The Chrysalids by John Wyndham has the author focusing on a variety of issues that individuals are constantly challenged with in life. The people of the fictional village of Waknuk have to struggle against constant prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance within their community. There is a constant theme of using faith as a source of control over the population, as the novel beckons its readers to understand how fear has the ability to shape and manipulate society.
The Chrysalids is set in the distant future after the horrifying and devastating onslaught of a nuclear holocaust. The story focuses on David Strorm, a young boy who resides on a farm in Waknuk, a reclusive and religious farming town in Labrador.
In Waknuk, there is no place for individuality, as everything and everyone is required to conform to a strict societal norm, free of divergences and outliers. Any slight or major “deviations” are considered hateful sins in the sight of God and must be destroyed. If they are human, they become sterilized to prevent them from producing more mutants, and they are exiled to the Fringes, a radioactive wasteland where members of the community are forbidden to venture towards.
Words and language are a notable motif in The Chrysalids, as it isDavid’s ability to communicate without words that makes him a “Blasphemy”. This ability frightens the leaders of Waknuk not only because David has the capacity to orchestrate a secret uprising against them with his newfound powers, but also because David’s very existence challenges the authority of the words on which the leaders’ political powers are based. By classifying David as a “Blasphemy”, the leaders of Waknuk contradict the very words they uphold and defend. In the novel, a Blasphemy is described as someone who doesn’t appear to portray a likeness to the Image of God and differs from the Definition of Man. However, David fits perfectly within the Definition, as his telepathic powers don’t affect his physical appearance and are ignored within the Definition. His existence exemplifies that the words contained within the documents known as Repentances are not all-encompassing and do not apply to the entire population, and that the ideas promoted within them are opinions rather than facts.
Waknuk functions within a set of laws and beliefs that discriminates against anyone or anything that does not conform to their societal norm. Those who deviate from the Image of God as prescribed by the Definition of Man are segregated from society and sterilized in order to stop the production of any more Deviations. The Chrysalids reveal the utter hypocrisy and appalling nature of any society that terminates its members in an attempt to display purity and a sense of “morality”. This is a morally reprehensible and a deeply misguided act. The people who are the targets of this unforgiving and systemic racist behavior prove to be those with the highest moral standards, and the novel makes a clear statement about the futile and ignorant nature of determining someone’s character from their appearance.
I believe that The Chrysalids is a brilliantly conceived work from the classical era of science fiction. It is a philosophical warning that has as much resonance in today’s world, when genetic and religious facets are more significant than ever, as when it was written during the Cold War. It’s unbelievable how this apoplectic setting could have stigmatized controversies at the time of its release, for only a decade earlier the world had suffered through World War II, and the horrors were still embedded within the minds of the population. The concept that had appalled me most after reading the Chrysalids is that, even after five decades of prejudice and warfare, people are still attempting to overpower one other, committing heinous crimes against each other in the name of superiority and ambition. The Chrysalids reveal that, even if we do live in an advanced and civilized society, the worldwide community contains unstable and corrupt practices within society that are biased towards those who are different. The novel conveys a utilitarian notion that people shouldn’t discriminate against others just because they harbor disparate opinions. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who admires regrowth, evolution, and positive deviations within the mediocrity of society.