Literary Analysis on Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

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Literary Analysis:
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
By Agatha Xaris Villa

A. Introduction & Rationale

It is said that among the major literary genres recognized today, the ‘novel’ is the most accessible to the majority of the readership. However, in terms of stylistic analysis, novels are the most difficult subjects to analyze. However, a trend that has been observed for the bulk of the twentieth-century is that literary criticism conducted on the genre of narrative texts (i.e. novels) have primarily focused on narrative point of view (Short, 1996, pg. 256) and this is not without cause.

Among the literary genres, the novel, prototypically, has the most complex narrative discourse structure. In contrast to the prototypical poem and play, the novel has at least three levels of discourse –the author-reader, character-character level, and the narrator-narratee level (Short, 1996, pg. 256-257). The complexity of the novel’s discourse structure is why it has the most number of viewpoints and why it is believed to be the most ideal literary form in which to study viewpoint (Short, 1996, pg. 257)

In light of this premise, I shall be attempting to objectively conduct a literary analysis on an extract taken from The Screwtape Letters (1942), the popular satire written by C.S. Lewis with a focus on point of view.

When I first read The Screwtape Letters, one of the aspects which I found most refreshingly original and creative about the text was the way in which this age-old story of “good VS evil” was presented by the author. While there are certainly other creative aspect in the text, C.S. Lewis’ creative manipulation of viewpoint is what I believe provides readers with that distinct sense of creativity and originality.

To support this thesis, I will be exploring viewpoint from both macro-level (describing the general discourse relations in the novel) and micro-level (giving an account of the linguistic indicators of viewpoint that show how the author manipulates viewpoint through smaller-scale linguistic choices).

B. Basic Information about the Story

The Screwtape Letters is what is known as an epistolary novel –a narrative that is told through a series of documents (usually journal entries or letters) from the pen of one or more characters from the story. A characteristic of such types of novels is its ability to provide a very intimate and in-depth view of the writers giving the story a good dose of realness.

In all, The Screwtape Letters is comprised of a series of 31 letters written by one of hell’s own ‘undersecretaries’ – a high-standing demon by the name of Screwtape, who is writing to his nephew, Wormwood, who has only just received his first ‘patient’. Throughout the letters, Screwtape passes to Wormwood techniques on temptation and basic devilry – all to secure the eternal damnation of this one soul in the courts of their “Father Below”.

From his own morally-reversed ‘demonic’ perspective, Screwtape explains (to Wormwood) and unveils (to the reader) a new perspective on the spirituality of ‘everyday life’ – something that ordinary men and women are unaware of. He also shows a very vivid contrast between the ways of ‘The Father Below’ and ‘The Enemy’ (God). Of course, as a demon, he speaks of ‘The Enemy’ and his ways with disdain and disgust but to the Christian reader, these are mere affirmations of faith. The story ends as the worst of Screwtape’s own ‘bad scenarios’ is indeed realized – in the death of ‘the patient’ in an air-raid.

As mentioned, there are often several levels of discourse to be considered to understand what is going on. In the case of The Screwtape Letters, I believe there are three: a novelist-reader level, narrator-narratee level and the character-character level (as illustrated below).

Level 1
Addresser 1 (C.S. Lewis) --> MESSAGE --> Addressee 1 (Reader)

Level 2
Addresser 2 (Screwtape: narrator) --> MESSAGE --> Addressee 2 (Narratee)...
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