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Note: major spoilers follow! (If that wasn't already clear from the title.)

I was having a discussion with someone yesterday about John Wyndham's novel The Midwich Cuckoos, specifically its ending, and we couldn't agree on the morality of the final act.

What is the moral of the story? When Zellaby sets the bomb to kill all the Children, is this an act of heroism or of murder? Is he ridding the village (and the planet) of a threat which would eventually have destroyed us, or is he killing dozens of sentient creatures just because they were superior to us?

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The Children were more powerful than us, but not superior. They were pretty amoral and imposed their will on humans, even using humans as hosts for reproduction. As with Wyndham's other books, I think he was saying something about people. People can be pretty amoral and impose their will on others just because they have the power to do so. Sometimes a principled person makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to stop them. I think the moral of the story is to be on guard against becoming amoral and taking advantage of others who have less power than we do, as well as to fight oppression. There's much more to the book than that, but the question was about the morality of the ending.

  • "Sometimes a principled person makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to stop them" - could you expand a little on this? Why is Zellaby a principled person rather than a murderer? FWIW, I agree with your conclusion, but I know someone who takes the opposite stance, so I'm looking for some good detailed arguments to back this up. – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '18 at 9:03
  • I guess I reached that judgment only because of how Zellaby's perception of the Children develops throughout the novel. He reaches the conclusion that they must be stopped at any cost. Now that I think about it more, maybe Wyndham intentionally left some moral ambiguity in the ending. Wyndham's novels don't always wrap up neatly. Often they end with a different world that results from human choices, as in The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes. So maybe the questions you asked are ones that Wyndham intended to leave us with. – Literalman Oct 3 '18 at 13:19

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