The Chrysalids Questions and Answers
by John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beyn Harris

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What are the people in The Chrysalids sheltering themselves from?

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I believe that the "people" that the question references are the members of the Waknuk society.  

The people in the Waknuk society are sheltering themselves from and actively fighting against drastic genetic changes.  

The reader learns this detail about the Waknuk people early in the book.  Readers are introduced to Sophie and David in chapter one.  David accidentally discovers that Sophie has six toes, and her parents plead with David to keep it a secret.  

"It's very, very important," she insisted.  "How can I explain to you?"

But she didn't really need to explain. Her urgent, tight-strung feeling of the importance was very plain. Her words were far less potent.

She said: "If anyone were to find out, they'd — they'd be terribly un-kind to her. We've got to see that that never happens."

It was as if the anxious feeling had turned into something hard, like an iron rod.

"Because she has six toes?" I asked.

"Yes. That's what nobody but us must ever know. It must be a secret between us," she repeated, driving it home. "You'll promise, David?"

Their pleading is not so Sophie avoids playground teasing.  They want to keep Sophie alive.  If her genetic mutation becomes known to the Waknuk people, Sophie will either be killed or banished.  

The reader further learns about the Waknuk's deeply ingrained fear of genetic changes when David's house is described.  Hanging up on the walls are "motivational" sayings.  It's akin to people hanging up framed Bible verses in their house.  But the sayings in David's house are hardly positive and uplifting.  They say things like the following:

BLESSED IS THE NORM . . . WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT! . . . THE NORM IS THE WILL OF GOD . . . THE DEVIL IS THE FATHER OF DEVIATION.

The Waknuk people are actively seeking shelter from genetic changes.  They actively remove unwanted genetic changes from their population.  Essentially, they are practicing selective breeding, but they are not attempting to breed in new positive traits.  They only want the current, existing traits.   

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