The Chrysalids

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

Wyndham wrote The Chrysalids in the 1950s, after the atrocities of World War II and in the midst of the Cold War, and the ideologies espoused by the Wanukians and the Zealanders are similar to those of real-world groups at that time. The Wanukian’s insistence on racial purity is similar to that of the Nazis, while the decision to segregate Blasphemies into a specific area is reminiscent of both Nazi concentration camps and the racially-driven segregation occurring in the American South at the time. Indeed, like the sterilization of Blasphemies by the Wanukians, the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South was largely based on the physical appearance of those who were attacked. David and the others with the ability to think-together, however, are persecuted for their thoughts and beliefs—an oppression similar to that suffered by the Jews during the Holocaust. Wyndham’s novel is a clear denunciation of this kind of persecution; the mindset it cultivates leads the Wanukians to try to kill the best and kindest members of their society.

While The Chrysalids clearly condemns the atrocities of the past, it also provides a warning for the future. Although the Zealanders may not actively seek out people to kill and do not discriminate against people based on their physical appearance, they show no remorse in killing a large group of people with “inferior” abilities in order to promote their own world view. The beliefs of the Zealanders can be read as an allegory for Soviet ideologies. For example, their promotion of think-together and belief that history is a series of struggles in which one group overthrows another have strongly Marxist undertones. At the same time, within the context of the Cold War, one could also interpret the Zealanders as a stand-in for the United States, which was ready to bomb the Soviet Union in order to promote democratic ideals.

Ultimately, The Chrysalids warns against the blind espousal of any rigid belief, no matter how innocent it might seem. The novel is a testament to the importance of thinking critically and independently and evaluating ones own beliefs and actions, rather than thoughtlessly conforming to the norm.

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Real World Allegory ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Chrysalids related to the theme of Real World Allegory.
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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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.

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.)