Just in case anybody wanted to know what I've been working on all afternoon, here is my final rhetorical analysis of Chapter 8 of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" to be turned in bright and early at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning in Writing 150, a class that is quickly proving to be the bane of my existence.
Now, I love writing (why else would I have started a blog?) but this class, I'm telling you, sucks every last ounce of creativity and fun out of it.
I normally wouldn't post something like this, but I'm a little proud of this one. This is my favorite book and I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to take a closer look.
Expositions of the Adversary: A Backwards Plea for Righteousness
C.S. Lewis’ renowned epistolary novel, “The Screwtape Letters,” satirically speaks on the fundamental aspects of Christianity, particularly concerning several tactics that the Devil uses in order to break down the righteous determination of the followers of God and bring them down to damnation. The book’s title character, Screwtape, plays the part of the Devil, or in this case, “senior demon,” and through letters tries to teach his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, to do just this. However, Lewis’ main objective is not to encourage this behavior, but rather to illuminate several of the methods that the adversary employs, so that they may be aware enough to avoid them. One of the most profound letters in the book takes place shortly after Wormwood’s efforts begin to chip away at the resolve of their latest project, referred to as “the patient”. By using Screwtape’s interactions with Wormwood as well as cleverly considered examples of backwards logic, involving humans’ control of their own physical selves, acknowledging and insulting the very foundation upon which Christianity is built, and inadvertently instilling hope within the reader, Lewis effectively ensures that his intended messages reach his primarily Christian reader population.
C.S. Lewis’ message begins with Screwtape’s referral to humans as amphibians, suggesting that as “half spirit and half animal” creatures, humans have no control over their own carnal desires. He explains to Wormwood that as “amphibious” creatures, their spirits are of an eternal nature, but their bodies inhabit time alone, meaning that “while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change.” One of the most prominent features of the devil’s devices to capture good souls is to take control of their carnal selves. Lewis’ exposal of this approach does an effective job of allowing readers to be aware of this and keep both their minds and bodies away from carnal, or “animal” temptations that arise.
The discussion of spirit versus animal selves is further emphasized by Screwtape’s claims that humans’ only constant is what he coins “undulation-the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” His assertion that humans are incapable of finding any constant other than this between their spiritual and animal selves is a blatant undermining of human intelligence. People don’t appreciate being told that they have no control over their actions or circumstances, and C.S. Lewis likely intended to elicit an emotional response from the reader, sparking the surety that they do not have to fall prey to this undulation, and that it is entirely possible to have sufficient control of their actions to at least keep them far from the devil’s influences.
Lewis makes a point in Screwtape’s letter of addressing the “dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going” as a natural phenomenon and inadvertently admits to his apprentice that they as an evil force are not actually as all-powerful as they claim. In act, this reference to a natural phenomenon is, in a way, an admission to the existence of and intimidation by another powerful force at work in opposition to him. Additionally, Screwtape is discrediting any work that Wormwood has done thus far, waning his confidence in all the work he had put forth and weakening his resolve, ever so slightly, to continue. By displaying the fact that the adversary is very aware and very afraid of the more powerful righteous force working against him, Lewis intends to increase confidence in his readers that following God is the right decision.
References to the God figure by Screwtape as “the Enemy” throughout this letter is a clear emotional appeal to the Christian audience as a way to fortify their belief in dand obedience to God. The Christian community generally does not appreciate the source of their faith being criticized or discredited in any way. Lewis’ approach of having Screwtape deliberately insult the very foundation upon which Christianity is built is a sure way to bring the readers of the book immediately to God’s defense and have a greater steadfastness in abstaining from their true “Enemy,” which is Screwtape himself.
Lewis’ devil character makes the biggest mistake of all by unintentionally instilling hope within the readers. He explains to Wormwood that the Enemy wants His followers to learn to walk, and in order to do so He must remove his influence from their lives. Although Screwtape views this as a major flaw in the Enemy’s perfect plan and advises Wormwood to take full advantage of these times, Lewis destroys his argument completely in favor of righteousness by saying, “if only the will to walk is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles.” It is a largely held Christian belief that a huge part of the test of mortal life is to experience trials and make it to the other side as a better person with fortified strength and increased faith in God, and it is by using this very faith during trials that God is still pleased in His followers. To Wormwood, these trials may seem like a window of opportunity to work on “the Patient,” but to Christ-believing Christian readers, the acknowledgement that Screwtape’s own “enemy” will forgive the imperfections of His followers as long as they are faithful and have the will to go on is a reaffirmation of exactly how they’re supposed to be living anyway.
In this letter Lewis effectively shows that he intended “The Screwtape Letters” to make a difference in people’s lives. The author has a striking way in this passage of connecting to his readers in a very profoundly emotional way, drawing upon important facets of their core religious values. He draws upon the sensitive subjects of personal self control, shows the true fear that exists but is often hidden behind the arrogant persona of the adversary, spark the readers’ desire to come to the defense of what they truly believe, and explains that righteousness is the true way to happiness in mortal life.
Have a great evening! I'm off to study body parts and clothes and reflexive verbs in French now, and watch the SEASON FINALE of Project Runway!
All my love, B.