“When people are used to believing a thing is such-and-such a way…it’s trouble you get…for upsetting their ideas” (Wyndham 57). The mind fears what it does not know, and this trepidation can lead to an egregious view of the world that can result in consequences as serious as death. Both The Salem Witch Trials and events in The Chrysalids explore the intolerance of difference, and the impacts of a fear driven society.
In The Chrysalids, the people of Waknuk struggle to cleanse their society of aberration, and in doing so, they must kill mutated creatures and exile deviants to “The Fringes,” an uncivilized and wild region occupied by animal and plant mutations. This is done because they believe that there is one “true image” and that this image needs to be maintained for the human race to remain pure. This attitude is similar to the religious organizations and communities of the Salem Witch Trials who were threatened by the very existence of witchcraft (Upham).
The Salem Witch Trials commenced in February of 1692, when a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several people of witchcraft. Fear of the Devil and witches was prominent in Salem between the 1300’s and 1600’s and “Christians, and other religious groups of the time believed that the devil could give witches the power to harm people. These accusations resulted in thousands of deaths”(Crewe). People already had a fear of deviation, and when one of the accused witches confessed that she and the others were witches working for the devil, the people of Salem went into a fit of terror that transfixed Puritan society in 1692 (Upham). At the time, many believed that they were the true image and feared what was not the norm. Various religious organizations and communities of Salem were just like Joseph Storm and inspectors in The Chrysalids; they would give others the definition of normal and tell people how to look — based on The Definition of Man — and act, not knowing whether that is genuinely how people are meant to be (Jackson). Yet, both societies act upon what they are told even though the people that are telling them what to do are not always right.
Furthermore, The Waknuk people’s fear of the unknown is similar to that of the religious groups such as Christians during the Salem Witch Trials. David and the others with the ability to think-together, however, are persecuted for their thoughts and beliefs — an oppression similar to that suffered by witches during the Salem Witch Trials. Wyndham’s novel is a complete condemnation of this persecution; because they think that “their type is the true pattern of the Old People, and anything different is a Deviation”(Wyndham 63), the Waknuk to try to kill the most advanced, and kindest members of their society. They believe that killing is a better option than having a deviant within their community, the same way the accusers of the Salem Witch Trial did.
Moreover, when citizens were being accused during the Salem Witch Trials, they had only two options; they could plead guilty or innocent. Most people under questioning plead guilty as the only consequence would be jail. However, complications arose for those who plead innocent; they were tortured until proven to be a witch, and once this occurred, they would most likely be executed, either by hanging or by being burned at the stake (Mastin). Similarly, in The Chrysalids, those who were suspected of Deviation were hunted down, and once caught, they would be tortured until the accusers got the information they needed, in which after, the Deviants would be sterilised and sent to the Fringes to die.
Ultimately, both The Chrysalids and The Salem Witch Trials involved the intolerance of differences due to the fear of unknown. The deviants and the witches were a part of a society that was solely driven by fear. These parallels act as a testament to the importance of evaluating one’s own beliefs, rather than blindly conforming to the norm.
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