A Wrinkle in Time | Study Guide

Madeleine L'Engle

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A Wrinkle in Time | Chapter 2 : Mrs Who | Summary

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Summary

When Meg wakes the next morning, she wonders if the previous night's events were a dream. In the kitchen her mother tells her the night was real. "You don't have to understand things for them to be," Mrs. Murry says. She tells Meg a tesseract is a "concept," but doesn't explain further. At the breakfast table, Sandy and Dennys accuse Meg of not having much common sense.

Exhausted all day in school, Meg is sent to the principal's office for being rude to her teacher. The principal, Mr. Jenkins, tells her to improve her grades. He asks if Meg is unhappy at home—has she heard from her father? Meg thinks Mr. Jenkins isn't concerned, but rather curious. The whole town must know her father hasn't written them a letter for a year. Mr. Jenkins asks what line of work Meg's father was in. Meg retorts, "He is a physicist." Although Mr. Jenkins wants Meg to "face facts" about her father, Meg insists her father is alive and coming home.

When Meg arrives home from school, Charles Wallace is waiting for her. He has packed food and tells her they are going to see Mrs Whatsit. Charles Wallace wants to know more about the tesseract, which he is sure is something important. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Fortinbras set off for Mrs Whatsit's house in the woods. Charles wants to warn Mrs Whatsit and her friends they will get in legal trouble for stealing. He isn't sure why they wanted the sheets in the first place.

Meg tells Charles Wallace about her awful day at school. He says he already knows, because "everything about you tells me." Meg is curious about how Charles Wallace knows so much. He tells her he can "understand a sort of language." He can hear nature communicating, too.

At the edge of the woods, Meg and Charles Wallace find Calvin O'Keefe, a high-schooler a few grades above Meg. He is tall and thin with blue eyes. Calvin is in the woods to get away from his large family. He is surprised to hear Charles Wallace speak intelligently. Calvin himself is unusually bright, in 11th grade classes at age 14.

Calvin cautiously asks if anyone told Meg and Charles Wallace to go to the woods. He explains that he felt a "compulsion" to enter the old house everyone thinks is haunted. Was Calvin meant to meet Meg and Charles Wallace, he wonders? Charles Wallace isn't sure. He invites Calvin to the Murry house for dinner. But first they will visit Mrs Whatsit's house.

The house has boards nailed across the doors and rats and crows surrounding it. Charles Wallace reassures Meg and Calvin that his friends enjoy "using all the typical props." The three enter a kitchen where a bubbling pot hangs over a fireplace. An old woman with large glasses sits in a rocker, busily sewing Mrs. Buncombe's stolen sheets. She tells an indignant Charles Wallace she wanted to make ghosts for the haunted house.

Charles Wallace introduces the woman as Mrs Who. Mrs Who already knows the children's names. She frequently uses quotes from other languages to make her points. Mrs Who tells the children, "It's getting near time," and their father needs their help. Meg and Charles Wallace want to know more, but Mrs Who sends them away. They head to the Murry home for dinner. Calvin feels he is going home for the first time in his life.

Analysis

As a scientist, Mrs. Murry is comfortable with what she doesn't understand. This is the nature of science, L'Engle implies—encountering new and inexplicable concepts all the time. Mrs. Murry tells Meg to accept her changed reality instead of hoping it was a dream. Meg is learning to accept that reality is larger than what she knows.

The breakfast scene establishes how the Murry family members protect one another. Male family members like Sandy and Dennys are used to protecting female family members. However, this dynamic may be less one of gender than of normalcy—Sandy and Dennys both function well socially, while Meg is seen as vulnerable and lacking common sense. In later chapters, this dynamic will change when she has to save and protect male relatives.

The scene with Mr. Jenkins reveals two important aspects of the journey to come. First it shows Meg's trouble with the organized and ordered world of school. She is defiant and sullen. She questions the validity of what authority figures have to teach her. While this attitude doesn't serve her well in school, it will be useful later when she faces powerful enemies.

The scene also demonstrates the common lack of faith that Meg's father will ever return. But despite evidence to the contrary, Meg believes her family will be restored. She trusts her mother. Later in the book, she will also have to believe in success in the face of great odds. But she will have to trust herself instead of the adults in her life.

Charles Wallace is also revealing skills he will use later. He cannot read, but he is an astute observer of other nonverbal languages. He observes his sister's body language and understands she has had a bad day at school. He can understand the trees, which communicate in a language more universal and primal than words. Charles Wallace is also much better than Meg at adopting disguises. He protects himself by assuming the identity of someone who is not very bright.

The Murry children meet Calvin O'Keefe, another character who has adopted a false identity. On the outside, Calvin is a popular athlete. He has the markers of social success Meg lacks. He is more at ease with verbal communication—he uses more colloquialisms or slang in conversation than the other characters. But Calvin knows his intelligence sets him apart from others, and he is searching for someone who understands him.

He and Charles Wallace are "sports" in the biological sense. A "sport" in biology, as Charles Wallace explains, is an organism inexplicably different from others of its type. Calvin is also an athlete who excels in school sports—another play on words. Calvin and Charles Wallace differ from their biological families. As a result, Calvin doesn't feel at home anywhere, and is on a quest for family, home, and belonging.

In Chapter 3 Meg calls herself a "biological mistake," echoing the idea of a variation or mutation in biology. Charles Wallace says she is "not really one thing or the other." Meg is intelligent enough to stand out from the pack, but not gifted enough to be in Charles Wallace's league. She has no secure sense of self.

Meg and Calvin both learn that people can be different from how they appear. Calvin has trouble getting over his "pre-conditioned" ideas about Charles Wallace's abilities. Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which enjoy giving people a false impression of their appearance. They use the fantasy or horror tropes of witches and haunted houses to scare visitors. These "typical props" show how the women approach their world with good humor.

Mrs Who's name, like Mrs Whatsit's, is an identity question. She is the book's representative of literature and language. Her quotes from various authors show language—like science and the cosmos—is a fascinating mystery filled with surprises. Her quotes also reveal both the uses and the limitations of human words. Her quote, "The heart has its reasons," coined by 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal, refers to Mrs. Murry's hope—despite "reason" or evidence—that her husband will return. The words do not express all she means to say, but they come close.

Information is revealed slowly and methodically to keep the reader wanting more. Meg isn't yet sure how she will be able to help her father, but she knows she will be involved in whatever comes next.

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