The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids Literary Elements


Science Fiction, "Cosy Catastrophe"

Setting and Context

In a future time, centuries after a nuclear war has occurred and wiped out civilization as we know it

Narrator and Point of View

David narrates from a first person perspective. He is unreliable in that his knowledge of his world is limited to a small civilization that he lives in. As he tells the narrative, he progresses from childhood to young-adulthood.

Tone and Mood

Foreboding; bleak yet optimistic in that it demonstrates that there could be life and evolution after worldwide disaster. It is a “cosy catastrophe,” as described by Brian Aldiss (see "Other" section of this Note).

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is David Strorm. The Antagonist is Joseph Strorm, David’s puritanical father whose belief in his duty to maintain the purity of man is stronger than his love for his family; Joseph Strorm is representative of the larger antagonism of the Waknuk society’s strict intolerance for difference, which is the cause of the major conflict in the book.

Major Conflict

David has a genetic mutation that allows him to telepathically communicate with others who have the same mutation, and this makes him a danger to his current society.


The community of Waknuk begins to suspect that David and others can communicate telepathically; David, his younger sister Petra, and Rosalind are forced to flee to the Fringes.


David describes his sister Petra, after she is born and declared deviance-free: “She looked so pink and wrinkled to me that I did not see how the inspector could have been quite sure about her. However, there was nothing obviously wrong with her, so she had got her certificate. Nobody could blame the inspector for that; she did appear to be as normal as a new-born baby ever looks” (68). Also, David’s dream of the city, described in the first chapter, is foreshadowing of the world Sealand/Zealand that he will come to know at the end of the book.


The Sealand woman's reaction to David and his companions reaction when they learn the Sealanders used their cobweb weapon to kill everyone in the area in an understatement: "'Yes,' the Sealand woman told her simply. 'They're all dead.'" (195).


The Bible is often mentioned by name, but is also alluded to in the actions and the customs of the people of Waknuk. Elias Strorm, the grandfather of David, parallels the story of Abraham from the Old Testament: he left his homeland and started a society in a foreign land. Also, the “Purification” process for the animals that are born with genetic mutation alludes to the sacrificing of the lambs done in the Old Testament as a way of pleasing God.


The main uses of imagery in the novel come in the descriptions of the Badlands and Blacklands–areas that have been affected by a nuclear bomb. The other main use of imagery is description of genetically mutated animals and humans.


When the Sealand woman explains why they had to kill everyone fighting on the ground in the last part of the novel, she says, "It is not pleasant to kill any creature.. but to pretend one can live without doing so is self-deceptive" (195). This statement causes the reader, along with David and company, to pause to think about whether what she has stated makes sense and is true, for it is contradictory to what they feel, which is shock at the deaths.


The structure of the text of the Repentances, as well as the Philosophy of the Sealand people, all has parallel sentence structure, to highlight the dogmatic views of the ideologies. One example, from the Sealand woman: “The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; we are part of it” (196).

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The Old People represent all of the societies and peoples that lived before Tribulation. Also, the word 'mutant', especially in the way it is used in the Repentances text, is representative of anything that has a genetic mutation, from an animal, to a plant, to a human with an odd body part or a superhuman talent.


The description of the steam engine uses this literary element: “The doors at the end of the shed were open, letting out the sound of a rhythmic groaning, creaking, and puffing… It was fascinating to watch the big timbers moving up and down with wheezing noises while up in the shadows of the roof a huge cross-beam rocked slowly backwards and forwards. With the pause at the end of each tilt as though it were summoning up energy for the next effort” (24). The steam engine is framed as though it were a person, slowly working away at its job while making human noises from the effort.