David tells the others in his group of telepaths about Sophie, and while they struggle with the notion that a Blasphemy might not be evil, they also know that it is impossible to lie in one’s thoughts, and that David must be telling the truth. That night, David dreams once again of his father killing Sophie and of the city with the fish in the sky—dreams he hasn’t had in years. His sister Mary tends to his wounds when he awakes and he comes up with a plan to flee Wanuk.
David’s dreams tend to appear in moments at which David should keep something to himself. He does, however, tell the others about what happened with Sophie. They cannot deny the authenticity of David’s thoughts, and are forced to question the ideas about mutations that they are taught in church and at school.
The Inspector visits David at home and asks him more about Sophie. David tells him that Sophie didn’t seem like the Deviations he learned about in church, and the Inspector reminds him of the part of the Definition that says that “each foot shall have five toes.” He explains to David that God does not produce anything imperfect, and that by being imperfect, Sophie proves she is not a creation of God. When he asks David why he didn’t tell his father about Sophie, David tells him about his dream in which his father kills her. The Inspector assures him that Blasphemies are not dealt with in this way, and tells David that he won’t prosecute him for lying about Sophie.
The Definition of Man is very specific about the fact that humans must have five toes on each foot, but David struggles to connect this definition with his knowledge of Sophie. According to the words of Repentences, she should be evil, but according to his experiences with her, she is anything but.
David finds it difficult to promise the Inspector that he will report future Blasphemies, because he cannot convince himself that Sophie is truly evil. The Inspector tells him that while fidelity to friends is important, maintaining “the Purity of the Race” is more so. David’s father interrupts him to announce that the Wenders have been caught. David is so overwhelmed with guilt that he cannot breathe, but the Inspector assures him that it is not his fault that the Wenders were caught.
David’s father is gleeful over the capture of the Wenders, while David feels out of breath with guilt. This is one of many clear examples of how differently David and Joseph Strorm view the world, as well as a demonstration of David’s willingness to deviate from the examples made by authority figures. The emphasis on “Purity of Race” echoes the ideology of many corrupt governments in our own time.
A few days later, David announces to Uncle Axel that he is going to run away. Uncle Axel cautions him against it, telling him that there is nowhere to go and that staying is preferable to running away, where he would only be caught and brought back. David asks him about the territories outside of Labrador, and Uncle Axel promises to tell him about them as long as he doesn’t tell anyone else. He says to David that when people want to believe something, you only cause problems by contradicting them, even if what they believe is untrue. To Uncle Axel, the fact that the people of Wanuk do not know the truth about the rest of the world means that Wanuk is a more peaceful place than it otherwise might be.
Although Uncle Axel does not take a wholly negative view of the Wanukian religion, he is willing to be skeptical of it in a way that few others are. Uncle Axel understands that people often believe in things out of a desire for comfort and stability rather than for truth. For this community, ignorance truly is bliss. The Wanukians have no desire to learn of anything, true or not, that might upset their established ways of life.
Uncle Axel explains to David at great length what he knows about the rest of the world. Much of this knowledge is based more on rumor than fact. He tells David of sailors who visited the Badlands to the south and were shocked to find an abundance of mutated crops because they had been taught to believe that nothing could grow outside of Labrador at all. He calls the area “a jungle of Deviations,” and says that it is proof of the necessity of Purity Laws. Further south are areas that are thought to be entirely desolate, although one ship reported seeing the remains of an Old People city. Everyone on this ship became sick, however, so no one else was willing to venture to the area to confirm the presence of an Old People city. Instead, they chose to believe that the area south of Labrador was devoid of life—a belief that pleased the authorities because it discouraged further exploration.
Uncle Axel has a great deal more experience with the wider world than does anyone else with whom David interacts, but even he takes rumors and legends as sources of knowledge about the land outside of Labrador. He is, however, aware that the authorities want people to believe that no other pure life exists anywhere else in the world. The less people believe exists, the less likely they are to explore it and, in doing so, challenge the church and government’s intellectual authority. The story of an ancient city that makes everyone sick implies radiation poisoning from a past nuclear war.
Later on, Uncle Axel says, people became curious again, and an explorer named Marther headed south. His journals argue that the views of the church are wrong, and these areas could actually sustain life. Marther was tried for heresy and the authorities considered banning voyages south. During the controversy, a ship thought to be lost returned to Labrador bearing rare metals and spices. It was impossible to determine the purity of the spices, as they were not previously known to the authorities. Orthodox believers abstained from eating them, while others argued that they were the spices mentioned in the Bible. The desire for spices prompted more southward exploration.
Not having been to these areas himself, Uncle Axel relies on Marther’s words for proof of what exists outside Wanuk’s borders. These words, however, document Marther’s experiences, while the words of the church have nothing to back them up. This highlights Wyndham’s point that the best way of knowing is through one’s own experience, rather than blindly believing an authority’s words. The people of Wanuk, too, must rely on words—those of traders, authorities, and the Bible—to determine if the spices they so desire are pure.
Uncle Axel tells David that these lands are now known to be inhabited by people who either do not abide by Purity Laws or have a different understanding of what a Mutant is. Indeed, in other places, people who would be classified as Blasphemies in Wanuk consider themselves to be made in the Image of God, and think that the Wanukians are Mutants. These communities have in common the stories of the Old People, and the people in each place believe them to be their true ancestors. Uncle Axel tells David that while this is hard to fathom, there is really no proof that Wanukians are made in the Image of God. Their Definition of what is normal comes from Repentences, which was written long after Tribulation, and thus might not present an accurate picture of what Old People were like.
Uncle Axel spends a great deal of time thinking and talking with David about proof. Although David doesn’t always understand him, Uncle Axel introduces him to the idea that Wanukians might not actually be made in the true Image of God because it is impossible to know what that Image was. He explains to David that although David might think a community with different physical features is deviant, that community might consider actually David a Blasphemy. Objective norms do not exist because norms are created to match the image of those who create them.
While David finds what Uncle Axel has to say vaguely interesting, he is mostly concerned with whether there are any cities outside of Labrador. Uncle Axel says that there are not, and when David presses him, he assures David that if there were any, they would know about them. Uncle Axel then reasserts that it is impossible to know what the true Image of God really is. In fact, he says, David and Rosalind, with their ability to communicate without words, might be closer to the true image, even though in Wanuk he would be persecuted for this Deviation. David takes this opportunity to tell Uncle Axel that he can communicate with others in this way as well, although he does not know their names because names aren’t necessary in telepathic communication. Uncle Axel responds by emphasizing again that it is impossible to prove what the true image really is.
Even Uncle Axel occasionally holds beliefs without proof, and he insists to David that no cities with horseless carts exist because he has never heard of any cities with horseless carts. Earlier in the novel, Sophie makes a similar statement about the Old People’s planes. Both are certain that, in these situations at least, the absence of proof or knowledge about a thing can be taken as proof that that thing does not exist. Overall, however, Uncle Axel encourages David to challenge what he is told and to remember that no one can be certain whether he or she is or is not made in the Image of God.