The Screwtape Letters Themes

  • C. S. Lewis explores the theme of temptation in The Screwtape Letters. As a junior tempter, Wormwood's job is to tempt human beings to sin. Screwtape's letters to Wormwood are full of advice for the young demon, who hasn't mastered the techniques his uncle uses to corrupt humans. If anything, these letters indicate just how difficult it can be to tempt human beings.
  • Like The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis' popular series of children's books, The Screwtape Letters deals in overtly Christian themes. The patient embodies traditional Christian virtues of loyalty and bravery. Screw tape's cruel philosophies, meanwhile, subvert these virtues, exploiting human frailty for personal profit. Together, these two figures represent the struggle between good and evil.
  • C. S. Lewis emphasizes the power of love in The Screwtape Letters. As a demon, Screwtape cannot truly understand love, which makes it impossible for him to understand the relationships between the patient, his lover, and God. The love between the patient and his Christian bride destroys any chance Wormwood had of corrupting the patient.

Christian Themes

C. S. Lewis accepts the traditional doctrine that each person on earth is a central figure in a great drama that ends only with that person’s death. Every individual, no matter how humble, is a prize for which God and Satan are always struggling. At times, God seems to withdraw from the battle; however, when he appears to be absent, he expects human beings to avoid evil by using their reason, the power he gave humans at the time of creation. For centuries, Christian thinkers have held that reason inevitably leads both to belief and to its corollary, Christian conduct. Satan’s only hope, then, is to persuade one to reason falsely or to permit the emotions and the appetites to take the place of reason. The seven deadly sins—wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lechery or lust, envy, and gluttony—all involve the emotions. False reasoning can lead to such errors as the reduction of Christ to a historical figure, the assumption that Christian doctrine needs to be reworked so as to apply to contemporary life, and the insistence that the real value of religion is the support it gives to another cause, such as social justice.

Although reason can help a person avoid evil in thought and deed, reason alone cannot save a person. Unlike Satan, who wants to acquire people so that he can consume them, God loves human beings, as is evident in the fact that he sent his Son to live among them, to teach them, and to die for their sins. Whenever a human being is in greatest need, God makes his presence felt, as he does when the patient has his second conversion and also at the time of his death.

This focus on salvation accounts for a crucial difference between the way the two forces view time. The satanic powers appeal to human greed, trying to convince their prey that their time is their own, to be spent as they wish, and encouraging them to live not in the present, but in some imagined future time, when all their vicious impulses will be satisfied. By contrast, there are only two times of importance to Christians: the present, when they must do their duty, and eternity, when they will be with God.