The Chrysalids is a science fiction novel written by John Wyndham during the Cold War. It is arguable that Wyndham wrote this novel to illustrate his thoughts on what effects the Cold War, if action was indeed taken, would bring. This follows shortly after World War II which could have possibly influenced the way that Wyndham written his novel as well. In his novel, the tension between the Deviants and the norms is paralleled to the political and military tension between the US and the USSR. As Wyndham's novel evolves around the tension, more characters enter the "war", similar to the alliances that both the US and the USSR had. Eventually, the antagonist was killed and many people would say that his undoing was due to his rigidity and unwillingness to embrace differences, which highlights Wyndham's thoughts towards the Cold War that both sides should embrace each other despite their different Governing systems.
Wyndham's novel was first published in 1955 by Michael Joseph and subsequently gained popularity amongst people; for instance, it was adpated for theatre production by David Harrower in 1999. Apart from that, the song "Crown of Creation" by Jefferson Airplane was also inspired by Wyndham's novel. Although this is not Wyndham's most popular or renowned novel, it may be regarded as one of his best nonetheless. The main difference noticeable in his novel is that the context of this novel is one that is set in the future as compared to his other novels which were set against older contexts- the background of the average man in the twentieth century. The context of The Chrysalids is in the future after a nuclear war which resulted in total destruction for humanity and civilisation.
The Chrysalids success can be attributed to the previous novel that Wyndham has written, The Day of Triffids, which has garnered him support and influence from the media. On top of that, Wyndham’s hindsight from serving behind the lines for the British in World War II could have also inspired him to write this novel. Given Wyndham’s poor upbringing as a child with his parents divorcing at age eight and failure at multiple careers, the influence that Wyndham wields is a feat in itself. Wyndham’s writings can also be considered to be science-fantasy novels as well.
Stylistically, Wyndham has a particular interest in human psychology and behavioural patterns. This accounts for the religious references in The Chrysalids as well as the varying personalities of characters in the novel and how they interact. It is said that Wyndham was inspired to write the science fiction genre because of an American magazine that he read called “Amazing Stories” in the late 1920s. He subsequently contributed a series of stories to Amazing Stories as well as another publisher called “Wonder Stories”. He had also received the title of being the best British science fiction writer at least once in his lifetime. As his style of focusing on human behaviour, he would often have irony, intentional ignorance and at times hypocrisy in the characters of his novels. In fact, his books were so well-received by his audience, he had 2 novels and 5 collections published posthumously.
Specifically to The Chrysalids, Wyndham adopted a new approach of not only writing science fiction but further ventured to encapsulate his novel with post-apocalyptic fiction. Interestingly about Wyndham, is that many stories and novels of such genres usually have a plot on how disastrous the event was and end off with the undoing of civilisation. Wyndham, in this novel, explicitly makes his plot something that happens after the event itself, bringing a fresh perspective to the genre as well.
Finally, the terms “The Chrysalids” also gives us a hint to what Wyndham really wishes to say or emphasize in his novel. The term Chrysalid came from “chrysalis”, which according to the Merriam Webster dictionary means “a hard case that protects a moth or butterfly while it is turning into an adult”. This is illustrated in the novel when David runs away together with his other telepathic friends, with the Sealand Woman being their defender as they make a run from Waknuk to freedom. Hence, if Wyndham took the extra step to highlight this part of the novel as the title, it likely means that that is either the climax or resolution of the novel—something for the readers to takeaway, which is to break free from oppression. The over-arching idea still remains that the entire context of the play is undesirable for humanity and should not happen in the first place, which the two main themes of his novel are.
Hence, in summary, The Chrysalids, is used by Wyndham to express his views about the Cold War between the US and USSR to his audience which support him due to his previous novel. He does so in a creative manner by using explicit science fiction as well as post-apocalyptic fiction together which serves as a fresh approach to such genres, which is a feat for a harsh upbringing and failures that Wyndham has, which serves his ultimate purpose to convey the two main themes: fighting for freedom and being open to embrace differences as well as avoiding the large scale conflict altogether so that the context he set in his novel does not come to past.