The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Total Study Test and key version 1 by George Lamont

What kind of craft does the New Zealand woman arrive in?

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10. What kind of craft does the New Zealand woman arrive in? A futuristic helicopter with a conical rotor.

11. Describe the weapon employed by the New Zealand woman. It is like a spider web, extremely sticky, which paralyzes and smothers victims. The more the people thrash and try to escape, the more they are bound, and die.

Chapter XVII

1. How does the New Zealand woman undo the effects of her weapon? Whom does she save? She wears a shiny white suit that is immune to the sticky weapon, and a fine aerosol spray that dissolves the web. She saves the telepaths David, Petra, Rosalind, and Michael.

2. Describe the New Zealand woman’s appearance, and suggest some possibilities as to what she might represent through her appearance. She is dressed in white, with perfect, white teeth and creamy, white skin with dusty, pink cheeks. Her face is sculpted perfectly, and totally self-confident. She has blond, short hair. She might represent an angel through her appearance, though her beliefs are not perfect. On page 193, the narrator notes that she appears to have a halo above her (characteristic of angels). This subtly suggests that the flaws of religious beliefs still exist even for the advanced New Zealand telepaths. This idea that humans are imperfect is, of course, central to the Christian religion.

3. After the New Zealand woman explains that she has decided that “ was worth while...” to come, and mentions the costs of sending the ship, what can the reader extrapolate (guess) about the real reasons for the rescue? Was it altruism, or gain? While the New Zealanders likely have some compassion for other of their telepathic kind, it is clear that this is by far their furthest mission from home. Petra’s extreme powers are what justified the cost and trouble of the trip, not really the plight of David and Rosalind. The NZ people really wanted to advance themselves by acquiring Petra.

4. What very unpleasant news does the New Zealand woman have about who can go with her? How is this matter resolved? There is not enough fuel to go pick up Rachel. Michael, who is in love with Rachel (and vice versa), volunteers to back to Waknuk and stay there with her. No one knows they are telepaths, and they will await their chance to join David and Rosalind in New Zealand. They cannot risk being in Waknuk and be discovered some day. They will sail for New Zealand. (What are their chances of getting there?...)

5. How does the NZ woman justify what happens to all the fringes and normal people as she landed? What insightful observation does she make about the fate of her own race in the distant future? Does this insight support religious or scientific views on creation? She explains that the fringes people were doomed to a terrible life, and the normals got what they deserved. She doesn’t enjoy killing any creature, but only the fittest survive, and in this case, the fittest are the telepaths. This echoes Darwin’s theory of evolution of survival of the fittest through natural selection. She admits that someday, her race will be superseded by an even more powerful species of people or other creature, and that while the telepaths will desperately fight to preserve themselves, they will eventually lose. Nothing lasts forever; the world is always evolving: “... the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution...” (p. 196)

6. As they return to New Zealand, what recurring image does David see? What is so special about this place? How is Rosalind’s personality affected? What does the population’s reaction to Petra confirm about Petra’s importance? David sees the very city he has dreamed of, with its hot sun, white beaches, flying machines and horseless carts. Most of all, he and Rosalind notice the buzz of an entire population of telepaths. Rosalind, now feeling within her own element, casts off her emotional armour and can be her own self. As Petra flashes with excitement, her extreme power actually hurts all the people, who, by their complaint, confirm Petra’s immense importance as the newest installment in the evolution of telepaths.

Literary Analysis:

1. What is the setting of the story? Be specific in regards to time, geographical location, important events preceding the novel, and the kind of society and how it is generally affected by religion. The story takes place in Labrador, on the east coast of Canada, well into the future, many generations after a full-scale nuclear war. The planet has been largely radiated by nuclear weapons. In places, people have survived. Civilization starts again, and the reader finds a pre-industrial, agriculturally-based society roughly equivalent to pre-Renaissance Europe. The society has only recovered two books: The Bible, and a fundamentalist work written after the nuclear war, called Repentances. In an effort to explain their hardship and the vast (but dwindling) amounts of mutation (caused by radiation), the people fear and destroy mutants as if they were agents of the Devil.

2. What is the meaning of the title, and how does it relate to the novel? “Chrysalid” relates to metamorphosis and change in an organism. The telepaths are an evolutionary advancement amongst the human race, and represent the idea that evolution is always causing change and improvement, even among humans. Those humans who do not experience the new changes, will die off and the human race will evolve into a telepathic one.

3. Conflict: List all conflicts in the novel by type, giving the characters and the nature of each conflict.


Man vs. Himself

David vs. Himself: David is a mutant as a telepath, but at first believes the doctrines of “watch thou for the mutant!”. At the same time, he also cannot bring himself to fear mutants when he meets them, such as Sophie. When he realizes he is a mutant too, he is forced to confront his religious beliefs, and partly discard them.

Rosalind vs. Herself: Rosalind is self-reliant and hard on the outside, protecting herself from emotional harm and detection as a telepath. However, her real self is inside, ready to jump out to David and once they reach New Zealand.

Emily Strorm vs. Herself: Emily (David’s mother) is a strong Christian, fears mutants, and is indignant when her sister, Harriet, approaches her asking to borrow Petra to get her own baby a normalcy certificate. However, once Emily realizes that she is not so far from Harriet’s position, feeling the love for her own baby, she must ask herself if she really can believe the rules against mutants and the ruthless adherence to these rules.

The inspector vs. Himself: the inspector believes that he must root out mutations, but he has some humanity to him as well. He thinks Strorm, David’s father, is a bigot and a fool. He also sympathizes with David, refusing to let Joseph whip David with the inspector’s whip, and comforting David about Sophie.

Anne vs. Herself: Anne is one of the telepaths, but her fear of getting caught and desire to be normal and wanted motivates her, ill-fatedly, to marry Alan and reveal her knowledge of the telepaths.

Uncle Axel vs. Himself: Axel is a part of the normal society, but he is open-minded and refuses to adhere to the rules about mutants. He even goes so far as to kill Alan Ervin to protect the telepaths.


Man vs. Man

David vs. Father: Father is the most devout of Christians in the community, and dutifully and quite insanely turns to kill Petra and Rosalind. David cannot abide by his father’s extreme beliefs. As a telepath, David becomes an object of his father’s fear of evil.

David vs. Alan: David is open-minded and sees Sophie as only another human being. Alan is sadistic; he wants to catch Sophie because he enjoys the hunt and has no concern for human suffering. He is the ugly product of a society based on hatred and fear.

David vs. The Spider Man: David is Rosalind’s true lover. The Spider Man lustfully desires Rosalind, also wanting to use her to reproduce. David loves Rosalind truly and resents the Spider Man’s ruthless desires and intention to rape Rosalind.

Joseph Strorm vs. Angus Morton: Joseph represents tradition and adherence to old values. Angus is progressive, but is as antagonistic as Joseph, as they battle each other.

Joseph Strorm vs. Harriet (David’s aunt): Harriet can discard religion when she sees that it is ruthless and blind. Joseph rigidly adheres to religion, unable to see his situation from a detached point of view.

Joseph Strorm vs. The inspector: Joseph is even more extreme than the government laws. He wants the great-horses destroyed even when the government approves. He is too harsh even for the government, whom Strorm feels is too weak and liberal. The inspector must enforce the laws about mutation, but must guard against extremism from people like Strorm. This is why he calls Strorm a bigot and a fool, and refuses to let Strorm whip David using the inspector’s whip.

David vs. Alan Ervin: Alan Ervin is a ruthless person, and wants to catch Sophie. David is a liberal-minded, humanitarian person, who defends Sophie from the aggressive Alan. David (and the telepaths) are in conflict with Alan later as he is ready to expose the telepaths, but Axel kills Alan first.

Rosalind vs. Sophie: They are suspicious of each other. Sophie is suspicious of Rosalind because the Spider Man chose Rosalind over Sophie. Sophie resents Rosalind for her beauty and her normal, attractive appearance. Rosalind suspects Sophie loves David.

The New Zealand woman vs. The normal army: She, as a superior variant of humanity, fights and quickly overcomes the normal army.

Man vs. Circumstances/Environment

David vs. Society: David is raised according to society’s laws and at first believes them, but finds that society’s laws are ruthless, short-sighted, and unfair, and eventually, they exclude him from society.

The telepaths vs. Society: The telepaths are functional, appear normal and are superior to normal people. They are an evolutionary advancement; however, they are oppressed and sometimes killed by a fearful and primitive society.

Harriet vs. Society: Harriet is a normal person, but her love and compassion cause her to reject the harsh, narrow-minded, fear-mongering views of society, and decide not to submit her baby for inspection.

Emily vs. Society: Emily follows society’s rules, but secretly questions the society’s laws after her sister flees in anger and fear.

Joseph Strorm vs. Society: David’s father is more devout than the rest in his generation. He feels that deviation is the natural sign of evil, and he wants to fight it everywhere. However, he feels society is too tolerant and is letting evil spread.

Sophie vs. Society: Sophie is mutated only by having a sixth toe on each foot. She is effectively normal, and is a good girl. However, she is cast out from society because of her toes, and is sentenced to a squalid, brutish life in the fringes. She comes to hate society for what has happened to her, shown by her resentment for Rosalind.

Uncle Axel vs. Society: Axel is normal, but has a liberal, open-minded attitude to mutants. He doesn’t agree with society, but he must appear to so that he can survive and do some good for David and the others.

Anne vs. Society: As a telepath, she is part of a very limited group. She fears that society will reject her as a telepath, so she struggles to become part of society by marrying a normal person (Alan) and shutting herself off from the other telepaths. Her own feelings of guilt for doing this actually cause her to kill herself, and try to destroy the other telepaths by revealing their names in a suicide note, which Rachel luckily finds.

Man vs. The Unknown

David vs. God (Christianity): David disagrees with the laws motivated by the people’s religious beliefs. David must ask himself if it is God’s will that mutants be destroyed, or agree with the New Zealand woman that God intends change.

Joseph Strorm vs. God: Joseph fears God’s tribulation, a further punishment, so he works against mutants to try to prevent another divine punishment.

Joseph Strorm vs. Satan: He fears that Satan creates mutants as flawed attempts to get evil agents into humanity. Like many people, Strorm fears the evil in the world, and looks hard to find some symbol, some icon, to blame for the world’s evils. In this case, the high degree of mutation caused by the radiation gives Joseph the icon that he needs to convince himself that the Devil himself is invading their society.

Uncle Axel vs. God: Axel teaches David the ideas of asking what God really wants. Axel does not believe God wants the destruction of mutants. Axel expects and demands that God be sane and reasonable.

The New Zealand woman vs. The unknown future: She prophecizes that the telepath race will one day be forced to give way to yet another, newer species. In this way, she must work against the unknown future, or fate, for the survival of her race.

4. Characterization: Describe the main characters in terms of their characterization. Include such concepts as the 3 principles of characterization (plausibility, consistency, and motivation), and character types (round/flat, stock/unique, static/dynamic).

David: He is round, as the reader sees his thoughts and feelings. He is unique, being in an original situation. He is dynamic, because he learns that he does not believe the laws of his society about mutants, learns that he is a mutant by their standards, and learns that there is a world beyond what he has known. He is reasonably plausible, because he is a teenager adapting to a moral controversy about the definition of evil. His actions are not out of character throughout the book, so he maintains his consistency. He is adequately motivated by his friendship with Sophie and his own deviation as a telepath.

Joseph Strorm: Strorm is a flat character. Even though the reader sees much of his religious beliefs through dramatization, the reader gains no insight into the character’s inner self. As the main antagonist in the novel, Mr. Wyndham cleverly keeps this character flat so that the reader’s sympathy can be focused on David and his group, and on the author’s message. Joseph might my stereotyped as a fundamental Christian except that he is in a unique situation, so he is not stereotyped. Strorm is completely static throughout the novel, never wavering in his ruthless practices against mutations. Strorm is totally consistent because he never changes his mind, much less act out of character. He is plausible, not because his actions are reasonable (which they’re not), but because extreme, fundamental Christians exist quite commonly. His severe faith and fear of divine punishment sufficiently motivate to the ends that he goes.

Uncle Axel: He is a round character who explains his quiet but serious disagreement with the society to David. He is unique in the story, having traveled as far as anyone in that society, offering a uniquely experienced point of view to David. He is not really dynamic, as he seems to disappear after the death of Alan Ervin. However, he is somewhat dynamic because he accepts and grows to support the telepaths even at great personal risk. His belief in reason and humanity make him a plausible character, and he is consistent in his sympathy for the telepaths and discord with the society. His love for David and hatred of bigotry and cruelty motivate him adequately to explain his actions.

Sophie: She is a round character, mostly at the end, when the reader sees her upset about the Spider man wanting Rosalind. She is certainly unique, as a mutant, outlawed to the fringes when it is obvious that she is not harmful to the society she has been exiled from. Sophie is dynamic, starting out as an innocent child, suffering traumatic escape and exile, then becoming tough, and learning to love a deformed and ruthless man like the spider man. Sophie is entirely plausible, as a simple child. Her transformation into a tough fringes woman is plausible because her environment forces her to adapt. Her jealousy of Rosalind is very believable considering her exile, and lover. She is consistent, remaining a good person through exile and battle. Her exile by a cruel society is acceptable motivation for her actions.

Rosalind: She is a round character through the author’s portrayal of Rosalind’s connection with David, and her love and concern for Petra. As a telepath, Rosalind is unique like the rest. As a strong woman character who fights but has feelings, she escapes stereotypes usually found in heroines, such as weakness and melodramatism. Rosalind of dynamic, starting as a young girl and growing into an adult woman, having learned that she is a telepath and mutant. She is hunted by the normal army, knowing their intent to capture and kill her. At the very end of the book, Rosalind sheds her emotional armour and can be her true self in the new telepath society of New Zealand. Rosalind is a plausible character, as her emotional armour and hard exterior are common traits, especially in tough women who find they must prove themselves in male-dominated world. She is consistent, supporting the other telepaths and desiring to escape. She is motivated by her need to escape detection and capture, and the need to get to a new place that accepts telepaths.

5. Does this novel appeal to the limited reader or the mature reader? Answer in a paragraph, fully justifying your answer.

This book is an example of science-fiction at its finest. It appeals to the limited reader with good, likable protagonists and menacing antagonists. It has a great escape, a fierce battle, a dramatic, last-minute rescue, and a happy ending. However, the book attacks controversial topics, and has imperfections in the right/wrong schema that make it valuable reading for the mature reader. Its criticism of how humanity tries to define the nature of evil place this book in comparison with Sir William Golding’s the Lord of the Flies. Its criticism of religions blind to science and fact demands the reader’s attention and consideration.

6. What is the point of view, and how does it assist the characterization of their protagonist?

This novel is written in the narrative first person point of view. It is especially useful because it allows the reader to gain great insight into the protagonist’s inner feelings and thoughts.

7. Explain the theme or themes of the novel.

Nature of Evil - Human beings constantly look for ways to explain the unpleasant events of life, and often blame the intangible force of “Evil” for these events. Having established that unpleasant events, such as disasters, pestilences, diseases, etc., are caused by evil, humans attempt to define intangible evil in a tangible form, such as a Devil. Humans try to link this intangible concept with their own world, and deduce that the Devil exists among them, but can never prove where or when. Paranoia sets in as people suspect many possible manifestations of the Devil, such as witches, possessions, serious criminals, or in the case of The Chrysalids, simple genetic deviations. In their vain effort to locate, contain, and combat Evil, the people in this society target deviations, as if the genetic mutations were agents of Satan. Ironically, it is this attempt to combat Evil that creates Evil in this novel. It is religious devotion that allows the people to get away with murder, cruelty, and discrimination.

The co-existence of Science and Religion: Science are religion are often totally opposed, being based on completely different systems of establishing ideas about the universe. Religion has the advantage of having an ultimately deliberate design to the universe, while Science lacks this ultimate design (at present), but deals in tangible evidence. In The Chrysalids, the religion of the characters is in direct contrast with the scientific knowledge of the reader. The loss of scientific knowledge by the people make them oblivious to facts the reader accepts already. People must strike a reasonable balance between religious faith scientific knowledge. This theme suggests to the reader that out own world may be primitive, and our religions may be immature. It there is a grand design to the universe related to God or some entity, we, like Joseph Strorm, may have little idea to its true nature.

Darwinian evolution as the essence of the pattern of life - Life is based on change through evolution, causing even humanity to be in a state of flux, always changing, hopefully improving, and leaving behind those who cannot or will not adapt. Both the title and the resolution of this novel emphasize the importance of accepting the pattern of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The “normal” humans in Waknuk cling to their idea that they are the final, perfect form in humanity. They attempt to crush the “superior variant”, the telepaths. This is useless, as the reader can see that the telepaths are superior in their abilities to communicate and cooperate. At the end of the novel, the New Zealand woman echoes Darwin’s theory when she explains that the normal humans will simply be lost as another step in an ever-changing evolution of humanity and life. The reader must accept this truth as well, and understand how evolution applies to the reader’s world.

8. What is ironic about the New Zealand woman’s attitudes at the end of the novel?

While she dislikes killing the normal and fringes people, she looks down upon them as a lower life-form, showing a little of the same discrimination and arrogance that the normal humans show. Is this a human trait? This is the question posed by her behaviour.

Expanding on the story - Use your imagination and knowledge of the story to answer these questions.

1. What happened to Sophie’s parents?

2. What became of Uncle Axel?

3. Do you believe Michael and Rachel ever escaped Waknuk?

4. How did the inspector react to the hunt for Rosalind, David, and Petra? What part did he play?

Essay Questions:

1. Is The Chrysalids an anti-religious novel? Or, is the author simply making constructive observations about the balance of Christianity and Science? If there is a balance, how do we create this balance?

2. Do the normal people in the story have good reasons to destroy mutations? Do not just consider their religious beliefs; consider moral, scientific and practical reasons for or against systematic destruction of mutations.

3. You are a legal representative for Sally and Katherine after their capture. Prepare an essay in which you argue for their defense. You must try to prove that they do not deserve to be killed (or made infertile). You may also argue that they are not mutants, in order to bolster their defense. Use all arguments and evidence at your disposal. Remember that you are trying to convince a religious judge of their innocence.

4. Does the people’s belief that they must exterminate or exile human mutants have support in Christianity? You must disregard the teachings referred to in Nicholson’s Repentances. You may consult reference materials or experts, such as a priest, minister, nun, etc.. Be sure to cite any information you get from books, including The Bible, as well as information from people.

5. Research the phenomenon of telepathy, or ESP (Extra Sensory Perception). Write a research-based essay explaining this phenomenon, including what abilities are thought to exist, how it is believed to work, what proof there is of its existence, and how common is the claim to have this ability.

6. Research Darwin’s theory of evolution. Explain how he came up with the theory, some examples that support the theory, how evolution works, and why this is important for human understanding of the world.

Recommended reading:

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Lord of the Flies by Sir William Golding

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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