The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is classic work of Christian literature of the modern era. Not only does this book communicate many important lessons, it does it in a way that is entertaining and rich in symbology. This symbology, more specifically the symbology of the two devils, Screwtape and Wormwood, will be the main topic of this paper. These two demon spirits are believed to symbolize numerous things. The interpretation will explore their representation of different aspects of the human mind. Wormwood represents the id aspect of the mind and Screwtape is symbolic of the ego and controlling.
The meaning of the terms ‘id’ and ‘ego’ must be clarified to make the comparison. Famous and revolutionary psychologist Sigmund Freud hypothesized about these two devices. Freud believes that the ‘id’ is the part of the consciousness that represents all of the mind’s basic drives and wants such as gluttony and sex (Meilaender 140). These thoughts were often balanced out by the ego. The ego is a mechanism that transforms socially unacceptable thoughts into other, symbolic forms. The ego often must force the id’s thoughts into the unconscious and only admit the “sanitized” ideas through by putting them into the forms of dreams(Meilaender 141).
It is easy to fit Wormwood into the id’s place. Throughout the book it is Wormwood’s job to put unclean thoughts into the head of “the patient”(Noorata 68). Wormwood is also constantly regulated by Screwtape, both throughout the course of the book and in the very end when Wormwood must be eaten by his fellow devils. This action could clearly be interpreted as metaphorical to the suppression of the id fantasies by the ego. “Wormwood shamelessly feeds on any pain in the world of humans like when he states that he is ?delirious with joy? upon the beginning of World War Two” (Staples 69).
Fitting Screwtape into the place of the ego is slightly less clear, but it is still completely probable. Screwtape has control and manipulative power over the entire situation. It is in the beginning of chapter three that Screwtape demonstrates how to manipulate the prayers of a human against their soul. Screwtape too enjoys the suffering of humans, but he does it with a temperance that always keeps the goal ahead.
To analyze fully the significance of Screwtape and Wormwood, one must first fully understand who and what they are. Foremost they are devils, the typical biblical representation of devils with certain added traits. These characters display demonic powers such as shape-shifting which are not often under their control. All of their actions and language are completely opposite of that of heaven and the Christian church. Screwtape and Wormwood refer to Satan, their chief deity and head of their diabolical bureaucracy, as “Our Father Below.” God, the Christian god, is most often refer to as to as “The Enemy.”
Beyond these traits the two main demons each have distinct personalities of their own. Wormwood, the younger of the two is the newer and less experienced of the pair. He still makes relatively simple mistakes as compared to the more experienced Screwtape. At the other end of the spectrum, Screwtape is the older devil and is Wormwood’s uncle. Screwtape is higher up in the chain of command, being undersecretary to a department, and thus can, and often does, give advice or orders to Wormwood. Screwtape serves as a counseling and controlling voice for the young Wormwood.
The end effect of this moral torture is unquestionably turbulent throughout the curse of the book. The life of the “patient” can be tracked over the course of the book. It is known that he lived in England somewhere around the beginning of World War Two. This man is probably around middle age or a little younger. He lives in the same house as his mother, with whom he is having constant disagreements. Early in the story he is converted to Christianity, much to the dismay of Wormwood and is rapidly averted from salvation by the actions of Wormwood under Screwtape?s guidance. This new faith is also used by Screwtape and Wormwood to contort his notions of morality. Still, the man resists and the demons resort to using lust as a deterrent from salvation, this too, fails. Somewhere towards the middle of the story, the human falls in love and marries what Screwtape describes as “a vile simpering, mouselike bread and butter” Christian. Through this girl and her family, he meets even more Christians in all walks of life. By his discussions and time with them he starts to grows in faith and in God. It is during this later time that Screwtape and Wormwood begin to really force into his mind questions about religion, government and basic morality. Still the human, with the aid of his wife and friends, holds steadfast to his Christian beliefs, even believing when, in a bomb shelter he is killed. This belief is what saves his soul. At the last instant he is taken to heaven and allowed to see the suffering face of his demonic tormentor, Wormwood.
Whether or not C.S. Lewis intended for this book to be understood in this way is debatable. He usually strove for a simpler meaning in his literary works using clear metaphors for aspects of everyone?s lives. It is also not known weather Lewis studied the field of psychology. If the idea of archetypes holds true then these aspects of the mind are essentially known to everyone, especially to C.S. Lewis. By the theory of archetypes, these ideas may have shown up in religion and morality. One might argue that they already have, in many religions, even Christianity. “The ego and id aspects of the mind may be what the Bible was referring to when it had stories of the very devils and possessing demons” (Roby 47).
One aspect of the book that is perhaps the most obvious is the way it uses reverse psychology to guide the Christian conscience. One such case is the letter on how to ?save? the patient from church, things like focusing their mind on other, trivial things, such as the appearance of other churchgoers or important events after the mass. Another such occurrence is in the chapter on gluttony, this section toys not with gluttony of volume, but more with unnecessary fastidiousness in habit (Staples 56). “For example, it prods at the people who must have their eggs ?just-so? or only ?really like? a certain type of toast. But, where these passages warn one of certain pitfalls, others chastise for habits that everyone has. Among these are using unnecessary tones of voice, reading too far into statements and picking at the habits of others”(Noorata 91).
In summary, many facets of The Screwtape Letters has been explored. Among these aspects are: interpretation of the book, psychological theory dealing with the book and entertaining aspects of the book. As for interpretation, this paper argued the idea of the two main devils being symbolic of different functions of the mind, specifically the id and ego aspects in Freudian theory.