The Chrysalids

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Racism and Fear of the Unknown Theme Analysis

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Wanuk operates under a set of laws and beliefs that discriminates against anyone or anything that does not look “normal.” Those who appear different in any way from the Image of God as prescribed by the Definition of Man are segregated from society and sterilized, so that they cannot produce more Deviations. The Chrysalids exposes the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of any society that kills its members in an attempt to be more pure and moral. This is, of course, a morally reprehensible act, and a deeply misguided one. The people who are the targets of this moralistic racism prove to be those with the highest moral standards, and the novel makes a clear statement about the impossibility of determining someone’s character from their appearance.

While much of the racism in the novel is driven by religious doctrine, this doctrine is fueled by a fear of the unknown. Rather than explore the world, the Wanukians isolate themselves to an extreme extent—so much so that they will go to extraordinary lengths to keep out the rest of the world. The Zealanders show a greater willingness to travel and explore, but they exhibit supremacist and xenophobic (a fear of foreigners) tendencies as well. Although the Wanukians actively seek out Offenses, while the Zealanders are more tolerant of difference, the Zealanders also show no compunction over killing those who they deem to be racially and intellectually inferior.

The fact that Wanukians would classify Zealanders as Deviations, while Zealanders consider Wanukians to be an inferior race deserving of death because they lack the ability to telepathically think-together, demonstrates the highly arbitrary nature of racism. This discrimination has nothing to do with truth, but rather is based on characteristics that are detested in one culture, but valued in another. Wyndham also forces the reader to think about this racism in a critical and personal way. Like the Wanukians killed by the Zealanders, the reader is not capable of think-together, and thus must wonder how he or she would fare in this world.

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Racism and Fear of the Unknown ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Chrysalids related to the theme of Racism and Fear of the Unknown.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Dreams were funny things and there was no accounting for them; so it might be that what I was seeing was a bit of the world as it had been once upon a time—the wonderful world that the Old People had lived in; as it had been before God sent Tribulation."

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Old People, Mary Strorm
Related Symbols: Dreams
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The protagonist of the novel, David Strorm, is immediately depicted as a dreamer--he has vivid dreams about a faraway (whether in time or in physical distance) place. He's something of an audience stand-in, because unlike the majority of the people in his community, he's curious about the outside world, and refuses to accept what he can see and touch as the be-all, end-all.

The novel as establishes a clear contrast between the Old and New worlds. The Old People, we're told, were evil--that's why they were punished by God. Clearly, David lives in a severe, religious society that hypocritically contrasts its own virtue with the evils of the past--a society not unlike Hitler's Germany or even the American South during the years of segregation.


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“And God created man in His own image. And God decreed that man should have one body, one head, two arms and two legs: that each arm should be jointed in two places and end in one hand: that each hand should have four fingers and one thumb: that each finger should bear a flat finger-nail.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Nicholson
Page Number: 10-11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to the guiding ideology of the Wanukians. In David's society, people subscribe to the belief that God created man in his own image--however, people then go on to interpret these words in the most literal manner possible. They believe that God creates human beings to look just like him; therefore, anybody who doesn't look a perfectly "normal" human is somehow imperfect or evil.

The novel shows the ways that religious ideas can be misinterpreted or twisted to fuel racism or create a totalitarian society. The Bible, from which the passage is excerpted, says only that "God created man in His own image"--the Wanukians have clearly added on all the subsequent details to support their hatred and fear of the unknown. This kind of misinterpretation of ambiguous statements is a common aspect of fundamentalist, repressive societies.

“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.)

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 3 Quotes

“If John and Mary Wender had been there when I woke up struggling and crying, and then lay in the dark trying to convince myself that the terrible picture was nothing more than a dream, they would, I think, have felt quite a lot easier in their minds.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker), Sophie Wender , John Wender, Mary Wender
Related Symbols: Dreams
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the chapter, David has a vivid dream in which he sees Sophie being slaughtered like an animal for the "crime" of having an extra toe on her foot. David is beginning to understand how dangerous difference is in his society--and his dream reflects his awareness that different people can be hurt and even killed for their supposed "evil."

The way David expresses his feelings about Sophie is worth mentioning. Previously, Sophie's parents, John and Mary, have asked David to remain quiet about Sophie's abnormality--they figure that, so long as Sophie's toe remains a secret, she'll be able to remain living in the community. But especially since having this horrifying dream, David doesn't need any reminders from John and Mary about keeping the secret: he now knows full-well that if he tells anybody what he knows, Sophie will be hurt. David's sympathies for Sophie greatly outweigh his loyalty to the religion of Wanuk, even in his subconscious, sleeping self.

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 6 Quotes

“Well, every part of the definition is as 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 as soul. It is not in the image of God, it is an imitation, and in the imitations there is always some mistake. Only God produces perfection, so although deviations may look like us in many ways, they cannot be really human. They are something quite different.”

Related Characters: The Inspector (speaker), Sophie Wender
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, David talks to the Inspector--a local figure whose job is to track down those who "deviate" from the proper path of God. By this point in the book, the Inspector has learned that Sophie has six toes, and he wants to know why David, Sophie's friend, didn't alert the authorities to Sophie's supposed evil.

David tries to justify his behavior by saying the obvious: Sophie isn't an evil person and therefore shouldn't be punished. The Inspector retaliates by referring back to the definition of a human being, as outlined in the holy book of the Wanuk religion. There is, of course, no way for David to argue with such a definition. On the surface of things, it's perfectly silly for anybody to say that it's "right" that beings should have exactly five toes--five is a totally random number, the product of millennia of evolution, nothing more. But because David is young (and probably ignorant of evolution), he has no way of arguing with the Inspector, who's essentially using circular logic (this idea is true because it's in the definition of "normal," which is true because it says it's true). Humans in the Wanuk community are so desperate to maintain order that they punish anybody who's the slightest bit unusual, and will use pedantic interpretations of phrases to ruin real people's lives.

“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 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 12 Quotes

“But what’s got them so agitated about us is that nothing shows. We’ve been living among them for nearly twenty years and they didn’t suspect it. We could pass for normal anywhere. So a proclamation has been posted describing the three of you and officially classifying you as deviants. That means that you are non-human and therefore not entitled to any of the rights or protections of human society.”

Related Characters: Michael (speaker), David Strorm, Petra Strorm, Rosalind Morton
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Michael, a fellow psychic, informs Rosalind and David that they're been found out and placed on a "wanted" list. The list establishes that David and his peers aren't human beings at all--they're non-human deviants who can be arrested or even killed on sight.

As Michael acknowledges, the authorities in Wanuk don't just want David and his friends dead because they're different--they're personally outraged that psychics have managed to survive undetected for so many years. There seems to be a personal animosity in the authorities' vendetta against the psychics, one that won't be satisfied until David and the others are dead. The scene establishes how easily the community of Wanuk can deprive people of their rights--one piece of paper, and David is suddenly no longer human.

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 16 Quotes

“The Old People brought down Tribulation, and were broken into fragments by it. Your father and his kind are a part of those fragments. They have become history without being aware of it. They are determined still that there is a final form to defend: soon they will attain the stability they strive for, in the only form it is granted—a place among the fossils.”

Related Characters: Woman from Zealand (speaker), David Strorm, Joseph Strorm, Old People
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the woman from Zealand continues to give David her interpretation of history. She argues that humans are always a part of history, whether they like it or not, and the only way to achieve real "purity" or stasis is through death. In this way she justifies the murder of the Wanukians, because they always wanted to become "fossils" anyway. In essence, the Woman of Zealand seems to be offering David another strict, deterministic model of the universe—the opposite and yet the equal of the one on which David was raised. Where the Wanukians worship stability in the sense of imitating the past, the woman of Zealand worships an ideal of progress, one that feels no qualms about eliminating anything that might hold it back.

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.)