Who is Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters?

Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

Each of 'The Screwtape Letters' in the C.S. Lewis novel are written by Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood. In this lesson, we will learn more about the character, Screwtape.

Tour Guide to the Underworld

If you were new to the world of Hell and to the ways of humans, you might need some help knowing how to tempt them into sin. Screwtape might be just your fellow.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior official in the Underworld (Hell) to his fledgling nephew, Wormwood. The letters serve as a guide for any new tempter who needs to earn his stripes gathering souls for Satan. In this lesson, we will learn the characteristics of Screwtape that make him the ideal mentor for Wormwood.

Experienced and Intelligent

Through his experiences, Wormwood has a lot of valuable information to share. His knowledge of the Enemy (God) is fairly advanced for the Underworld, but there are some things that evil will never really understand about good. Although, to prevent a heresy charge, Screwtape would probably not reveal all of the things that he has learned.

Screwtape writes of God: 'When He talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.'

Wise and Manipulative

Screwtape can offer infinite wisdom about the motivations of humans. Although nothing can replace the one-to-one knowledge that a tempter can use on his patient, understanding some basic tenets, like how to keep a man in sin by keeping him out of reality and focused on himself, can be applied to multiple scenarios.

'…Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools,' Screwtape says. 'And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.'

Screwtape takes advantage of any weakness.

But his manipulations are not limited to humans. When Wormwood tries to betray him, he appeals to Wormwood's familial affection and offers of protection, while working a back angle with his connections. Once he is able to smooth things over, he turns on Wormwood and lets him know he will suffer consequences.

Cruelly Sarcastic

Frequently, Screwtape's dry, sarcastic wit will drive his point home. Like in these instances:

  • When Wormwood betrays him, Screwtape sends him a brochure about the new House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters.
  • When explaining how women tend to see unselfishness as sacrifice, he uses this example, 'She's the sort of woman who lives for others - you can tell the others by their hunted expression.'
  • When Wormwood asks if Screwtape loves him, Screwtape tells Wormwood how much he will love consuming him.

Singularly Focused

The closest thing Screwtape has to a virtue is that he is very patient and intuitive about pushing too far into big sins. He has learned to keep his eyes on the prize and is not distracted by entertaining things like war. The objective for a tempter is quantity over quality.

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