The Chrysalids

by John Wyndham

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Which character in The Chrysalids does John Wyndham use to show that values and beliefs influence individual behavior?

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David is taught moral values that conflict with others he has. His decisions to follow his emerging private moral values bring him into conflict with the community and it's leaders, the Elders. He feels a growing conflict between these values and those he has been taught: "I felt as though I were caught in a conflict of loyalties."

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I think a great example of this is David's Father, Joseph Strorm, and Uncle Angus Morton:

Differences of temperament and outlook had kept them intermittently at war with one another for years. My father had been heard to sum up his opinion by declaring that if Angus had any principles they were of such infinite width as to be a menace to the rectitude of the neighbourhood; to which Angus was reputed to have replied that Joseph Strorm was a flinty-souled pedant, and bigoted well beyond reason. It was not, therefore, difficult for a row to blow up, and the latest one occurred over Angus' acquisition of a pair of great-horses.

Rumours of great-horses had reached our district though none had been seen there. My father was already uneasy in his mind at what he had heard of them, nor was the fact that Angus was the importer of them a commendation; consequently, it may have been with some prejudice that he went to inspect them.

His doubts were confirmed at once. The moment he set eyes on the huge creatures standing twenty-six hands at the shoulder, he knew they were wrong. He turned his back on them with disgust, and went straight to the inspector's house with a demand that they should be destroyed as Offences.

'You're out of order this time,' the inspector told him cheerfully, glad that for once his position was incontestable.' They're Government-approved, so they are beyond my jurisdiction, anyway.'

'I don't believe it,' my father told him. 'God never made horses the size of these. The Government can't have approved them.'

'But they have,' said the inspector. 'What's more,' he added with satisfaction, 'Angus tells me that knowing the neighbourhood so well he has got attested pedigrees for them.'

'Any government that could pass creatures like that is corrupt and immoral,' my father announced.(Chap 4)

While both of these men "technically" uphold the beliefs of Waknuk, Uncle Angus Morton's views are much more progressive than Joseph's. So, Uncle Angus Morton is willing to purchase and make use of the great horses on his farm. Even though Joseph can recognize the value of having such an animal on the farm, he refuses to have anything to do with them, and furthermore, goes so far as to try and have them destroyed as Offences. Both of these men's beliefs directly affects the actions they are willing to take in society.

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John Wyndham takes two directions in showing how values and beliefs affect behavior. He shows this through people who act positively because of their values and beliefs and through those who act negatively. Some characters who act positively because of their values and beliefs are David, Rosalind, Uncle Axel. Some who act negatively are Allan, Anne, David's mother, David's father, Spider man. There is actually a third special category not so easily divided into positive and negative: Sophie, the Sealanders, Angus Morton.

David, Rosalind and Uncle Axel are all led by their values and beliefs to watch out for others, protect others, have compassion and tenderness for others, love, accept and guard others--and themselves.

David's mother, Allan, the Spider man, Anne and David's dad are all led to judge, punish, reject, exile, expose, destroy, despise, dismember and disown other people. They will even turn on and disown their own family as with David's Aunt Harriet and David himself.

Sophie, the Sealanders and Angus Morton require some thought to understand. Sophie helped David to survive and return to the camp where the other telepaths were held captive. However, she didn't do it for the loving, protecting reasons that David might have done if the roles had been reversed (in other words, David might have saved Sophie in a similar situation). Sophie saved him to protect her own interests: She didn't want the Spider man to to take a woman other than herself. So even though her values led her to do good, her values were not the same as David's group.

The Sealanders came to rescue the telepaths and save them from danger--arriving just in the nick of time (Wyndham timed it this way to make a thematic point, not just for the suspenseful dramatic affect). They came as a result of the same values that David's group has. However, the Sealanders aid in demolishing the Waknukians, ensuring their deaths. They explain to David and the others that an inferior form of a species--one that cannot reframe their logical systems to accommodate a changing world--will come to warfare with the higher form of that species and must be wiped out and die.

This seems problematically opposed to the values of tolerance, inclusion and protectiveness. So even though they act out of the same values that David's group has, one of the results is the death of an attacking, murdering group of people--the key to understanding the paradox is that the Waknukians were attacking and killing, even their own sons and daughters.

Wyndham's thematic point, the one that requires the Sealanders to come just in time and no sooner, is that humanity's tendency to see events in the rigid logic of past events in the face of catastrophic events leads to their detriment and doom. He believes that it is necessary to build a new framework of logic--a paradigm of logic--when the world undergoes radical changes (perhaps like the social and climatic changes in the world today).

Angus Morton presents another problem. He actually doesn't do heroic or self-endangering good in the way that David, Rosalind and Uncle Axel do but he doesn't do bad either. What he does do is ridicule the community and leaders around him. He tries to trap Strorm into displaying ridiculous behavior about the horse and he reminds him of a past ridiculous act with the cat. He is the Moliere of Waknuk, the community satirist laughing at their seriously hypocritical beliefs and values contradicting a code of religion.

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In The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, what decisions does David make, and how do they conflict with his moral values?

It is necessary to first establish what David's moral values are so that his decisions can be seen to accord or to conflict with these values. Also, as you'll see, there are two levels of a person's moral values. They are the values a person is taught by family and/or  school and/or society [note: these may not accord with each other!] and the values springing from one's own inner character. Briefly, in David's case, he was taught by father, school, and society that rigid conformity to strict and unyielding rules that punish "deviance," which is physical, psychological, emotional, or intellectual departure from a sternly defined norm, is to be brutally punished and eradicated--utterly destroyed. This is reinforced with slogans like "The Devil is the Father of Deviation."

One decision David makes that conflicts with the moral values he has been taught--his public values--is to keep Sophie's secret about the deviance of her toes a secret--even at the price of severe punishment. On the other hand, this decision accords with his private values that only emerge and reveal themselves as he acts from inner impulses as events come upon him. Therefore, while David's decision conflicts with his public values, it accords with his private values, which are values he couldn't have known he had until that event occurred. Another decision David makes that conflicts with the values he has been taught is his decision to keep a secret with Uncle Axel about David's own secret related to his cognitive powers. He simultaneously makes another decision that conflicts with his public values and that is to keep the secret of his friends' similar cognitive deviances.

"Wouldn't it be more fun to do your chattering with some of the other kids .... than just sitting and talking to yourself?"
"But I was."
"Was what?" he asked, puzzled.
"Talking to one of them," I told him. ...
"Rosalind," I told him. ...
"H'm -- I didn't see her around," he remarked.

Secrets are against the moral values of the community since secrets may hide deviance and secrets about deviance are paramountly against the moral values of the community since all deviance must be destroyed. However, this is another instance when David's decision accords with his emerging private moral values just as his decision to protect Sophie did. Two things that clearly emerge from examining some of David's decisions and how they conflict with his moral values. The first is David has two sets of moral values and they conflict against each other. The second is that David follows his emerging private values at great risk and personal hardship thus causing greater conflict with his taught moral values.

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How were John Wyndham's values demonstrated in The Chrysalids?

The Chrysalids is a strong cautionary tale about the danger of religious doctrine and eugenics.

Wyndam was highly influenced by events happening before he wrote the novel, especially World War II.  During the war, he worked for the Ministry of Information and then as a corporal in the army working with codes.  Wyndam would have been heavily influenced by the eugenic race-purifying movements of the Nazis and the threat of nuclear annihilation once the US dropped an atomic bomb in Japan.

In The Chrysalids, a post-apocalyptic world has left humans in the hands of religious fanatics.  Anyone who does not look a certain way is expelled, and any animals that don’t conform to specific requirements are killed.

An example of the way the language used is very similar to Nazi policy is when the inspector lectures David on why he needs to turn in his friend Sophie for having six toes.

'Loyalty is a great virtue, but there is such a thing as misplaced loyalty. One day you will understand the importance of a greater loyalty. The Purity of the Race -- '  (ch 6)

Besides the damage of religion, there is the potential for danger in any totalitarian arrangement, especially when a group tries to make people conform.

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What is John Wyndham saying about David's beliefs and values and how do they effect on his behavior in The Chrysalids?

Oddly enough, somehow David, even as a young boy, has values and beliefs that are different from those of his father, the Magistrate of Waknuk, and different from most people in his community. To make this difference believable, John Wyndham gives David an Uncle who sees for himself the error of the fanaticism of the belief system in Waknuk. Perhaps Uncle Axel saw enough of the world beyond Waknuk or understood and believed the reports of that world enough to give him a clearer vision and more reasoning attitude.

In any event, David's values and beliefs are innocent ones of inclusion and tolerance instead of blamable ones of exclusion, punishment, and division. The irony is that in the end the Sealanders turn the final judgment against the Waknukians who are demolished in death.

Wyndham's interest was in how long-established beliefs and values--logical systems--are detrimental to the survival and integrity of humanity when the world drastically changes, through one means or another. It was Wyndham's belief that logical systems had to be reframed in such an event, the way the Sealanders did--and the way David was doing. Of course, David was helped along by the fact that he had a Deviation that made him a Blasphemy and subject to punishment, even death.

David's values and beliefs led him to behave in a way that was loving and kind instead of punishing and coldly distant. He was led to help protect and guard instead of expose and harm. An illustration of this is the incident with Allan and Sophie. Allan was of a comparable age with David and, whereas David was gentle and kind with Sophie and quietly protecting her, Allan judged and condemned her and loudly exposed her resulting in her punishment and banishment.

Further, David's beliefs and values led him to lead, counsel (following Uncle Axel's admonitions) and protect the other telepaths in and near Waknuk, including his younger sister, Petra. Finally, he was led to summon the courage needed to lead the other telepaths in their escape from Waknuk, with his avenging father is hot pursuit.

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What is John Wyndham saying about David's beliefs and values and how do they effect on his behavior in The Chrysalids?

When we meet David at the beginning of the book he is an innocent boy still trying to understand the world. While he has been taught Nicholson's Repentances and this community's interpretation of the Bible, he still has the innocent eyes of a child and sees a person's humanity despite his father's teachings. Even right after David meets Sophie, his childhood innocence (and in a sense, ignorance) allows him to mentally bypass Waknuk's teachings:

WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT! faced me as I went in, but it was much too familiar to stir a thought. What interested me exclusively at the moment was the smell of food.

Because of this, and perhaps because David has always known deep down that he too, is different in someway, he is more accepting of others.

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