Theme and satire are very closely interwoven
in The Chrysalids. Many of the critical ideas in the novel are pointed directly at the shortcomings of David's society and,
indirectly, at our society. The people of Waknuk, for example, purge from their midst anything that is not normal or, at least,
does not look like their concept of normal. In the history of mankind, certain groups have always reacted negatively to other
groups they feel are different. Recent history includes some horrendous events that make what the Waknuk people do look like
child's play. Genocide has occurred, for instance, during World War II, when 6 million Jews were exterminated, during the
expulsion of the Armenians from Turkey, in Cambodia during the 1970's, and in 1994 in Ruanda. Unfortunately, there are many
more examples in the history of mankind. Our own society has institutions and clinics to educate and administer to the abnormal;
yet there are "freak" shows in every large midway.
David's society, despite its concern for the
True Image , allows the great-horses to be bred and used. These horses are huge, far bigger than any normal horse. But, they
do twice the work of a normal horse at less than twice the feed. For the sake of profit the True Image can be ignored. Hypocrisy
is shown to be a universal human condition and the people of Waknuk are no different from us.
Another of the author's statements directed
at us is no less bitter. The graphic description of the Badlands, the deviations, the age of barbarism, the horror of Tribulation
, all point out the inherent dangers of nuclear war and, perhaps more effectively, the finality of such a war.
The chief critical theme, however, is the one
implied by the title of the novel. Chrysalid is a term taken from biology. It describes the state through which a larva must
pass before becoming an insect. In this state, the larva is wrapped in a hard case or shell, takes no food and is totally
inactive. This is precisely the state that Joseph Strorm and his kind are trying to maintain and force on humanity
As the Sealand lady points out, evolution cannot
be denied and the chrysalid cannot be stopped in its development to the next stage. The Waknuk society's anti-intellectualism,
which tries to eliminate both logic and imagination, and its efforts to deny evolution, are doomed to be a dead end.
Wyndham's attacks on this kind of thinking varies
from satire to outright bitterness. The satire is chiefly directed at Joseph Strorm. Since he personifies all that is wrong
with the community's religious ideas, he is made to appear as a frustrated and dangerous buffoon.
But criticism can take a crueller form,
such as Sophie's fate, or Aunt Harriet's suicide. Their stories introduce a sense of helpless frustration for they point out
not only the foolishness of the Waknuk philosophy but, also, the futility of trying to defeat it.
Uncle Axel, as the mouthpiece of the author,
supplies the most apt analysis of the situation, for he tells David that every group of people he has seen in his travels
thinks that the True Image is themselves. No one, he points out, could ever be sure that the True Image is right, for it comes
from Nicholson's Repentances , written after Tribulation.
Only the Sealanders offer hope to David and
his friends and in their wish to improve and develop mankind, they give hope to the novel.