Utopia and Dystopia in ‘The Chrysalids’: Can it Exist?
Utopian and dystopian societies are featured quite prominently in the novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The term utopia was first used in a book written in 1516 by a man named Thomas More. Its title roughly translates to A Truly Golden Little Book, no Less Beneficial than Entertaining, of a Republic’s Best State and of the New Island Utopia and it is about a socially and politically ‘perfect’ society in a land called Utopia. Utopia has nowadays come to mean a place of no worries, a perfect society, but is there really such thing as a truly utopic or dystopic society? This book seems to tell us that there truly is not. There are 3 main settings in the novel: Waknuk, the Fringes and Sealand, all of which have both their strengths and problems, even if they appear at first glance to be utopic or dystopic.
David’s hometown, Waknuk, would no doubt seem rather utopic to an outsider, so well hidden are their problems and faults to the world. They seem to be a quaint little “orderly, law-abiding, God-respecting community” (Wyndham 17), but really, just under the surface lies trouble. Hidden beneath their forced smiles are the age-old prejudices that guide their every decision. Banished or destroyed are the deviations that ‘curse’ them, yet no one speaks of them. After unintentionally ‘blaspheming’ by jokingly wishing for a third hand, David remarked “.
..it was such a terrible thing just to think of having three hands” (Wyndham 27). To even think of it, let alone let the words slip your mouth was despicable. This ignorance, the one thing that makes Waknuk seem utopic is the very thing that destroys this eggshell view of the world for some people, yet still they must keep their ideas and their pain inside and continue living as if everything is normal. In David’s Aunt Harriet’s case, when she could not keep her deviant baby, she instead took her own life, yet even still they could not speak of it, too close to blasphemy was the subject.
“It was as though she had been wiped out of every memory but mine.” (Wyndham 75) The Fringes, the mysterious lands between Waknuk and the Badlands are considered as very dystopic by the people of Waknuk. (” ‘Godless,’ he told me, ‘Very godless indeed.'” Wyndham 57) Although they indeed have little food or supplies, the Fringes are actually almost a sort of safe haven for the so called deviations, those expelled or banished from ‘normal’ society. Those different from the norm come here for shelter, both physical and social, and although they are led to believe they are horrible, David and Rosalind remark with relief that they had not been “confronted by the kinds of grotesquerie (they) had half expected” (Wyndham 159) upon entering the Fringes.
Throughout their childhood they were fed these horror stories about the Fringes, but as it turns out, it is not the horrid, dystopic place they were led to believe, simply a place of good people under less-than-favorable circumstances. Sealand, the mysterious technologically advanced land of shape-thinkers appears to be the setting closest to a true Utopia that we see in the book. It is described as “a beautiful, fascinating place” (Wyndham 5) and Rosalind remarks that she “never thought there could be anything so lovely.” (Wyndham 200) However, as previously stated, every society has its flaws as well as its strengths. When Petra first makes contact with the Sealand woman, she is told that “she’s had my afraid-thoughts before” (Wyndham 134) In an Utopic society, there would be minimal pain and anxiety, so what could possibly cause this woman to have been in the same state of mind that Petra is while on the run, away from her family, fearing for her life? This seems to show that there are problems in Sealand too. Also, in Sealand, there seems to be almost the exact opposite (yet somehow similar) problem than in Waknuk; the shape-thinkers are favored and the “people who can’t do it work much harder to get better at it.
” (Wyndham 145) This shows that there is most likely discrimination or prejudice against those who can not communicate like the shape-thinkers can. From these examples, it can be easily deduced that, at least in this story, there is no true utopia or dystopia. Waknuk, the Fringes and Sealand all have very different societies, but none of them can truly be called utopian or dystopian, all having their own faults and strengths. It seems that there really is no clear utopia, no black or white, only shades of grey. Everywhere you go there is both good and bad, happiness and sadness, it just depends on how well either side is hidden.