The Screwtape Letters Chapter 21: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In chapter twenty-one of 'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape teaches his nephew Wormwood about the sense of ownership of not only things, but time that human beings inherently have.


Peevishness is being easily irritated by unimportant things. In chapter twenty-one of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape teaches Wormwood how to make a secondary attack on the patient's peevishness while the patient is already struggling with sexual temptation. An easy way to trigger a patient's irritability is to infringe upon things he imagines belong to him. In this lesson, we will learn more about the role possessiveness plays in the breakdown of relationships.

The Screwtape Letters
Book Cover


Screwtape writes, 'Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.'

  • What really upsets people is feeling like something that belongs to them has been denied. The more claims Wormwood can persuade his client to make, the more likely the client is to lose his temper.
  • One of the things that throws people off more than anything is feeling like someone is wasting his time. The more he thinks that the time actually belongs to him, the more irritated he will be when he has to give his time to other people for things that he does not feel are worthy.


The amusing part of this situation is that the patient does not have one bit of time that was not given to him by the Enemy. Since Wormwood's patient has offered himself completely to God's service, he would never refuse Him if asked to do something. The patient would be more than happy to listen to a talkative woman for a couple of hours for God, not realizing that God asks him to do things like that every day.

'The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make,' Screwtape advises, 'the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.' Wormwood's job is to keep the ridiculousness of his patient's irritation from ever entering his mind.

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