The Chrysalids - chapter 7: The terror of Waknuk and the society shows its true self most powerfully as we read about the events surrounding the birth of Petra and the pitiful situation Aunt...

The Chrysalids - chapter 7:

The terror of Waknuk and the society shows its true self most powerfully as we read about the events surrounding the birth of Petra and the pitiful situation Aunt Harriet is in during chapter 7.

Explain how each of these events add to the feeling of terror and oppression. Use a key speech of Aunt Harriet's to help answer this question.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 7, David is somewhat startled to learn that he has a baby sister as no mention of any upcoming birth has been made. Shortly after his sister Petra is deemed normal and afforded a certificate of normalcy, Aunt Harriet, sister to David's mother, arrives with a baby girl in a basket. David overhears her asking his mother in a terrified voice if she can "borrow" Petra so that she can obtain a certificate of normalcy for her baby. It seems that there is something wrong with Aunt Harriet's baby, although she says it is only "such a tiny thing." But, David's mother feels compelled to refuse her with harshness and cruelty.

After Petra is born, David's parents are made to wait for a couple days before the inspector comes to judge if she is "normal." 

The suspense was aggravated by everyone's knowledge that on the last two similar occasions there had been no certificate forthcoming.

But, finally, the inspector comes in a dilatory manner and completes the necessary papers that allow Petra to remain with her family. Then, one day shortly thereafter, Aunt Harriet arrives, with a tiny baby of her own. She tells David's mother, her sister.

"She was born a week ago. I didn't know what to do. Then when I heard your baby had come early and was a girl, too, it was like God answering a prayer.... You've got the certificate for her?'

David learns that Aunt Harriet has lost two other babies because they have deviated from the "norm." Aunt Harriet hesitates to tell her sister what she wants, but discerning the reason for her delay in replying, David's mother harshly asks, "Are you going to tell me that you have not got a certificate?" Aunt Harriet hopes that she can exchange babies just long enough to get a certificate for her girl. But, David's mother is appalled, calling Harriet's baby girl a "monster."

'Monster!' Aunt Harriet's voice sounded as though she had been slapped. 'Oh! Oh! Oh! ...' She broke into little moanings....
'"This is the third time. They'll take my baby away again like they took the others. I can't stand that - not again. Henry will turn me out, I think. He'll find another wife, who can give him proper children. There'll be nothing — nothing in the world for me — nothing.

Despite her pleadings, David's mother and father are adamant that the baby is a mutant and must be removed from society. In fact, David's father accuses Harriet of blaspheming. And, in his self-righteousness, the father tells Harriet that he will not report this blasphemy. Further, he sends Harriet away, telling her to pray. She replies that she will, indeed, pray. She will pray to God and ask Him if

"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...."

David watches her depart, this time holding the baby in her lap as she pulls away with the cross visible on her fawn-colored dress. He notes that the look on her face that is "hard as granite" as she looks toward the house with eyes that appear to see nothing. Later, he does hear his mother cry, and his father insist that Purity be preserved. David learns the next day that Aunt Harriet's body has been found in the river; no mention of the baby was made.

Aunt Harriet commits suicide after enduring terrible humiliation at the hands of her own sister and her husband. Without any other recourse, she despairs and takes her life rather than live an empty existence without her child and a husband in such an oppressive society.