The Chrysalids – Author

  • John Wyndham was born in England in 1903
  • he became interested in science fiction in the 1920s
  • his work in sci fi is interesting in that he does not concentrate on amusing the reader with strange inventions of technology from a bewildering future
  • Wyndham’s settings in the future are logical, identifiable extensions of the world of today.
  • his interest lies in speculation about human nature and human behaviour
  • this would account for his attention to customs and moral codes displayed in the different societies in his book
  • time and again he points out the hypocrisy, bigotry and ignorance which are so often a part of our social life and he stresses that changing conditions demand new ways, new customs and new codes of conduct.

The Chrysalids – Style

  • The author is mainly concerned with sociological and psychological issues in a society faced with the after effects of a nuclear holocaust.
  • Most of the characters fall into groups. The Waknuk group is held together by its religion, the Fringes people by their deviations, and David and his group by their telepathic abilities.
  • The story is told in the first person.
  • This narrative method has advantages for the novel.
  • It is a more personal account and David is more likely to win the reader to his side, against the horrors of Waknuk.
  • Above all, there is an air of truth to what David is saying, and this fact intensifies every situation in the novel.
  • the conditions of David’s civilization differ only in detail from our own and can be related partly by the child-David as explains them to Sophie
  • for David to do all of the narration would be tiresome, and as he is only a child, he is not likely to know all the information conveniently, Uncle Axel explains it to him.
  • Because Axel is a broad-minded, thinking person, the reader is given a fuller, less prejudiced account than he might have received from someone like Joseph Strorm.

The Chrysalids – Geographical

  • Although both Labrador and New Zealand escape nuclear destruction, the similarities end there
  • whereas Sealand is industrial and progressive, Waknuk is agricultural and regressive or, at best, stagnant
  • The middle of Labrador is affected by the nuclear holocaust to the extent that its climate is now temperate and suited to agricultural development.

The Chrysalids – Social

  • although the immediate area is fairly free of deviations, the further one goes in a southerly direction, the more the abnormalities increase
  • in those areas, there is little control of nature by man, and all types of deviant from of life thrive
  • the Fringes, which follow the Wild Country as one moves further south, contains practically no normal forms of life as we know them, and beyond this belt is a vast area known as the Badlands, where the worst results of radiation are found
  • in some areas, nothing grows at all, everything is black char or even polished glass
  • Evidence in the novel indicates that the Badlands are areas of what was once southern Canada and the United States.
  • The single, dominant fact of life in Waknuk, as David learns in his lessons in Ethics, is the process of climbing back into the grace of God.
  • Tribulation has been a punishment, like expulsion from Eden, the Flood and so on, and the road back to God’s favour is not an easy one.
  • since there is only one true path, only the church and lay authorities could properly rule on what is right and proper
  • anything that deviates from what they say is normal has to be destroyed
  • above all, mankind’s greatest duty is to see that the human form is kept true to the divine pattern
  • for guidance, the people of Waknuk could turn to the bible, which has survived Tribulation but , more often, they turn to Nicholson’s Repentances
  • consequently, this volume is both a rule book and a justification for the stern morality of Waknuk
  • Because it is so dominant, little else penetrates David’s existence as a child.

The Chrysalids – Atmosphere

  • in the novel, the atmosphere varies extensively
  • there is normal interest in the beginning but then stronger curiosity in this novel arises from the urge to identify the society
  • as the setting, characters and background are established, the atmosphere begin to change to one of fear
  • this occurs for two reasons: the amazing lack of charity, and unbending set of rules in David’s community are frightening in themselves, but, by this time, we have come to know and like David, and, realizing that he too is a deviant, we fear for him
  • several incidents such as the flight of the Wenders, and the suicide of Aunt Harriet, increase this fear
  • We know anticipate and expect that David will be discovered. When it finally does happen, there is almost a sense of relief by this time there is an air of hope.
  • Petra’s communication with a whole society of “thought-shapers” gives some assurance that the fugitives will escape.
  • It is significant that the only atmosphere of importance is  the pathos which surrounds Sophie and a few other unfortunates. only at the very end of the novel are there any feelings f joy.

The Chrysalids – Theme

  • Theme and satire are very closely interwoven in The Chrysalids. Many of the critical ideas in the novel are pointed directly at the shortcomings of David’s society and, indirectly, at our society.
  • The people of Waknuk purge from their mindset anything that is not normal, or at least, does not look like their concept of normal.
  • David’s society, despite its concern for the True Image, allows the great horses to be bred and used
  • for the sake of profit the True Image can be ignored
  • hypocrisy is shown to be a universal human condition and the people of Waknuk are no different than us
  • the graphic description of the Badlands, the deviations, the age of barbarism, the horror of Tribulation, all point out the inherent dangers of nuclear war and perhaps more effectively, the finality of such a war
  • A chief critical theme is the one implied by the title of the novel. Chrysalid is a term taken from biology
  • it describes the state through which a larva must pass before becoming an insect
  • In this state the larva is wrapped in a hard case or shell, takes no food and is totally inactive.
  • this is precisely the  state Joseph Strorm and his kind are trying to maintain and force on humanity
  • as the Sealand lady points out, evolution cannot be denied and the chrysalid cannot be stooped in its development to the next stage
  • the Waknuk society’s anti intellectualism, which tries to eliminate both logic and imagination, and its efforts to deny evolution, are doomed to be a dead end
  • Wyndham’s attacks on this kind of thinking varies from satire to outright bitterness.
  • The satire is chiefly directed Joseph Strorm. Since he personifies all that is wrong with the community’s religious ideas, he is made to appear as a frustrated and dangerous buffoon
  • But criticism can take a crueller form, such as Sophie’s fate, or Aunt Harriet’s suicide.
  • their stories introduce a sense of helpless frustration for they point out not only the foolishness of the Waknuk philosophy but also the futility of trying to defeat it
  • Uncle Axel, as the mouthpiece of the author, supplies the most apt analysis of the situation for he tells David that every group of people he has seen in his travels thinks that the True Image is themselves.
  • no one, he points out, could ever be sure that the True Image is right, for it comes from Nicholson’s Repentances, written after Tribulation
  • Only the Sealanders offer hope to David and his friends in their wish to improve and develop mankind, they give hope to the novel.
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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