The Chrysalids

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Themes and Colors
Words Theme Icon
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Chrysalids, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Words Theme Icon

Words and language are at the heart of The Chrysalids because it is David’s ability to communicate wordlessly that makes him a Blasphemy. This ability frightens the leaders of Waknuk not only because David might be able to plan a secret uprising against them, but also because David’s existence challenges the authority of the words on which the leaders’ power is based. By classifying David as a Blasphemy, however, the leaders of Waknuk contradict the very words that they so strongly espouse. Up until this point, a Blasphemy was described as someone who did not look like the Image of God and differed from the Definition of Man. David, on the other hand, fits perfectly within the Definition, as his telepathic powers don’t affect how he looks and are unmentioned in the Definition. His existence proves that the words contained within Repentences are not perfect or all-encompassing, and that the ideas promoted within them are opinions rather than facts.

The adages from the Repentences that fill the houses of Waknukians are meant to be powerful statements of the importance of conformity, but Uncle Axel points out that they are not powerful because they are not backed up by any sort of introspection. Waknukians memorize and repeat these proverbs, but they hear them so often that they never think about what they actually mean. Indeed, David often points out that even though he knows these maxims by heart, he has not internalized their meaning. David generally finds words to be much less effective tools for communication than thought-images, which are more immediate and nuanced units of communication.

While the novel clearly questions the power of language by contrasting it with telepathy, it also suggests that there are benefits to language that thought-images cannot claim. Indeed, the physical and aural manifestations of language keep David safe in situations that invisible and inaudible thought-images could not, like when Rachel saves the group by destroying the words of her sister. Further, Wyndham, the novelist, must himself rely on words to communicate his story to his readers. Although he imagines many benefits of collective thinking and telepathy, it is not at all clear from his novel that this is truly a superior way of operating.

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Words ThemeTracker

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

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

“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 Waknukians. 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 Waknukians 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.


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“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 Waknukian 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 Waknukian religion from the time they can read.

Chapter 3 Quotes

“‘I only meant if,’ I protested. I was alarmed, and too confused to explain that I had only happened to use one way of expressing a difficulty which might have been put in several ways.”

Related Characters: David Strorm (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, David absent-mindedly says that he sometimes wishes he had a third hand. David isn't speaking literally--he's using a familiar idiom, expressing the idea that he sometimes feels clumsy. And yet David's family is shocked by his outburst: in a society that celebrates sameness, the desire for a third hand, even when expressed comically, is a very serious matter indeed. Here, David tries to defend his statements, but has difficulty expressing his intention.

The passage shows David maturing--gradually, he's learning that his society celebrates homogeneity to the point where any difference is persecuted. At the same time, David is also learning the limits of language, as well as just how powerful (or dangerous) language can be.

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 Waknuk religion. The Waknuk 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 Waknuk 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 Waknuk than it is as a source of morality or truth. Religion helps keep the people of Waknuk 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 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 Waknuk 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 Waknuk can deprive people of their rights--one piece of paper, and David is suddenly no longer human.