Maturity and Growth in The Chrysalids
A person is generally considered to be mature if they exhibit common qualities or characteristics that are expected in adulthood. These characteristics can include being responsible, patient, and making decisions based on rationality. In the novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, we get to see how the young adolescent characters mature throughout the novel. Wyndham challenges his characters by putting them through a variety of social and moral situations. These situations require the characters to be mature and utilize adult characteristics, such as making rational decisions, in order to solve the problem. This essay will focus specifically on the maturity and growth of the character David. David in The Chrysalids, matures in the novel by overcoming these difficulties and challenges, set forth by the differences in morals and beliefs from those of the society, their families, and themselves.
Early in the novel, David is faced with his first conflict whereby he is forced to change his perspective on the ideas he was brought up on. David is playing on the beach when he meets Sophie. He quickly realizes that Sophie is a blasphemy after she gets stuck in between some rocks. She is then forced to remove her shoes to escape, which revealed her extra toe. Growing up, society taught David that deviations were dangerous monsters and that they are sent from the Devil. However, after having a wonderful afternoon with Sophie, he realizes that just because someone is a deviant, it does not actually mean they are a monster or dangerous. This is evident when David thought to himself: “Surely having one very small toe extra – well, two very small toes, because supposed there would be on 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….” (Wyndham, 14).
This shows that David has matured and started questioning the beliefs of the society, and his family, after his first-hand experience with a deviation. He also chose not to tell anyone about Sophie. He knew that it will put her and her family in danger of persecution. With this in mind, David could have reported Sophie if he believed her to be dangerous but he did not which certainly shows his new perspective on deviations. Furthermore, David said, “I could have managed it all right by myself if I’d had another hand” (Wyndham, 26), to his parents after he needed their help to bandage a wound. This is important because it shows how David no longer sees being a deviation as a sin, unlike his family. Sophie played an important role in the beginning of the novel as without her, David would have never changed his perspective and beliefs or seen the truth about deviations, thus would not have matured.
As the novel progresses, it is revealed to the reader that David has telepathic abilities. This leads to a whole other problem as David himself is now considered a deviation by the society and his family. It is also revealed that there are many other characters that also have telepathic abilities, such as his sister Petra and his cousin Rosalind. These telepathic abilities are quite problematic as if they are to be exposed to anyone, they would be immediately reported and hunted as a deviation. The characters with telepathic abilities, or telepaths, all work together to keep each other safe by keeping their abilities a secret. All of the telepaths’ safety was threatened when one of the telepaths, Anne, marries the son of a blacksmith named Alan.
This alarmed the telepaths as they were afraid Anne might accidentally expose their secret to Alan if she wasn’t taking precautions. In particular, Alan himself has David concerned because Alan was the one who reported Sophie to the inspector and got her, and her family captured. Certainly, David does not trust Alan if he were to ever find out about the telepaths as he would most likely report it to an inspector. With these concerns, David approaches Uncle Axel for some advice on what he should do regarding Anne and Alan. When Uncle Axel was asked what to do about Anne and Alan, he said:
How much are you justified in doing? One of you is set on a course which is going to endanger the lives of all eight… if she does intend to be loyal to you, she is deliberately risking you all for her own ends– just a few words in her sleep would be enough. Does she have a moral right to create a constant threat hanging over seven heads just because she wants to live with this man?” (Wyndham, 95)
It is evident from this quote that Uncle Axel believes that the best decision for the safety of the telepaths is to stop Anne and Alan from being together, some way or another. However, instead of telling this directly to David, he says it in a way where it forces David to think about every outcome that could result of his decision. A specific detail to point out in the way Uncle Axel speaks is how he never says Anne doesn’t have a “moral right to create a constant threat” (Wyndham, 95), but instead questions David by asking him, “does she have a moral right to create a constant threat…?” (Wyndham, 95)
Afterwards, David says, “It wouldn’t be just murder, Uncle Axel. It’d be something worse, as well; like violating part of ourselves for ever … We couldn’t do it …” (Wyndham, 96). Certainly, David thinks that murder is wrong but Uncle Axel forces him to reconsider the consequences of not killing Alan when he says, “The alternative is the sword over your heads” (Wyndham, 96). He says to Uncle Axel, “But that isn’t the way. A sword inside us would be worse” (Wyndham, 96). This clearly shows that David still believes that murder is wrong. The metaphor of “a sword inside us would be worse” (Wyndham, 96) refers to the lasting sense of regret that would linger throughout his mind if he were to kill someone.
However, because of his experience with Sophie, and his knowledge that being discovered as a deviant would have significant consequences, he is forced to reconsider his morals in order to protect himself and the other telepaths. David even considers drastic action, such as murder, to keep them from being exposed. Ultimately, David never has to actually make this decision as Uncle Axel takes matters into his own hands and kills Alan. As a result of this, Anne kills herself but the telepaths are kept safe. This conflict causes David to mature by forcing him to reconsider his morals, in order to keep himself and the telepaths safe.
David’s morals play an important role once Petra, Rosalind, and himself go on the run after being exposed as deviants. They were likely exposed by a man named Jerome Skinner. He was riding through the forest when he sees two females galloping towards a field. Once he clears the treeline, he sees a peculiar sight; a large group of people gathered around a little girl and her pony. He asks the two females what led them to this specific spot so quickly.
They responded saying they heard screaming that could be heard for “miles around”. Jerome Skinner doesn’t believe them and has suspicions but ends up leaving anyway. It is important to note that it is never explicitly said in the novel that Jerome Skinner reported the telepaths to the inspector. However, it can be safe to assume that Jerome Skinner’s report is what caused Sally and Katherine, two of the telepaths, to be taken away on suspicions of being deviants. Not even ten minutes after knowledge of Sally and Katherine being captured, David, Rosalind, and Petra run away from their homes and Waknuk to avoid capture. Once they are on the run, they learn that Sally and Katherine were tortured in order to get information about the telepaths.
In the end, the torture was too much for them to handle and they confessed everything. Sally said: “I couldn’t face it. Not the hot irons; not for nothing, when she had told them. I couldn’t… Forgive me, all of you… forgive us both…” (Wyndham, 130). This shows how far the the government is willing to go in order to get information about the telepaths. They resort to these inhumane tactics, like using hot irons, in order to break someone physically and emotionally. These tactics are designed to inflict pain on the subject without killing them. This continued pain is causes extreme suffering which is why Michael told David that, “You mustn’t let them get ahold of Rosalind or Petra – far better to kill them yourself than let that happen to them. You understand?” (Wyndham, 143) David is put into a state of self conflict of what to do. He must kill them if they were close to being captured in order to spare them of torture, but he will also have to live with the guilt of killing someone. He could avoid the guilt by not killing them, but then Rosalind and Petra would be tortured and have to suffer greatly. David must take the responsible decision of killing them in order to spare them from suffering.
Under these circumstances, he finally explains to Petra on why he must kill them if they were close to being captured. This shows that David has looked past the guilt that he might feel if he kills them, in order to let them die peacefully. David said to Petra: “Being dead’s a lot better – it’s sort of like being so much asleep that they can’t get at you to hurt you at all” (Wyndham, 144). This is also evident of the fact that David has matured and understood that pain is worse than being dead and that he should kill them to spare them of suffering. Luckily for David, he never has to actually kill anyone as they are rescued by the Sealand women before any of them could be captured. However, just the fact that David essentially made up his mind to kill them shows that he has matured and thought about the most selfless action.
Throughout the novel The Chrysalids, prejudice of deviants by the people of Waknuk causes problems and challenges for David due to his differences in morals, beliefs, and his telepathic abilities. He meets a deviant, a young girl named Sophie early in the novel. He discovers his telepathic abilities which brings forth a whole other set of challenges for David. This forces him to run away from home and make difficult situations regarding the lives of others, and himself, while on the run. All of these challenges and difficulties contribute to the maturation of David because they compel him to look at different perspectives on situations, and reconsider his morals and beliefs, in order to make decisions that have drastic effects on the lives of others, and himself.
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