The Screwtape Letters Themes

Instructor: Lindsey Coley
A discussion of what theme is and how it appears in C.S. Lewis' novel 'The Screwtape Letters.' In this novel there are several different minor and major themes that appear and affect one another.

What Is a Theme?

Every day you spend on Earth is a little bit different than the previous day. Some days might start with a bad dream putting you in a foul mood. Other days may start with anticipation of some grand event like a wedding or a trip to an amusement park. It doesn't matter if you go to the same job or school as yesterday or wake up in the same house. There will always be something different because no two days are exactly alike--unless you're Bill Murray on Groundhog Day, but even then his actions made the days different!

The difference you feel from day to day is a thematic difference. For instance, the wedding day involves a theme of love.The ordinary day where you might have gotten a rough start and are in a bad mood could be filled with a theme of anger or irritation. A theme can be the idea, feeling, or subject of an experience. Just as there are many different themes in your day, there are also many different themes in a piece of literature. Major themes are predominant in a story and carry the point the writer wishes to make. Minor themes make their own smaller points but can embellish the major themes.

Major Themes

Temptation

As soon as you start reading The Screwtape Letters you are made aware that there are two demons, one mentor and one mentee, trying to corrupt a human or patient from the ways of God and Christianity. Temptation becomes the first major theme. Screwtape, the elder demon, tells the younger demon, Wormwood, that he doesn't 'realize how enslaved they [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary.' He discusses how a demon could tempt a human away from thoughts that would lead him toward Christianity simply by making him feel temptation from the material world.

By way of carrying this theme throughout the book, C.S. Lewis gets the reader to think about how often temptation removes humans from the presence of God. He uses the demon narration as satire or parody in which the reader understands Christianity better by understanding the foolish war raging against it. The demon writes that all he 'can do is to encourage the humans to take pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.' Through using the pleasures that God has created in an unnatural way, Screwtape endeavors to have Wormwood tempt the human patient away from God.

The Victory of God's Love

The 31 letters from Screwtape lead readers through this smog of temptation and eventually end in an utter failure for the demons. Christianity prevails as the young patient, who accepts Christianity at the beginning of the novel, now dies in war at the end and is taken to heaven. The second major theme is that God will inevitably win.

All of the evil Screwtape and Wormwood can throw at the patient will fail. Love, in essence God, always prevails. Screwtape admits that his 'cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.'

Even when they are weak, the human chooses to obey a God they cannot see for a love that they wish to feel. How can the demons battle against that? Lewis, as the author, reveals how faith can overcome. One can be tempted, yes. One can be distracted, yes. At the end though, the patient seeks God with faith and believes.

Minor Themes

There are several minor themes that help build up the major themes of temptation and love's success.

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