Summary: Analyzes The Chryslaids, by John Whyndham. Describes the motivation behind the actions of main characters. Also explores the personalities of major characters.
“The Chrysalids” by John Wyndham is a science fiction novel which takes place in the future, years after a nuclear holocaust has devastated large areas of the world. The story focuses on the lives of a group of telepathic children, who are forced to flee to “The Fringes, a place where whoever is not the “True Image of God”, is a mutant. The text is written in first person and narrated by David Strorm, one of the telepathic children. It follows David’s life and the events he encounters. “The Chrysalids” shows the distinct separation between what is normal and what is abnormal. Wyndham explores many themes throughout the text, the main one being fear. “Most people are motivated by fear”, in “The Chrysalids.” This essay will explore the theme of fear with the different groups and important characters, shaping the theme of fear present in the text. These groups are the ‘Waknuk Community’, who believe they are the “true image of God.” The ‘Telepathic children’, who runaway or risk their abilities being found out and ‘The Fringes’ people, known as the ‘Mutants’, who are the one’s with deviations.
Waknuk is a society of the future with a setting from the past. It is one of the few places, which have survived Tribulation but it is a primitive society, where people reject change and difference in belief that that is how the ‘Old People’ lived. Waknuk is dominated by a religion, which is obsessed by perfection. “And any creature that shall seem to be human…it is a Blasphemy against the trueimage of God, and hateful in the sight of God.” (13) They believe they are the “True image of God”, and anyone or anything different is a ‘Mutant’. That is what they fear, ‘mutants’. Joseph Strorm is a strong believer in what is right and what is wrong. This fear has motivated him to capture, kill or banish the Blasphemies to ‘The Fringes’. Him and the other ‘norms’, have a fear of difference and change. “Accursed is the mutant in the sight of God and man.” (76) Joseph sent Aunt Harriet away just because her baby had a slight deviation and he called it a ‘mutant’. Later in the text, Aunt Harriet commits suicide. If it were not for Joseph’s fear of difference, Aunt Harriet would still be alive. His fear of the ‘mutants’ results in his own children running away from him and the Waknuk society.
The children play a big part in shaping the theme of fear together in ‘The Chrysalids’. The children know they are different, and they fear their elders and their parents. These children possess powers of telepathy, which would be known as, a deviation in Waknuk. Their fear is that their powers will somehow be revealed and they will therefore be captured, killed or cast away to The Fringes. The children’s fear of their telepathy being exposed has motivated them to runaway. “Katherine has admitted it, confessed.” (130) Katherine’s fear of losing her life motivated her to confess that her and a few others were telepathic. First she had a fear about her abilities being found out but then she had to fear her life if she did not tell the norms what was so different about her and why she was running away. “I’ve killed him Michael. He’s quite dead.” (128) Rosalind’s fears lead her to kill a man, yet she felt so guilty about it, although they tortured many of her kind. She may have felt guilty as she thought the norms would find out that she killed that man and then they would kill her. David and Petra Strorm are the ringleaders in the escape. “If we were to survive, we must keep our true self hidden…” When Petra was drowning, David and Rosalind heard her cries through their minds, which then made them fear more, as people were becoming suspicious as no-one else heard her. They then had to fear Petra, as they realised he powers were much too strong for her and she was too young to fully understand it. She may tell someone about it and therefore would leave the other telepathy people at a greater risk.
The people that live in the Fringes are like the children, forced to live in the Fringes because of their slight deviation, big or small. Although they live in a place with their kind, they still have their fears. Fears that oneday, the norms will capture and kill every one of them. These fears have left them to live a life of forever fearing and living in concealment. Sophie has six toes and is a childhood friend of David’s. “Nobody must know. Nobody at all-not ever.” (12) When David accidentally finds out about her extra toe, Sophie’s mum, Mrs Wender, told him not to tell a soul. That is when Sophie’s fears really begin. She still had the fear that she would be found, but now she had fears about David telling someone, which could result in her being taken away. Although Mrs. Wender does not live in the Fringes and does not have a deviation, her fears are still as monstrous. She has to fear for Sophie’s life. If they ever found out about Sophie, they would take Sophie away and would probably kill her for not reporting a Blasphemy. The fears of Mrs. Wender and the other people that live in the Fringes have motivated them to live a life of seclusion and being isolated from everyone and everything else.
Many characters in “The Chrysalids”, are motivated by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of difference, which has lead to a life ofseclusion from other societies. The word Chrysalids is derived from chrysalis, meaning the stage, which the larvae of butterflies and moths pass through before they become adults. It could refer to the fact that life is full of changes and it will change no matter what. When the children reach Sealand it represents freedom, they are free from their fears like when a butterfly is able to fly, it is free. In the end, the characters no longer have their same fears. They have beneficial fears of the future, as they do not know what the future holds for them. If the children did not have fears they would not have been motivated to runaway and find a home where they truly belong. If the Fringes people did not have their fears, they would not have found each other. If the Waknuk community did not have fears, they would not realise that the world lives on reformation and contrast. “But life is change, that is how it differs from the rocks, change is its very nature… The idea of completed man is the supreme vanity: the finished image is a sacrilegious myth.” (182)
This is the complete article, containing 1,135 words(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page).
Many times in the book, characters help each other out in order to achieve a mutual goal. We see David help out Sophie when she gets her foot stuck. We also see Uncle Axel help out David when David confides in him about his abilities. The struggles that the characters go through are often lessened by their relationships with friends. David helps Petra when she is in danger and he also helps her to hone her telepathic abilities. One the greatest acts of friendship is when Michael stays behind to be with Rachel and thus loses the opportunity to leave Waknuk. Harsh times in the novel are often endured through friendship, and friendship serves as a strong support for the characters when they are going through challenges.
Intolerance is among the biggest themes in the Chrysalids. So many of the characters are unable to accept each other’s views and beliefs. For example, Joseph Strorm would destroy all sorts of "deviants" because he feels they are demons not created by God—he is even willing to turn against his own children. Also, the Sealand lady, despite being a lot more respectable than Joseph, looks down on people who are not telepaths. She Others them by labeling them as "inferior." Lastly, the Fringes believe the Waknuk people are arrogant, and are intolerant of anybody who is "normal." Every group in the Chrysalids has reasoning about why they are better than another group, thereby creating intolerance and their own definition of otherness.
David and the group of telepaths are all isolated from the Waknuk society because of their deviant qualities. Their society sees their ability as a threat and as a deviation from the norm, and eventually, when the society finds out, it forces them to leave. Isolation is related to intolerance because intolerance leads to persecution and isolation of characters who do not fit the norm. For example, Sophie is isolated from other children because she has 6 toes, and she has to be kept secret from the Waknuk society because they would exile her if she were found out. Every person with a genetic mutation is considered an outcast in Waknuk society.
The Tribulation caused such a powerful destruction of the earth that it took hundreds of years for societies to redevelop. Waknuk demonstrates a purposeful evolution back to the Norm in that it used certain processes to purify unwanted genetic mutation in their crops and in their bloodlines. The Wild Country has thus been able to become farmed land. The regrowth and reclaiming of the damaged lands has also been reported outside of Waknuk, by the explorer Marther, who stated, “just as Wild Country becomes tractable, and Badlands country slowly gives way to habitable Fringes country, so, it would seem, are the Blacklands contracting within the Badlands” (61). In the other direction, The Sealand people, or New People, believe they are evolving to become a newer, better species of human, and because of their superiority, they need to kill or fight all those who are not evolving to be able to think together. The Sealand woman states, “The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; we are part of it” (196).
Deviations in David’s society are closely watched because they are considered the manifestation of the Devil in humans, plants, and animals. However, there is also much dispute over which Deviations require Purification, and which can be left as they are. While the definition of man and woman is contained in the Repentances, and the Government of Rigo provides guidelines on recognized species of plants and animals, there is still much dispute due to fear and intolerance surrounding any abnormality. The fear is present due to the heavy puritanical influence of the Waknuk society, and the strongly worded warnings from Repentances, such as “The Devil is the Father of Deviation” (18). The people thus feel that they have to vigilant in order to catch any signs of evil. In the words of the Inspector, “The Devil sends Deviations among us to weaken us and tempt us away from Purity. Sometimes he is clever enough to make a near-perfect imitation, so we have to always be on the look-out for the mistake he has made” (55).
The basis of the conflict of the novel is Waknuk’s evangelical and puritanical position on the True Image of man, as defined by their religious text Nicholson’s Repentances. The entire Waknuk society originated and grew based on these beliefs, and their community is organized around these teachings. The schooling and the government are strongly influenced by the religion. David is also exposed in a secondhand way to the beliefs of the peoples of other lands, who believe that their form of Deviation is the True Image of the Old People, as interpreted by Uncle Axel. Later in the novel, two other points of view are shown. One is the religion of the Fringes people, in which they believe that Tribulation was meant to change things, to give people a fresh start, with new species and new forms of humans. The other is the Sealand philosophy, in which they believe that superior genetic mutations, such as the ability to think together telepathically, are meant to to inherit the earth.
The idea of justice is implied in the cause of the disaster that was Tribulation: justice, religion claims, was served through Tribulation to the people who were sinning. Similarly, the inspector and the magistrate (Joseph Strorm) act to serve justice to the impure people, animals, and land that occur in Waknuk. They believe justice must be served to that which is mutant. Joseph Strorm even goes so far as to serve justice himself when he believes the Dakers’ cat is an abomination, i.e. not of a recognized breed. The Sealand people also have a very harsh viewpoint on justice, stating that they need to aggressively protect their own species against others, or else risk annihilation. Thus, for the Sealanders, because their New People are superior, they need to preserve their kind; in order to do so, the inferior or primitive people need to be destroyed.