Women play an important role in all societies. They are the providers, workers, nurturers, and teachers largely educating the young in all cultures. John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids explores this topic with the help of strong female characters. In his narrative, Sophie, Aunt Harriet, and the Sealand Woman are vital characters that influence David’s life by teaching him important lessons that shape his perspective on societal values.
Sophie is a young girl, with a deviation, who teaches David, the main character and the narrator, important lessons about fairness, equality, and justice. Blasphemies are people who are considered deviational because they have a small blemish though they are normal in all other respects. David learns that the people of Waknuk’s stringent ideas about blasphemies are wrong and unjustified. After learning this, David implies “I tried to explain that a person with a deviation – a small deviation, at any rate – wasn’t that monstrosity we had been told”(p. 53). Sophie also teaches David the true meaning of friendship and loyalty. David learns from her that friendship is more important than the precepts of Waknuk. This is evident when he protects Sophie from being exposed as a deviant. He rebels against the rules to sustain his true friendship with Sophie. David learns from Sophie to accept people of different races, cultures and even people with deviations. He realizes these are people just like himself, but they are discriminated against because in the society of Waknuk they do not meet the precepts of the true image of God. Sophie’s role in the story is important in teaching David about acceptance, friendship, and
Another important female character who influences David is Aunt Harriet. She is David’s relative and a unique individual who sees things differently than the rest of the population of Waknuk. In desperation, she pleads with her sister, David’s mother, to switch babies with her because hers is considered deviational. David observes his mother’s reaction to Aunt Harriet’s pleas and is perplexed and confused by her cruel and inhumane response. David’s mother rejects her and turns her back on Aunt Harriet, leaving her feeling so helpless she ultimately commits suicide. After Aunt Harriet’s visit, it is apparent to David that his mother is a strict believer in Waknuk’s societal dogma and teachings rather than family values. He is shocked by her cold callous act. After her suicide David dreams of Aunt Harriet with her eyes open. This is important because she is symbolically trying to get David to open his eyes and see through the masked pretense that all is well, to realize how self righteous and cruel the society of Waknuk really is. Aunt Harriet rejects Waknuks values by declaring, “I shall pray God to send charity into this hideous world, and sympathy for the weak, and love for the unhappy and unfortunate. I shall ask Him if it is indeed His will that a child should suffer and its soul be damned for a little blemish of the body”(p. 73). Aunt Harriet rejects the precepts of Waknuk so strongly that she comes to an untimely death. This reveals to David how unjust and cruel the society is and how important it is to be true to his feelings and honour his beliefs.
The final female character David meets in the last chapters of the novel is the Sealand Woman. She is a strong believer in evolution and change and is opposed to Waknuk’s societal and religious values. The Sealand Woman is progressive, both physically and mentally and teaches David valuable lessons about his past, present, and future. David learns from her that Sealand is the place that he was dreaming about in his childhood: “I would sometimes dream of a
city […] The traffic in the streets was strange, carts running with no horses to pull them; sometimes there were things in the sky, shiny fish-shaped things that certainly weren’t birds”(p. 5). He realizes his dreams foreshadow what is to come. The Sealand Woman communicates with David and the others telepathically, telling them that in Sealand they are the norm and their powers are accepted and revered. She tells David how lucky he is to be a ‘think-shaper’ and how strong his powers of communication are. Petra, David’s younger sister and ‘think-shaper’, translates to the others the thoughts of The Sealand Woman. “People who can only talk with words have something missing. She says we ought to be sorry for them because, however old they grow, they’ll never be able to understand one another much better”(p. 145). Through the Sealand Woman David also learns about evolution and change and how man must continue to evolve in order to survive. She explains that people like David, who possess telepathic powers, have evolved from the others into a higher form. The Sealand Woman asserts that “The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution: and we are part of it”(p. 196). She tells David that her society is progressive and has a future and that the Waknuk society will only stagnate and die. David must cut all ties with family and Waknuk in order to have a future. The Sealand Woman offers an interesting perspective on this point of view “The Old People brought down Tribulation, and were broken into fragments by it. . . . . .They have become history without being aware of it. They are determined still that there is a final form to defend: soon they will attain the stability they strive for, in the only form it is granted – a place among the fossils”(p. 182). During his time with the Sealand Woman David learns that there is no future without adaptation and change.
The lessons David learns from Sophie, Aunt Harriet and The Sealand Woman shape David’s personality and perspective on life, thus enhancing his unique outlook on the world. This
makes him more accepting of others unlike the people of Waknuk. Through his relationships with these characters David has come to know the difference between right and wrong. The women who influence David in the novel are understanding, compassionate, and strong communicators. Women as a whole are intuitive, strong, and intelligent.