The Chrysalids

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Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Chrysalids, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Morality Theme Icon

While Wyndham’s novel is not necessarily optimistic about the future of this post-apocalyptic world, the book does not take an entirely negative stance on the future of society. Instead, the book argues that even within societies that are morally corrupt, individuals have the power and responsibility to make their own moral choices. Indeed, while the actions of the Wakunians and Zealanders are morally reprehensible due to their racist and violent nature, certain people within these societies are able to behave differently, despite having been taught to conform. The group of friends to which David belongs, for example, decides not to kill Anne even though she puts all of their lives in danger by getting married, and Michael gives up the opportunity to go to Zealand because he does not want to leave Rachel alone in Wanuk. In many ways, the morals of the group separate them from Wanuk much more than does any physical or mental difference. The fact that David, Petra, Rosalind, Michael, and Sophie are much better people than the typical Wanukian, yet are all classified as mutants, shows the hypocrisy of the moral code prescribed by the Repentences, and by repressive and totalitarian societies more generally.

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Morality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Morality appears in each chapter of The Chrysalids. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Morality Quotes in The Chrysalids

Below you will find the important quotes in The Chrysalids related to the theme of Morality.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“And any creature that shall seem to be human, but is not formed thus is not human. It is neither man nor woman. It is a blasphemy against the true Image of God, and hateful in the sight of God.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Nicholson
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we learn more about the "dark side" of David's society. Because David's people believe that humans are made to look like God, it follows (supposedly) that anybody who's abnormal in any way must be inhuman--the creation of the Devil. Therefore, abnormal people must be cast out of society as punishment for their innate evil.

The passage is cited again and again throughout the novel as a justification for the Wanukian society's vicious apartheid--its heartless persecution of those who are "different" in even the smallest ways. People with extra toes or unusual arms are banished from society, supposedly because they're evil and not actually human. It's possible that David's society celebrates the importance of conformity in order to strengthen its community ties--like Hitler's Fascists, they need a scapegoat to feel good about themselves. (One could certainly argue that the novel is a science-fiction riff on Hitler's Germany, mixed with Stalinist Russia and segregationist America--i.e., an indictment of all societies that celebrate one kind of person at the expense of all others.)


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Chapter 2 Quotes

“The nearest approach to decoration was a number of wooden panels with sayings, mostly from Repentences, artistically burnt into them. The one on the left of the fireplace read: ONLY THE IMAGE OF GOD IS MAN. 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 led to the yard. It reminded everyone who came in: WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Emily Strorm, Nicholson
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here David describes the "decorations" that hang in his house. David is just a child, meaning that he's grown up looking at these phrases, and assumes that they are totally normal. They all offer different variations on the same theme: sameness is good, difference is bad. Some of the panels argue that mutants (i.e., people who don't have entirely "normal" bodies and minds) are wicked. Notice that the panels use (King James) Biblical language--words like "purity" and "thou." The implication again is that religion can be manipulated to persecute "undesirable" groups of people.

The passage is important because it shows how the twisted religion of David's society perpetuates itself over time: children like David are conditioned to believe in the Wanukian religion from the time they can read.

“So I learnt quite early to know what Offences were. They were things which did not look right—that is to say, did not look like their parents, or parent-plants. Usually there was only some small thing wrong, but however much or little was wrong it was an Offence, and if it happened among people it was called a Blasphemy—at least, that was the technical term, though commonly both kinds were called Deviations.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, David further explains how his society works. Children, plants, and animals are constantly being measured against their parents for deviations or "imperfections" of any kind. If the offspring are in any way different from their parents (or the Wanukian ideal of "normal") then they're sterilized and banished from Wanuk altogether. In such a way, Wanuk remains exactly the same over time.

David shows us how Wanuk subverts the role of the family: instead of just loving and taking care of their children, a parents' job is now also to root out any children who aren't just like them, and turn these "evil" children over to the authorities. It's also worth noting that the fictional society in the novel seems designed to resist Darwinian evolution. Animals develop over time precisely because offspring develop mutations that allow them to respond to their environment. David's society, however, seems hell-bent on resisting such evolutionary progressions.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“There was only one true trail, and by following it we should, with God’s help and in His own good time, regain all that had been lost. But so faint was the trail, so set with traps and deceits, that every step must be taken with caution, and it was too dangerous for a man to rely on his own judgment. Only the authorities, ecclesiastical and lay, were in a position to judge whether the next step was a rediscovery, and so, safe to take; or whether it deviated from the true re-ascent, and so was sinful.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Here David attends an ethics class at school. During the class, he gets another stern reminder of the importance of sameness, but framed in historical and metaphorical language. Supposedly, humanity has been destroyed before because it was too diverse and complex--the only way to ensure that humanity doesn't die out again is to control all social deviations, no matter how small.

One can see, pretty easily, how the "lesson" (propaganda) David receives here can be used to tyrannize human beings. Though the ideas presented here might seem harmless on the surface, when actually put into action they allow for those with power to totally control the "direction" society is to take. This means that the supposed "authorities" mentioned here use the religion of Wanuk to dominate the poeple of their communities.

“Most of the numerous precepts, arguments, and examples in Ethics were condensed for us into this: the duty and purpose of man in this world is to fight unceasingly against the evils that Tribulation loosed upon it. Above all, he must see that the human form is kept true to the divine pattern in order that one day it may be permitted to regain the high place in which, as the image of God, it was set.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

David lives in a strict, ascetic society, in which man has one purpose and one purpose alone: to return to the "right path" that was supposedly lost during the Tribulation. The only way to get back on this path, it's said, is to be pure and imitate God in all ways. The passage shows how easy it is to use religion--if manipulated by skillful leaders--to manipulate people into doing anything. Because the leaders of the Wanukian religion have God on their side, they can justify anything they command. Even mothers and fathers can be convinced to throw their own children out into the wilderness--as the stakes (the future of all society, supposedly) are too high for loyalty to one's individual children.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“You have sinned, woman, search your heart, and you will know that you have sinned. Your sin has weakened our defenses, and the enemy has struck through you. You wear the cross on your dress to protect you, but you have not worn it always in your heart. You have not kept constant vigilance for impurity. So there has been a Deviation; and deviation, any deviation from the true image is blasphemy—no less. You have produced a defilement!”

Related Characters: Joseph Strorm (speaker), Aunt Harriet
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disturbing scene, Harriet, David's aunt, brings her new "mutant" child into the house. Harriet wants her relatives to help her ensure that her child can receive a "Certificate of Normalcy." Instead of helping his own relative, Joseph Strorm yells at her for being evil and abusing the rules of the community. Joseph isn't much of a family man: he's so slavishly loyal to the Wanuk religion that he ignores his innate sympathies for his sister-in-law.

The passage shows how easily religions can be manipulated to suit a given agenda. Furthermore, it shows how strong religiously-motivated hatred can be. Joseph refuses to extend his help to anybody harboring "deviant" human beings--even his own family. He's a religious fanatic, at least by readers' standards, and yet he seems to be pretty normal (and even admirable) by the standards of the novel's society.

“I shall pray God to send charity into this hideous world, and sympathy for the weak, and love for the unhappy and unfortunate. I shall ask Him if it is indeed His will that a child should suffer and its soul be damned for a little blemish of the body….And I shall pray Him, too, that the hearts of the self-righteous may be broken.”

Related Characters: Aunt Harriet (speaker), Joseph Strorm, Emily Strorm
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Aunt Harriet bravely stands up to Joseph Strorm when Joseph yells at her to pray for forgiveness from God. Joseph is furious at her for bringing a "deviant" child into their house--Harriet has given birth to a baby that, she knows very well, will be banished for being different.

Harriet makes it clear that, while she's still religious, she no longer believes in the hateful, bigoted aspects of the religion of the Wanuk community. She believes that God is a loving, merciful figure who wouldn't punish little children for their supposed imperfections. In all, Harriet seems like one of the sanest and most moral characters in the novel, a voice of reason in a world of institutionalized insanity.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“Of course they should be burnt like they used to be. But what happened? The sentimentalists in Rigo who never have to deal with them themselves said: ‘Even though they aren’t human, they look nearly human, therefore extermination looks like murder, or execution, and that troubles some people’s minds.’”

Related Characters: Jacob (speaker), David Strorm
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, we're introduced to Jacob, an old, mean farmer who sincerely believes that deviants and undesirables should be burnt to death as punishment for their sins. Jacob explains that until quite recently, the Wanuk society did burn deviants--but recently, a group of so-called sentimentalists convinced the authorities to merely sterilize and banish the deviants instead. This new "leniency," Jacob believes, is the reason for the latest batch of bad crops in the community.

Jacob believes that his beliefs are perfectly sensible--he's so confident that the deviants in his community aren't human that he doesn't attribute any human feeling whatsoever to them. Thus, he believes that they should be burnt, and condemns those who are too sympathetic to do so as weak and cowardly. Jacob sneers at the natural human sympathy that leads most people to refrain from such acts of violence--thus behavior, Jacob smugly insists, is just a form of weakness, and goes against the difficult morality of the "truth."

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.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“‘Why should they be afraid of us? We aren’t hurting them,’ she broke in.

‘I’m not sure that I know why,’ I told her. ‘But they are. It’s a feel-thing not a think-thing. And the more stupid they are, the more like everyone else they think everyone ought to be. And once they get afraid they become cruel and want to hurt people who are different.’”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Petra Strorm (speaker)
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, David and Petra sum up their community's culture. As David points out, the Wanukians don't like anybody who's different because the Wanukians themselves are too foolish and close-minded to tolerate difference of any kind. It takes a conscious effort to embrace people who are different--and ultimately, it's easier to be intolerant.

While the people of Wanuk wrap their bigotry in pious words and church gatherings, their hatred for undesirables is no different from a lyncher's hatred for a black man, or a Nazi's hatred for a Jew. Intolerance takes many different forms, and yet it always boils down to the same thing: willful ignorance of the complex realities of the world.

Chapter 17 Quotes

“Sometime there will come a day when we ourselves shall have to give place to a new thing. Very certainly we shall struggle against the inevitable just as these remnants of the Old People do. We shall try with all our strength to grind it back into the earth from which it is emerging, for treachery to one’s own species must always seem a crime. We shall force it to prove itself, and when it does, we shall go; as, by the same process, these are going.”

Related Characters: Woman from Zealand (speaker), Old People
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising passage, the woman from Zealand reveals her own powerlessness even as she asserts her society's triumph. While she supports her society's ideas about history, she acknowledges that at some point in the future, the Zealanders will probably act like the Wanukians and try to reverse the inevitable "flow" of the universe, becoming a tyrannical, backwards regime that resists change and evolution. The idea here is that all tyrannies consists of authorities trying to undo the inevitable. For example, the tyrants of Wanuk try to undo the inevitable genetic diversity of the human species by banishing so-called mutants. By the same token, the woman from Zealand argues, her own civilization will one day (presumably when it starts to lose power or authority) become harsh and repressive, and then it will be destroyed by the next generation of "New People."

The Woman from Zealand assumes, as an unspoken premise of her argument, that existence is a constant process of evolution and decay. At the same time, she doesn't really seem to accept the real-world implications of her beliefs, as she is currently using them to justify mass murder. She also admits that right now, the Zealanders are still on the rise--it will be a long time before they become like the Wanukians. (And thus, presumably, she herself is immune from the harsher implications of her philosophy.)