The Chrysalids

by John Wyndham

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How does David's character evolve in The Chrysalids?

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The story begins with David, a ten year old boy who lives in Labrador. His family is not very well off because they were forced to move from their home by the government. This was due to his father’s involvement in an illegal political organization. David has a younger sister named Petra, who is four years old when the story begins. She came from his mother’s womb dead, mind you—she did not die until she had been removed from her mother’s body. David lives with his parents and little sister in a small house behind some other houses that are owned by members of their church (The Pentecostals).

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The Chrysalids starts off with a ten-year-old David, playing all by himself at the high bank. He meets and makes friends with Sophie, who has six toes, a trait that makes her a mutant by Labrador’s religious laws. These laws labeled all those things that did not conform to the...

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true image of God as deviations—“all those things that did not look right.” He discovers Sophie’s secret trait and makes a promise to her mother not to reveal her blemish to anybody. About the same time, David’s Uncle Axel learns about David and his cousin Rosalind, and how they communicate “telepathically” using thought-images. Uncle Axel again, asks David to make a promise not to tell anybody about the thought-images. Later, when Sophie and her family get arrested for concealing her deviation, he begins to understand the role played by the strict religious laws in Labrador. He also understands that the thought images that he, Rosalind and his circle of friends use to communicate, makes them different from the true image of God, hence deviations.

About six years later, David’s circle of friends who talk in thought-shapes expands to include his baby sister Petra. About the same time, one of the group members, Anne, decides to marry a norm—something that, if allowed to happen, would put the lives of all nine thought talkers at risk. Six months after Anne’s marriage, her husband is murdered, and Anne commits suicide. The experience leaves all group members with a heightened sense of awareness of their deviation and the risk of exposure.

A little while later, five of the thought talkers are discovered, David, Rosalind, and Petra manage to escape before being arrested. They run off to the Fringes, where they receive Sophie’s help to hide them from further harm. By this time, David has matured into a young man, knowledgeable of the ways of his people and able to make quick decisions that serve to protect him and the other two in his care. He learns to be an independent person. He has understood his people’s bigotry and what he must do to protect himself and those he loves from the wicked laws of the land.

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In The Chrysalids, David goes from an innocent little boy to a young man with adult responsibilities.

In the beginning of the story, David reflects on a moment that shaped his childhood.  It was when he met the little six-toed Sophie, and realized that people with deviations were not monsters.  This is important because David himself is a deviant.  He can see thought-pictures shared by certain others, including his cousin Rosalind.

I was a normal little boy, growing up in a normal way, taking the ways of the world about me for granted. … It is hind-sight that enables me to fix that asthe day when my first small doubts started to germinate. (ch 1)

The other event that dramatically changes David’s life is when he realizes that Petra is also telepathic.  From that point on he has to worry about someone other than himself.  He has to protect Petra, and take on a rather adult responsibility.

The next day I tried to send thought-shapes to Petra. It seemed to me important for her to know as soon as possible that she must not give herself away. I tried hard, but I could make no contact with her. (ch 9)

Petra is too young to protect herself, and too young to understand what is happening to her.  David must look out for her to keep anyone else from finding out about her, but since she is so strong she is also a threat to all of the telepaths.

It is Anne’s choice that causes all of the telepaths to have to flee though.  When she marries a normal man, everyone is in danger.  She loves him, so she chooses to tell him.  He cannot accept it, and Uncle Axel has to kill him to protect all of the telepaths.  It doesn’t work.  They are found out.  David and Rosalind flee with Petra.

On the run, David experiences many adult situations.  His love for Rosalind is developing.  He has to have a parent-like relationship with young Petra.  He tries to protect Rosalind from his uncle’s less-than-pure intentions. 

David has become hardened and matured.  He is no longer the little boy he was.

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In The Chrysalids, what are the events that cause David to have any character changes within the novel?

Certainly Chapter 1 when David befriends Sophie and catches a glimpse of her feet causes the child David to find a discrepancy between what he has been taught and the truth as he experiences it. Consider how he thinks about it at the end of Chapter 1:

Clearly there must be a mistake somewhere. Surely having one very small toe extra - well, two very small toes, becuase I supposed there would be one to match on the other foot - surely that couldn't be enough to make her "hateful in the sight of God...?"

The ways of the world were very puzzling.

David begins to question and secretly doubt the rules and culture of his world. Of course, his befriending of Sophie and the discovery of her genetic "deviation" foreshadows his own discovery.

Chapter 4, with Uncle Axel's stern insistence that David and the others promise never to talk about their "gift" to others represents another milestone in David's development:

There had been no acknowledged, co-operative policy among us. It was simply as individuals that we had all taken the same self-protective secretive course. But now, out of Uncle Axel's anxious insistence on my promise, the feeling of a threat was strengthened. It was still shapeless to us, but it was more real.

As David goes on to comment, this decision they make together was what began their collective consciousness as a group - "it made us into a group." From this point on, the group thinks and acts as a group, working together (except of course when one of them chooses to marry outside of the group).

The discovery of Sophie and her fleeing and capture, combined with the suicide of David's Aunt Harriet and presumably the death of her baby in Chapter 7 equally serves to reveal to David what is at stake if their "gift" becomes known. As he comments, "And I went on being very frightened." David even prays to be "normal".

When Anne chooses to marry outside of the group and in Chapter 10 is found hung after the death of her husband, it is clear that this fear they have of discovery is heightened. It was just by chance that Rachel managed to obtain Anne's note of confession and thus saved the group from discovery. The group live in a dangerous world where at any moment they could be found out with horrifying consequences, as displayed by Sophie and Aunt Harriet. These really are the key events that form David Storm and prepare us for the group's discovery of Petra, which of course equally destroys the group and gives some of them hope for the future.

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In Wyhdham's The Chrysalids, description of David's character at the beginning of the story, events that caused change, and his character at the end of the story.

At the start  of John Wyndham's novel, The Chrysalids, David (the main character) is young and innocent. He is unaware of the deep significance of what takes place around him with regard to his culture's wish to wipe out the "mutants."

When David realizes that Sophie has an extra toe, he is not quite sure what all the fuss is about—particularly that he is sworn to secrecy.

It was so heavy a promise that I was quite resolved to keep it...Though, underneath, I was puzzled by its evident importance. It seemed a very small toe to cause such a degree of anxiety.

On his way home, some part of the society's teachings about "mutants" becomes clear, but still does not form a deep enough impression on David. The Sunday "precepts" connect...

...with a click that was almost audible...The Definition of Man recited itself in my head: '...each leg shall be jointed twice and have one foot, and each foot five toes, and each toe shall end with a flat nail...'

This small realization still does not quite impact the boy. David returns home and sees the same signs on the walls in his home that have always been there—but he has really never understood the context of these statements or how they impact others.

The nearest approach to decoration was a number of wooden panels with sayings, mostly from Repentances, artificially burnt into them. The one on the left of the fireplace read: ONLY THE IMAGE OF GOD IS MAN...KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD...WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!...Many of them were still obscure to me.

We see a distinct change in David when he is beaten for having knowledge of Sophie's condition and not reporting it. After his father is done with him, while his sister Mary dresses his wounds, David reflects on what has happened:

By now it was not so much the bodily hurts that brought [tears]: it was bitterness, self-contempt, and abasement...'I couldn't help it, Sophie,' I sobbed.

In being beaten, David told what he knew about Sophie and feels guilty—self-contempt; but the bitterness he experiences speaks to anger and resentment, against the world that has such laws, and a father who seemed not to hesitate in delivering his "torture" to force his knowledge from him, along with his punishment as well.

We now see a new David. He shares (telepathically) with his friends that what they have been taught is wrong—that Sophie was not a threat. The others struggle with this news, however...

You can't lie when you talk with your thoughts. [The others] wrestled with the novel idea...

Now David knows more of the world and he has passed his own judgment: his family and his society are wrong. David becomes an independent thinker.

The reader comprehends to what extent David has grown as the telepaths realize that they have been discovered. Alan knows everything his wife (Anne—a telepath) told him before she killed herself, and others are suspected. Michael tells David he must be prepared to kill if necessary to save them, and he must be especially responsible for Petra, as she is the weakest of them.

If worst comes to worst, and you can't save Petra, it would be kinder to kill her than let her go to sterilization and banishment to the Fringes—a lot more merciful for a child.

David understands and agrees. The next day he is called to act—they must flee. His strength of character allows the more mature David to lead his group away from civilization: escaping the Fringe people and finally finding safety with the Sealand people.

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In John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, what is a character trait of David's at the beginning of the book that changes and what event causes this change?

At the beginning of John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, I would suggest that one of David's most outstanding characteristics is his innocence and the trusting nature that comes with it.

His innocence is easy to see at the start of the story. When David meets Sophie, and accident while playing exposes her foot with six toes. David thinks nothing of it, though Sophie is greatly distressed that he has seen it, and Sophie's mom is also extremely upset, telling David Sophie will suffer if it is discovered, and begging him for his oath never to tell anyone what he has seen.

"It's very, very important," she insisted. "How can I explain to you?...If anyone were to find out they'd—they'd be terribly unkind to her."

David quickly promises to remain silent. At first, however, he cannot understand how having six toes could be such a big deal:

It was so heavy a promise that I was quite resolved to keep it...Though, underneath, I was puzzled by its evident importance. It seemed a very small toe to cause such a degree of anxiety.

David is still very uninformed. On his way home, he tries to understand. Why would Sophie and her mother be so fearful? In a moment of insight, things fall into place. David can begin to understand what society expects:

Then [the monotonous Sunday precepts join up] with a click that was almost audible..."and each leg shall be jointed twice and have one foot, and each foot five toes, and each toe shall end with a flat nail...And any creature that shall seem to be human, but is not formed thus is not human...It is a blasphemy against the true Image of God, and hateful in the sight of God."

One incident that foreshadows trouble is when Alan sees the imprint of Sophie's wet foot on the rock that she has just left. Alan is much too interested to simply be curious, and David feels a tangible threat:

I looked up and saw that [Alan] was staring at something beside me. I turned quickly. On the flat rock was a footprint, still undried...The mark was still damp enough to show the print of all [Sophie's] six toes clearly. I kicked over the jar...but I knew...that the harm had been done...he had turned and was standing looking along the bank towards the point where Sophie had disappeared into the bushes.

I ran up the stone and flung myself on him.

When David returns home, the news reaches his father that he has consorted with a mutant and kept her secret. To get information, David's father beats him badly. Perhaps it is his father's fury that finally opens his eyes to the dangers of the society in which he lives—something he had never understood before. Betraying his promise to Sophie is devastating.

By now it was not so much the bodily hurts that brought [tears]: it was bitterness, self-contempt, and abasement...'I couldn't help it, Sophie,' I sobbed.

What finalizes any doubts David might have is his Uncle Axel's explanation that he is in danger. David's telepathic abilities make him a mutant, and therefore, a threat. His uncle warns him:

I want you to keep it a secret. I want you to promise that you will never, never, tell anyone else what you have just told me—never. It's very important: later on you'll understand better how important it is. You mustn't do anything that would even let anyone guess about it. Will you promise me that?

David is a young man living in a society he does not understand. His father's ferocity, Sophie's capture, and his own abilities change the way he sees the world forever.

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