The Screwtape Letters Chapter 26: 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-six of 'The Screwtape Letters', Uncle Screwtape tells the young tempter, Wormwood, about how the male and female perspectives of unselfishness can be manipulated to create division.

Planting the Seeds

In chapter twenty-six of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape advises his nephew to set the stage for resentment that could develop for his patient and his girlfriend after the 'love' stage passes. We will learn about the differences between how men and women view charity, which creates an environment of misunderstandings. Charity, in this case, is leniency in judging others. The Underworld has changed the word from a positive to the negative 'unselfish'.

The Definition of Unselfishness

According to Uncle Screwtape, it is never too early to start working on the minor irritations in a relationship that will eventually result in marriage problems once the initial enchantment is over. A good place to start is with the opposing views men and women have about unselfishness. 'A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.' Therefore, as the woman is annoying people with her constant doing for others, the man thinks of her as selfish for getting into other people's business. On the reverse, the woman thinks the man is selfish because he never does anything for the purpose of pleasing others.

The Screwtape Letters
Book Cover

When the Magic Fades

A certain amount of mutual leniency exists out of the erotic enchantment the couple shares. If the basis of the marriage is mutual self-sacrifice, that will come back to bite them when the magic fades, particularly since they are not yet aware that the excitement will not last. Screwtape advises, '... let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment.'

Optimally, the spiritual resources will not have grown to the point that the tempter will not be able to use unselfishness to create arguments. While arguing in favor of the other party's assumed wishes, they end up doing something neither one of them wants to do, but feel sanctimonious for making the sacrifice and resentful that the other party allowed them to.

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