The Chrysalids

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The Chrysalids Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Soon the wind blows threads into the cave and Rosalind, David, and Petra are covered in them. Following the instructions of the woman, they lie as still as possible. The Zealanders’ machine lands and the woman frees Michael, who leads her to Sophie’s cave. She sprays David and the others with something that loosens the grip of the threads, and they are finally able to move again. David looks out from the cave onto the fields of petrified people and horses. Trees, pulled down by the force of the threads, start falling around them. Once Rosalind and Petra are free, they turn to look at the Zealander woman, who is extremely pale and has shockingly short hair. Her beauty is transfixing.
Just as the group has powers and abilities that the Wanukians do not understand, the Zealander brings with her technologies that are incomprehensible to Rosalind and David. The two have never seen anyone like her. Wyndham does not make it clear whether everyone else in Zealand looks this way. The reader is left to wonder if the New People are more diverse in their physical appearance, or if David and Rosalind will look different from everyone else and come to suffer for it.
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The woman looks at Petra with an expression of awe, and the two communicate on a level that David and Rosalind cannot understand. The woman tells the group that it was extremely difficult and expensive to find them, but that the journey was “worthwhile” to meet someone with Petra’s ability. She then announces that it is time to leave.
The Zealander woman’s excitement and devotion for someone with Petra’s ability resembles the “cults of personality” that developed around single powerful figures in the twentieth century. This phenomenon occurred in the same regimes that were most concerned with racial purity.
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Michael wants to return to Wanuk to retrieve Rachel before they go, but the woman says that her machine does not have enough fuel to carry any extra weight. In the silence that follows this statement, Rosalind realizes with horror that everyone covered by the threads is now dead. The woman matter-of-factly confirms her suspicions, and tells them that although no one likes killing other living beings, it is a necessity of life. She says that the New People must act in self-preservation against those who seek their demise.
At this point, it is entirely unclear to the reader whether the arrival of the Zealanders is a good thing. Just like the Wanukians, the Zealanders are willing to kill large groups of people with whom they have little in common. While the Wanukians do this for religious reasons, the Zealander justifies her action by saying that it is the way of life. She shows no remorse for her actions.
Themes
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The Zealander woman goes on to explain that the people of the Fringes are “condemned” not by anything they have done, but by their inability to think-together. In time, she says, the New People will be surpassed by another and more powerful species, at which time the New People will fight but fail to survive. For now, however, the New People are only beginning their rise to power. In doing so, they participate in and propel the cycles of change that define life.
The woman’s belief in a cyclical version of history, as well as her commitment to a society in which people cooperate and work together, continue to echo Marxist ideas. Her willingness to kill an entire race of people is also strikingly similar to Lenin’s Great Purge. Her musings on the nature of change and cycles also connects to the title of the novel itself: chrysalids ready to hatch into butterflies.
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While David is not yet ready to think of himself as a species different from those who cannot think-together, he feels immensely relieved that Petra will not meet Aunt Harriet’s or Katherine’s or Anne’s fate. Michael asks Petra to tell Rachel that if she will wait for him, he will come find her. Michael explains that because Rosalind and David are still considered fugitives in Wanuk, only he can return to keep Rachel company. He promises to find a way to bring her to Zealand, even if the journey is difficult. “Knowing” that there is somewhere to go, he says, makes life worth living.
David is too overwhelmed by relief to fully consider and understand everything the Zealander woman is saying. Just as Anne sacrifices her friends for Alan and David is willing to sacrifice his body by fighting for Rosalind, Michael decides that he will sacrifice his escape route from Wanuk to keep Rachel company. Seeing the Zealander woman gives him the proof he needs that there is something worth living for; a potentially more morally advanced society.
Themes
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Rosalind, David, and Petra board the machine with the woman and go with her to Zealand. There, David finds the city of his dreams. The sound of the thoughts of thousands of people fills the air, and David and Rosalind remark on its beauty. Petra’s excitement is too intense, and it momentarily blinds Rosalind and David. Rosalind tells her that, this time, her enthusiasm is warranted.
We must hope that Petra and Rosalind’s excitement about Zealand is warranted. Wyndham provides no answers about whether or not this will really be a better place than Wanuk. We have already seen glimpses of a similar racist and xenophobic attitude among the Zealanders, but the ending is supposedly a “happy” one because David is no longer a member of the oppressed class—the telepaths have come out on top. This makes the conclusion deeply ambivalent, and seems to undercut some of the themes embraced by the rest of the novel. Wyndham’s imagery comes full circle, as the story opened with David’s dream and now ends with the dream becoming reality.
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