The Chrysalids

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
David’s Uncle Axel, the husband of his mother’s late sister, is his primary confidant until he flees Wanuk and is no longer able to communicate with him. Unlike David’s parents, Uncle Axel does not see David as a Mutant because of his abilities and spends a great deal of the book questioning the traditional beliefs of the Wanukians. Uncle Axel used to be a sailor until he went on a voyage that resulted in the death of his wife and left him a cripple. He tells David as much as he knows about the world beyond the town. He is particularly concerned with epistemology, or how we know what we know. He warns David to keep his ability secret and protects the group of Wanukian telepaths whenever possible.

Uncle Axel Quotes in The Chrysalids

The The Chrysalids quotes below are all either spoken by Uncle Axel or refer to Uncle Axel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Words Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the NYRB Classics edition of The Chrysalids published in 2008.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“But when people are used to believing a thing is such-and-such a way, and the preachers want them to believe that that’s the way it is; it’s trouble you get, not thanks, for upsetting their ideas.”

Related Characters: Uncle Axel (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, David decides to run away from his society--he's upset at the authorities (including his own father) for punishing innocent people like Sophie. David turns to his trustworthy uncle, Axel, for help. Axel shares David's disgust with many elements of Wanuk society, and yet he doesn't want David to run off into the wilderness. Here, Axel sums up everything David has learned about his society in the last few weeks: the authorities don't want people contradicting their ideas, and even the people themselves don't like being told that everything they've been raised to believe is false.

Another implication of Axel's statement is that figures like priests and politicians don't like dissenters because dissenters challenge their authority, not just the validity of their ideas. The best way for powerful people to maintain their power is to maintain the current statue of society--it's even possible that the tyrants who run Wanuk invented the Wanuk religion as a means of cementing their control.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Chrysalids quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

“But what’s more worrying is that most of them…think that their type is the true pattern of the Old People, and anything different is a Deviation. That seems silly at first, but when you find more and more kinds just as convinced of it as we are ourselves—well you begin to wonder a bit. You start asking yourself: well, what real evidence have we got about the true image?”

Related Characters: Uncle Axel (speaker), Old People
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Uncle Axel points out the arbitrariness of the idea of perfection. While the people of Wanuk are convinced that being a perfect human being entails being a certain height, weight, and skin color, and having a certain number of limbs and digits, there are other people around the world who probably have an entirely different idea of what it means to be perfect.

The book alludes to some of the racially-based acts of violence that occurred during the middle of the 20th century--such as the Holocaust and lynchings in the United States. Such atrocities were motivated by the foolish belief that one kind of human being was superior to the others--even if these beliefs contradicted each other. If one were to put all the bigots and racists in the world in a room together, Axel speculates, they might better be able to see how absurd their beliefs really are.

“Perhaps the Old People were the image: very well then, one of the things they say about them is that they could talk to one another over long distances. Now we can’t do that—but you and Rosalind can. Just think that over, Davie. You two may be nearer to the image than we are.”

Related Characters: Uncle Axel (speaker), David Strorm, Rosalind Morton
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Uncle Axel raises an interesting possibility. Axel knows that David is considered a "mutant" because he has psychic powers. Yet Axel doesn't condemn David for being different from the other people in his society. On the contrary, Axel speculates that in reality, David could be more "perfect" than the other Wanukians. There's no rule that says that perfection correlates with what is most common; in other words, just because David is one of the only people in the community with ESP doesn't mean that he's the mutant. The only relevant factor, according to the Wanuk religion, is whether or not David resembles the "Old People." Axel suggests that David is more like the Old People than his peers--it's rumored that long ago, the Old People could communicate across vast distances, just like David.

The passage reinforces the arbitrariness of the Wanuk definition of perfection. Furthermore, it suggests a number of things: it's possible that the "Old People" Axel refers to are the readers of The Chrysalids itself--people living in the 20th century (when the novel was written) who could communicate using telephones and radios. Although Axel tries to inspire David by telling him that he's perfect, the truth (we recognize) is very different: there is no such thing as human perfection, and anybody who says so is deluded.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“A word…a rusted mirror, reflecting nothing. It’d do the preachers good to see it for themselves. They’d not understand, but they might begin to think. They might begin to ask themselves…Are we right? For it is clear, boy, that however wonderful the Old People were, they were not too wonderful to make mistakes—and nobody knows, or is ever likely to know, where they were wise and where they were mistaken.”

Related Characters: Uncle Axel (speaker), David Strorm
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Uncle Axel and David discuss some of the paradoxes and inconsistencies in the Wanuk religion. The Wanuk religion is based on worship of God as measured through the Old People; those who lived years ago, before God punished the human race. The Wanuk people believe that anybody who doesn't resemble the Old People is "imperfect," and should be banished from the land. And yet the Old People themselves clearly weren't perfect either--if they were, then God wouldn't have punished them so brutally.

Uncle Axel's observations are perfectly obvious, when you think about them, and yet he seems to be one of the only people in the community to have done so. In all, the passage underscores the reality that religion is more important as an "organizing force" in Wanuk than it is as a source of morality or truth. Religion helps keep the people of Wanuk in line, but if they were to turn to religion for moral support, they'd be disappointed by the muddle of contradictions they'd find.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“It wouldn’t be just murder, Uncle Axel. It’d be something worse, as well; like violating part of ourselves for ever…. We couldn’t do it….”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Uncle Axel, Anne
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Axel and David debate the morality of murder. Axel and David know that Anne--a fellow psychic--is going to marry a non-psychic named Alan. They're afraid that Anne is going to give up important information about the other psychics, endangering the entire group. Axel suggests (although obliquely) that they should kill Anne for the good of the group. But David adamantly disagrees with his uncle--he explains that it would be a horrible crime to kill "one of our own." David believes that groups should stick together no matter what, even if the act of sticking together causes danger to the group as a whole.

David's version of right and wrong sets him apart from many of the other characters in the novel. Most of the characters we've met believe in a form of the "greater good." Thus, most of the characters believe that it's all right to banish their neighbors from the land, provided that the neighbors are deviants in some capacity. In other words, the Wanukians are willing to turn on each other at any moment. David, however, genuinely believes that he owes it to his fellow psychics to be loyal and protective. He puts his faith in individual human connection, rather than lofty ideas of the "greater good"--ideas which can easily be twisted to justify atrocities.

Get the entire The Chrysalids LitChart as a printable PDF.
The chrysalids.pdf.medium

Uncle Axel Character Timeline in The Chrysalids

The timeline below shows where the character Uncle Axel appears in The Chrysalids. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
One day David’s Uncle Axel , who lives with David and his family, comes across David, who appears to be... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
David tells the reader that at the time of this conversation, he does not inform Uncle Axel that there are others (besides Rosalind) with whom he can communicate this way, because he... (full context)
Chapter 6
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
A few days later, David announces to Uncle Axel that he is going to run away. Uncle Axel cautions him against it, telling him... (full context)
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Real World Allegory Theme Icon
Uncle Axel explains to David at great length what he knows about the rest of the world.... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Later on, Uncle Axel says, people became curious again, and an explorer named Marther headed south. His journals argue... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Uncle Axel tells David that these lands are now known to be inhabited by people who either... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
While David finds what Uncle Axel has to say vaguely interesting, he is mostly concerned with whether there are any cities... (full context)
Chapter 8
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
David tells Uncle Axel about the conversation he overheard between his mother and Aunt Harriet. Uncle Axel responds, once... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Uncle Axel asks a lot of philosophical questions about whether there is any point in trying to... (full context)
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
David tells the reader that he only starts to understand what Uncle Axel was saying when Michael (a member of the group of telepaths) goes to school. One... (full context)
Chapter 9
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
David asks Uncle Axel if other people, like Jacob, feel that the Government is too lax about punishing people... (full context)
Chapter 10
Morality Theme Icon
David tells Uncle Axel , who knows about the wedding, that Anne is capable of think-together. David, having had... (full context)
Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Uncle Axel tells David about a sailor he once knew who was thrown overboard so that the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
A few days later, Uncle Axel tells David that a friend of the Inspector has been asking about him and Rosalind.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Words Theme Icon
Ways of Knowing Theme Icon
Time and Progress Theme Icon
Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
Real World Allegory Theme Icon
...those who cannot think-together because they will forever be “one-at-a-times.” David remembers his conversation with Uncle Axel about the impossibility of knowing what the true Image of God really is. That night,... (full context)