feeling and fueling hatred within themselves. Hell might encourage feelings like hatred or cowardice or fear, but feeling is not sin. Feeling, as Screwtape reminds , is different from action. Only a negative response to these feelings in the form of harmful thoughts or actions can really be considered sin. What’s more, when devils manage to lead humans into these bitter feelings, people still have the opportunity to respond to them in a positive, faith-affirming way. These negative emotions, contrary to Hell’s intentions, may prompt people back toward prayer and God. No matter what Wormwood does, the Patient has the final say over the way he chooses to live his own life. In light of the Patient’s autonomyWormwood’s powers seem very limited indeed.