The title of John Wyndham’s famous book, The Chrysalids, is somewhat mysterious and ambiguous. The word chrysalid is derived from chrysalis, the stage which the larvae of moths and butterflies pass through before they become adults. It is a stage in which the insect appears dormant and unmoving, but changes are taking place inside which enable it to emerge from the chrysalis as a more advance form of life. John Wyndham chose the title The Chrysalid because of the human life and survival many centuries after the all out nuclear war or “Tribulation” had occurred, which in many ways relates to the butterfly life-cycle.
These cycles are the eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis, and the butterfly, and they symbolize a time or characters in the novel. Although at no point in the book was there any reference to a “chrysalid”, but if think thoroughly, the reasons for the naming of the novel can be understood. The first stage of a butterfly’s life-cycle, the egg, represents a new life, the beginning of a cycle. In the novel, “the wonderful world that the Old People had lived in, the one before “God sent before Tribulation” was destroyed by most likely a Nuclear War.
The egg symbolizes the reemergence of life on Earth or in Waknuk after the Nuclear War, or “Tribulation”, had occurred. It may also mean the rising of the Waknuk Society, raised by Elias Strorm. The second stage, the caterpillar stage, represents a confined life, as the larvae do not act individually. If the caterpillars do not complete the butterfly’s life-cycle, they will eventually die. They symbolize the people of Waknuk, who fear changes, resulting in their eventual death and extinction.
They live a confined life in belief of God, and fearing what He could do if they let “Deviations” grow and stay among their community. On the other hand, the Sealand society could also be described as in a caterpillar stage. Because when larvae are in caterpillar stage, they have no protection from attacks by a higher level insect or animal in the food chain which will result in deaths, just as the eventual death of the Sealand society that the Sealand woman described.
The Third stage, the stage of the chrysalis, represents the time of change which cannot be seen, because changes are hidden behind an oval structure constructed by the caterpillar until the chrysalis hatches. Here the word chrysalis refers to David and the others in the group that have abilities to telepath, but the changes from mental normality to being able to communicate by thought-shapes pictures is not visible. The telepath group could also be seen as the intermediate stage between the people of Waknuk whose fear of the pat has led to primitive, non-developing society and the people of Sealand, who have progressed.
The fourth and last stage, the butterfly, represents freedom, because it is able to fly, to see large areas from the sky, and is beautiful. In the book the butterfly symbolizes the people of Sealand, because they are free; free from fear, ignorance. It Also symbolizes the butterfly is the face that they are beautiful, both mentally and physically, untouched by fanatical killing or sterilization of people who are “different”.
The group, David, Rosalind and Petra in their escape to Sealand, are like insects leaving behind their crawling caterpillar, existence to emerge from their chrysalis as, beautiful, and free-flying butterflies. The Chrysalids symbolizes the change in human nature, and human survival techniques. As with the Chrysalis, the changes are mostly obscure, but repressed because of the fear of the consequence of discovery. Therefore The Chrysalids is definitely an appropriate and great title for the book because it fits perfectly together with its plot and theme.