The Screwtape Letters Summary

In The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon named Screwtape offers advice to his nephew Wormwood, who has been assigned to darken the soul of a man known only as “the patient.”

  • Screwtape instructs that Wormwood should direct the patient toward his worst emotions, as reason leads to God.
  • The patient converts to Christianity, and Wormwood fails to prevent him from marrying a Christian girl. He tries to sow discord between the couple, but the patient dies in World War II before he can succeed. 
  • Though Screwtape is disappointed by his nephew's failure, he's pleased that he can now eat Wormwood as Wormwood's punishment.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 796

The Screwtape Letters is made up of thirty-one undated letters from a senior devil called Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape offers advice to the younger demon as he attempts to secure the soul of a human being, referred to as “the patient.” The book, then, is the account of a young man’s journey to the heavenly city, though in this case the narrator is his enemy, a demon who hopes to block his salvation.

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In his first letter, Screwtape makes it clear that the surest way to lose the patient is to encourage him to use his reason, for inevitably, his reason will take him to God, whom the devils call the Enemy. Wormwood must find his opportunities by getting his patient to reason falsely or to be governed by his emotions. Screwtape is not discouraged when the patient becomes a Christian, for he explains to Wormwood that new converts often experience an emotional letdown. Wormwood should direct the patient’s attention to the irritating habits or the hypocrisy of the other people in his church. Screwtape also suggests that the patient be encouraged to notice his mother’s annoying habits to the point that he will have difficulty praying for her. Screwtape is delighted when the patient falls in with a wealthy group of skeptics. The patient is so proud of his new friends that Screwtape believes the struggle for his soul is over. However, God again manifests himself to the patient, and the result is a second conversion.

In his fifth letter, Screwtape reprimands Wormwood for his assumption that the outbreak of World War II would make it easier to capture souls. Unfortunately, war provides occasions for selfless deeds, and the Enemy judges such deeds on their own merits, not on his approval of the cause. However, as Screwtape points out later, anxiety is a good climate for demonic activity. Meanwhile, Wormwood is urged to make the patient a connoisseur of churches, then a partisan of a single point of view. Wormwood can also make sure the patient sees his mother as the glutton that her own demon, Glubose, encourages her to be. Wormwood should also attack through the patient’s sexual nature. As Screwtape explains, his being a Christian is no impediment, for when a Christian marries because he is “in love,” he sets himself up for disappointment, thus providing marvelous opportunities for the demons pursuing his soul.

Screwtape begins his twenty-second letter with a sarcastic reference to Wormwood’s attempt to get his uncle in trouble with the satanic secret police by repeating some unguarded comments that were made in the letters. Wormwood will pay the price for his action, Screwtape promises, as well as for all his other mistakes. The most serious of them is Wormwood’s allowing his charge to fall in love with a virtuous young woman from a loving, Christian family. To Screwtape’s horror, the girl is also witty; indeed, he muses, she might well laugh even at him. The idea puts Screwtape into such a state that he turns into a centipede and has to dictate the rest of that letter to his secretary, Toadpipe.

However, Screwtape has not given up. He now suggests that Wormwood attack on two fronts, one...

(The entire section contains 1460 words.)

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