The citizens of Waknuk rely mostly on tradition and religious texts as sources of knowledge about the world. Myths about the dangers of the Fringes and the Badlands proliferate, but Uncle Axel tells David that when explorers went to these areas, they found that these myths were not always true. Unlike most people in Waknuk, Uncle Axel frequently questions statements that are presented as fact. He points out that there is no way of being certain about the way the Old People lived or what the true Image of God really is because Repentences was written many years after the Tribulation. The correctness of the Definition of Man is not something that people in Waknuk challenge, but Uncle Axel encourages David to think not only about what is correct, but also about how one knows what is correct.
While the fact that Waknukians are living in the Image of God is widely taken for granted by the Waknukians, David learns that this fact might actually be an opinion when he meets other people, the Zealanders, who also consider themselves to be a superior race. He becomes increasingly skeptical of traditional sources of knowledge over the course of the novel, and is particularly wary of taking images and the words of authority figures as absolute truths. Rather than accepting things at face value, he comes to depend on personal experience as the only incontrovertible source of information. He also trusts the thoughts and feelings of his friends because he has experienced those thoughts and emotions.
Wyndham questions the primacy of vision and the statements of authority by creating characters, like Sophie, who look deviant, but are in fact much better people than many who look like the Image. Further, he challenges the credibility of appearances through David, who looks normal but is in fact very different from most people around him. The book clearly argues that there is a great deal of difference between appearance and reality. Wyndham also suggests that individual thought and experience is the only true source of knowledge, and emphasizes the importance of questioning authority and tradition.
Ways of Knowing ThemeTracker
Ways of Knowing Quotes in The Chrysalids
“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."
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.’”
“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.”