The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The title “The Chrysalids” signifies that it is a novel about change. The word “chrysalid” is related to the word “chrysalis”, which means “the form which butterflies, moths, and most other insects assume when they change from the state of larva or caterpillar and before they arrive at their winged or perfect state”. Or in simpler terms, it is the state where the caterpillar does most, if not all, of its change into a butterfly. Change can happen anywhere, whether it be in a physical form, such as the caterpillar turning into a butterfly, or evolution of entire species; a mental state, for instance a deeper comprehension of an emotion, or an education towards acceptance and understanding; or in a social environment, for example the abolishment of slavery and the non-discriminatory laws. Change

is almost inevitable, fore it is the driving force of life. With out change life could not adapt to its surroundings and survive. If change were to stop, then life would become meaningless. The Earth would be the same if there was life with no change, than if there was no life at all. Generally when people ponder about the notion change, they think about a process where a thing transforms into a better version of itself. While change is usually associated with evolution, it can sometimes be the complete opposite. Change can happen for the worse, though it is seldom seen. With life comes change, and though in The Chrysalids some change is not for the better, character, environment and the community all slowly develop into something else.

David changes a lot throughout the novel The Chrysalids. Many things in his life have shaped him, but the most significant is Sophie and the many promises he made as a young boy. The caterpillar stage for David is when he was a young boy. He goes into his chrysalis when he meets Sophie since that is the day his mind begins to change. Sophie was David’s best friend, and he soon found out that she was in fact a mutant because of her miniscule sixth toe. David, being a young boy, did not think much of the mutation. Although David was raised to believe that mutants were a frightful thing, he thought that “there was nothing frightful about Sophie” (pg. 14) because he got to know Sophie before he knew about the mutation. He thought that if Sophie, “an ordinary girl” (pg. 14), were to be “hateful in the sight of God” (pg. 13) than “there must be a mistake somewhere” (pg. 14) in his religion. Sophie’s mother made David promise not to tell anyone about Sophie’s sixth toe. Sophie’s mother said that if anybody were to find out about Sophie “they’d be terribly unkind to her” (pg. 12). David knew that they would be unkind to her because of her sixth toe, but he did not comprehend why so many people would hate such a little toe, and how such a little toe can cause so much anxiety. When he was a little older he found out that he was also “abnormal” because of his telepathic powers. Once while sending thought shapes he was caught by his uncle, Axel, and was asked what he was doing. David briefly explained what he was doing and the whole concept of thought shapes. Luckily, Uncle Axel was David’s friend and was unsure of the image of man. Uncle Axel, knowing the kind of society he and David live in, makes David promise not to tell anyone else about his gift. Uncle Axel says to David:

Just after that promise, uncle Axel makes David promise that he will “never do it out loud anymore”(pg. 31) so that the risk of being caught is reduced. Through these promises to Sophie’s mother and Uncle Axel, David becomes aware that he is different and as he grows from a boy into a man, he realizes that he must hide his thought shapes from society so that he can survive. He knows that not all deviations are harmful, like his society would want him to believe. His thoughts about his society have never been the same after the promises. In his chrysalis, David spoke with his uncle Axel about the places beyond his town. Uncle Axel was a sailor, so he tells David of all the strange stories he heard from other sailors. Strange stories of lands where women do all the work and eat the men when they are 24 years old, places where heads of corn grow taller than small trees, where very strange plants grow that could not be classified as anything normal. David learns about people on other lands who think they are the true image of man and persecute and kill anyone who is different. These stories about the people in far off lands from Uncle Axel show David that everyone has their own image, and no one knows for sure if their definition is correct. It teaches David to question things that people tell him, rather than just accept them. It also teaches David that even though a group of people want you to believe something, like the true image of man, it does not make it true. This shows David that he could actually be the true image. Near the end of the novel, David is ready to emerge from his chrysalis as a man whose hardships has changed him into an entirely new person.

While change is happening in David’s life, Waknuk, the main town in the book, is changing environmentally. Waknuk is town that is run by its religion. It wants to “keep pure the stock of the Lord” (pg. 18), so they actively root out differences in plants and animals, which are called deviations, and destroy them. Abnormalities in humans are labelled abominations and are also punished by sterilization and banishment. Many of the residents of Labrador believe that God sent Tribulation to kill the Old People because the Old People thought that they were superior to Him. Through hints in the book one can conclude that Labrador is actually the province of Labrador in Canada, the Old People they are referring to are us and tribulation was a nuclear holocaust that killed almost everything on the earth, the “tribulation” that was nearest to them was probably a nuclear bomb dropped somewhere in the central-eastern United States. Uncle Axel talked about places that have completely turned black, some places that glow at night, and places where nothing grows. He said that if you sail far enough you come to a place where there are no fish in the sea. These are caused by the nuclear explosion and the radiation that would kill anything, and not let anything grow for centuries. David is taught that outside of Labrador there are the Fringes, where there are lots of deviations. After the Fringes there is the Badlands, where only deviations grow. The Badlands is the furthest away from Labrador; therefore it is close to United States. The radiation, coming out of the site where the nuclear bomb was dropped, is causing all the deviation through genetic mutation. Examples of this can be seen after the Hiroshima bomb. In Hiroshima, after the Atomic Bomb was dropped, babies around the area were being born with no hair or no finger nails. A nuclear bomb that is many times larger than the atomic bomb would give of many times more radiation and cause more severe mutation. A nuclear blast would turn land black because of the mass explosion. The places that glow at night are caused by the nuclear radiation given off by the explosion and the plutonium used in nuclear bombs. Nothing would grow because the radiation would either kill everything or make plants and animals sterile so they cannot reproduce. The fish in the sea would die because of radiation and water contamination. Another example of how the environment is changing is that David commented on how people think that Labrador used to be a cold place in the time of the Old People.

David also said that “there are only two cold months in the year now” (pg. 39). Immense heat from nuclear blast would warm the environment. Climate change would probably follow because a giant nuclear blast would send smoke and gas into the atmosphere and the gases would act like a greenhouse and warm the earth. When David was talking with uncle Axel he said that:

A nuclear bomb dropped somewhere in the central-eastern US would send radiation into the air, so a south-west wind would bring up the radiation and cause deviations. For the environment, the caterpillar stage was the time of the Old People. The chrysalis form was during the nuclear holocaust when the environment was rapidly changing. The environment finally emerged into a place that caused genetic mutations and was really unhealthy and unsafe to any life form, which is the complete opposite from when it began. One can say that the environment has fully emerged from its chrysalis, however, over time the environment will slowly return back to normal. So once the environment has emerged from its first chrysalis, it will spend some time as its current form then it will go into a second chrysalis. Inside the second chrysalis the environment will go through several changes that will reverse all the harm done to it. It will finally emerge out of the second chrysalis as a healthy environment, the contrary of what it was like before the second chrysalis, but the same from before the first chrysalis. The environment has not changed for the better during its transformation, although it will undergo another alteration and change back into what it was before.

The community of Labrador is also changing, but not in a physical sense. The views of the community are changing. The views that used to be a conservative, very religious and one-sided, the side of the church, type of thinking changed into republican, fore-profit, and half opened minded type of thinking. The great horses are a perfect example of this change. David’s father, Joseph Strorm, was appalled about the horses his neighbour had imported from the main city, Rigo. Joseph argued that while the horses can be used to bring in a higher profit by doing twice or thrice the work than regular horses and consume less feed than two regular horses, they should be killed because “a horse that size is not right” (pg. 37) and that “God never made horses the size of these” (pg. 36). He argues with the inspector, but says he cannot do anything because they are “government-approved” (pg. 36). During Joseph’s argument with the inspector, he says:

Another great example of the how the views of generations differ is that the government chooses to sterilize and banish abominations instead of killing them. While David was talking with Jacob, an elder around Waknuk, he found Jacob was raging about how the government is becoming less and less religious and more like trying to please everyone. Jacob was saying that a generation ago mutants were killed like other deviations. Not just killed, but burnt. David was shocked. David’s generation was brought up thinking that only “crops and stock” (pg. 88) were burnt, and mutants were sterilized and banished to the Fringes. Jacob saw nothing wrong with burning mutants because they were “not” human, they were deviants – and fire is the only way to “cleanse deviations” (pg. 88).
While Jacob was raging he stated:

David asked his uncle Axel about the sterilization and he responds:

Jacob knows that the generation’s morals are changing. He referred to Ted Norbet, a person in Waknuk, and his crime of hiding ten animals that are deviations (the novel does not say which kind of animal) and “eating all but two before he was found out” (pg. 87). Jacob said that in his day, if anyone had done a thing like that, they would receive “a public shaming on a Sunday, a week worth of penances, and a tenth of all he had… so you’d not find people doing that kind of thing…” (pg. 87). Jacob is outraged that the community is changing and soon brings up another valid point about the child bearing laws. Jacob said to David that in Jacob’s father’s generation “a woman who bore a child that wasn’t in the image was whipped for it. If she bore three out of the image she was uncertified, outlawed, and sold.” (pg. 88). Jacob said that his father “reckoned there was a lot less trouble with mutants…” (pg. 88). Now the punishment for a woman who bears three deviational children is that her husband has a choice whether or not he will legally leave her.
The generation’s views are changing mostly because the government wants to be re-elected. Satisfying as many people as possible is important when one is in politics. The government sterilizes and banishes mutants instead of killing them because killing a thing that looks nearly human looks like murder, and murder does not sit well with most people – so the government finds a compromise. Instead of killing the deviations, the government sterilizes them and banishes them to the Fringes, so the affect is the same: the mutants will not be able to reproduce and there will be no mutants within the Labradorean society. This compromise allows the government to receive votes from everyone. The same thing goes with the child bearing laws. The compromise for the women who bear three children is that they are not punished as harshly as before. This is so because the men who really love their wives will vote for the political party whose agenda is to reduce the punishment. The compromise lets the government allow a man the choice to legally leave his wife if three children are mutants, but also does not harm the wife; therefore the government receives votes from both sides.

Most of the changes to the generation’s views are made by the government. The government’s caterpillar form was a very strict and religious one. While in its chrysalis it made these new laws that compromise certain points of view. Now, it emerges from its chrysalis as a transformed government. One that has new laws that do not punish as harshly and whose views are willing to allow things into society if they prove to be useful. The government has changed and developed into a government with altered values and views.

Character, environment and community all slowly developed into something different in The Chrysalids. The Chrysalids has demonstrated that change is inevitable, and only through change can something survive. Every bit of change is necessary; fore if David did not change his thoughts towards his society, than he might have given his secret about his thought-shapes away and he could have been captured and killed. If the environment did not change than “tribulation”, the nuclear holocaust would have lasted forever. If the Labradorean government never changed its policies towards useful deviations, than it would not be able to survive because it would be re-elected. Change and transformation is the only for a thing to become a better version of itself. Change is what makes life worth living. If change were to stop, then life would become meaningless.