The nearest approach to decoration was a number of wooden panels with sayings, mostly from Repentances, artistically burnt into them. The one on the left of the fireplace read: ONLY THE IMAGE OF GOD IS MAN. The one on the right: KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD. On the opposite wall two more said: BLESSED IS THE NORM, and IN PURITY OUR SALVATION. The largest was the one on the back wall, hung to face the door which lead to the yard. It reminded everyone who came in: WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!
David describes the decorations in his home, all of which are quotes from the religious text Repentances, and building on the theme of religion. Given that this is David’s home, and the first home in Waknuk, it is fitting that it is covered in religious sayings, as his home is representative of the foundation of the community, a community that was founded on religion. The fact that the sayings are “burned” into the wood reflects the indoctrination of all the people of the community who must conform to religious ways. Also, it alludes to the fact that formerly people, animals and crops that did not fit the Norm were at one time burned (presently, only crops are burned). There is also parallelism in the way the phases are constructed simply and revolve around God and Purity.
If his legs had been right, he would have stood no taller than my father’s five-feet-ten; but they were not: they were monstrously long and thin, and his arms were long and thin, too. It made him look half-man, half-spider…
This is David’s first view of a person from the Fringes, a man we later learn is David’s uncle, Gordon Storm, or Spider-man. David here highlights the theme of intolerance: due to his indoctrination into the religious beliefs of Waknuk, David here immediately conforms to those beliefs and uses simile to label the man as a monster. At the same time, David does recognize that the man is very close to looking human, if only he had had legs of the normal length.
“Well, every part of the definition is important as any other; and if a child doesn’t come within it, then it isn’t human, and that means it doesn’t have a soul. It is not in the image of God, it is and imitation, and in the imitations there is always some mistakes. Only God produces perfection, so although deviations may look like us in many ways, they cannot be really humans. They are something quite different.”
The inspector has this discussion with David after the inspector discovers that David has been concealing Sophie’s deviance of having extra toes. There is parallelism in the construction of the way the inspector states these facts, and the manner in which he states them mimics the text of the Repentances. The theme of religion is strong in this passage, because the inspector clearly relates purity to God. The theme of intolerance and othering is also present in this passage, as the inspector tells David that anyone who does not specifically fit into the definition of human lacks a soul and is therefore inhuman.
“The lands down there aren’t civilized. Mostly they don't have any sense of sin there so they don’t stop Deviations; and where they do have a sense of sin, they’ve got it mixed up… There’s one tribe where both the men and women are hairless, and they think that hair is the devil’s mark… In one place they don’t think you’re properly human unless you have webbed fingers and toes… There are even said to be some islands where both the men and women would be passed as true images, if it weren’t that some strange deviation has turned them all completely black-- though even that’s easier to believe than the one about a race of Deviations that has dwindled to two feet high, grown fur, and a tail, and taken to living in the trees. ”
This passage uses exposition to reveal background information about the civilizations in other parts of the world. Uncle Axel tells David about these peoples through his own perspective, which has a basis the beliefs held in Waknuk, demonstrated by his labeling of the lands as "uncivilized," with "Deviations," and saying "they've got it mixed up." While Uncle Axel does have his own controversial beliefs he has developed as a sailor and man of the world, this quote demonstrates that he still basically views the world through the lens of what he knows. The passage also has a dark humor to it: Wyndham here chooses to describe Africa and monkeys as though these too would be recognized as Deviations. Wyndham thus comments on the self-centeredness of the white man's belief in his own superiority, and his egocentric mindset thinking that monkeys came from man, rather than vice versa. He thus highlights the theme of intolerance.
For several nights I dreamed of Aunt Harriet lying in the river, still clasping the white bundle to her while the water swirled her hair round her pale face, and her wide-open eyes saw nothing.
David has been characterized as a somewhat sensitive child, as well as a dreamer (literally, as his dreams while sleeping are often recounted in the text). David feels heavily affected by Harriet’s death. He thus imagines her helpless and unable to see any future for herself, in the imagery of her dead unseeing eyes. The theme here is Harriet’s alienation from society. David is essentially haunted by the hopelessness Harriet felt at having a child who did not fit the norm, and he also begins to worry about what could happen to him if others find out he does not fit the norm. The bleak mood of the novel is felt in this child’s view of the hopelessness of his aunt's death and his own situation, because he is confronted by the fact that the choices are limited to either conforming to the norm, or facing death.
“When my father was a young man 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. It made them careful about their purity and their prayers. My father reckoned there was a lot less trouble with mutants on account of it, and when there were any, they were burnt, like other deviations.”
Wyndham uses Old Jacob to provide exposition on the practices that were in effect in the days when the Waknuk community first began. Jacob makes the clear connection between purity and religion, in that women who were not praying enough thus bore impure children due to their sin. Scarily for David, he realizes that his community used to be even more religious and punishing than it is now. Not only were fields burned and stock killed, but all forms of deviation, even humans, were burnt. This has parallels to the witch hunts of puritan times (Krome, Loving & Reeves, 54).
“I played my part conscientiously, and opened my mind to its most sensitive. That was a mistake. There was a flash and a glare and a general impression that I had been struck by a thunderbolt.”
David plays the part of the helpful older brother, and, most importantly, of a friend to Petra and to the telepathic group. David agrees to be vulnerable and sensitive with Petra so that she can practice and begin to join his group of telepaths in a way that is not as unpleasant for them. Petra’s powerfulness is conveyed through storm imagery and simile: to David and the other telepaths, Petra’s thought-images feels and looks like a lightening bolt. This also foreshadows her evolutionary strong telepathic ability that is later desired by the Sealand people.
“We do know that we can make a better world than the Old People did. They were only ingenious half-humans, little better than savages; all living shut off from one another, with only clumsy words to link them.”
In this first interaction with the Sealand woman, David and Rosalind hear her speaking style for the first time. She is characterized as intelligent and yet her tone is arrogant; she believes that her people are the superior variant of humans. The style of her speech is often didactic and overly verbose. The theme of intolerance is present in the way the Sealand woman labels the Old People as savages. David finds the Sealand woman’s way of talking rather hard to digest, and also finds her irreverence for the Old People shocking, due to the heavy influence of Waknuk religion that he has not fully been able to extricate himself from.
“There are stretches, miles across, where it looks as if all the ground has been fused into black glass; there is nothing else, nothing but the glass like a frozen ocean of ink… then belts of Badlands… then another wilderness of black glass. It goes on and on… What did they do here? What can they have done to create such a frightful place?... No wonder none of us ever came this way before. It’s like going over the rim of the world, into the outskirts of hell… it must be utterly beyond hope, barred to any kind of life forever and ever… but Why? — why? — why?... there was the power of gods in the hands of children, we know: but were they mad children, all of them quite mad?... the mountains are cinders and the plains are black glass—still, after centuries!... it is so dreary… dreary… a monstrous madness… It is frightening to think that a whole race could go insane… “
The Sealand woman is seeing the Blacklands and Badlands with a bird's-eye view, something that none of the characters thus far in the book has been able to do except in a dream. In her exposition she uses hyperbole (“barred to any kind of life forever and ever”) and repetition (“why?” and “dreary”) to tell the reader just how vast and frightening the land is. She also employs the use of simile and metaphor to emphasize the imagery of what she sees: the “frozen” glass (metaphor) is like an ocean (simile).
“A series of memories cut off what my eyes were seeing—my Aunt Harriet’s face in the water, her hair gently waving in the current; poor Anne, a limp figure hanging from a beam; Sally, wringing her hands in anguish for Katherine, and in terror for herself; Sophie, degraded to a savage, sliding in the dust, with an arrow in her neck… Any of those might have been a picture of Petra’s future.”
David recounts all of the ways in which the women he cared about in the novel have been hurt by the intolerance and so-called "justice" of the society he lived in. The imagery of these women’s deaths, all violent in their own way, drives home the idea that David must protect his younger sister Petra from a life lived in the bleak and intolerant world of Waknuk.
The Chrysalids Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Chrysalids is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Consider Sophie. Early in the novel, David discovers that she has six toes on each foot, thus making her a mutant in their society. Nonetheless, Sophie and David become friends and share a sort of childhood love between them. She is portrayed as a...
I think David the story's protagonist is worth considering. David must navigate his very controlled and closed society to develop his own value system. He is a trustworthy and understanding person, although at times he can be lazy, as he often...