A Wrinkle in Time | Study Guide

Madeleine L'Engle

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A Wrinkle in Time | Chapter 3 : Mrs Which | Summary

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Summary

Meg wonders why she feels so happy after such a confusing afternoon. Calvin says he is glad they finally met—they've only seen each other in school. At the Murry house Mrs. Murry is experimenting in her lab and cooking dinner. Calvin is impressed by the house, and tells Meg she is lucky to be loved. Meg shows Calvin a picture of her father.

Mrs. Murry reminds Meg and Calvin to finish their homework. Calvin is struggling in math. Even though Meg is in a lower grade in school, she helps Calvin with his homework. She shows him an easier method for solving his problems, and he suddenly understands. Mrs. Murry says Meg learned "too many shortcuts" for math problems with her father. Now Meg gets frustrated in school when teachers require her to solve problems "the long way around." Calvin quizzes Meg and realizes she has exceptional knowledge of math and science.

Meanwhile Calvin is amazed at how welcome he feels in the Murry home. He can fit in at school more easily than Meg, but he has no one to talk to.

After dinner Meg sits alone with her mother in the kitchen. Mrs. Murry reveals that she misses Mr. Murry. She tells Meg things always have an explanation, but sometimes humans are unable to understand what the explanation is. Meg and her mother discuss how Charles Wallace is different from other people in a way they can't define. Charles Wallace gave Mrs. Murry the ability to accept Mrs Whatsit's visit with "a willing suspension of disbelief." Meg asks her mother again about the tesseract. Mrs. Murry says it's not the right time to tell her.

Meg and Calvin go for a walk in a nearby apple orchard. Calvin wants to know more about her father. Calvin has heard Mr. Murry is a physicist and a Ph.D. who has worked at Princeton's Institute for Higher Learning. Now Mr. Murry is working for the government. Meg knows only that his work is "classified" and secret. Mr. Murry used to write to his wife regularly. Then the letters stopped coming.

When Calvin asks if Mr. Murry could be dead, Meg starts crying. She is sure someone would have told them if her father died. Calvin suggests the government scientists may not know where Mr. Murry is either. Meg criticizes herself for crying, but Calvin encourages her to cry. Calvin tells Meg she is the best thing to happen to him in a long time.

Charles Wallace finds Meg and Calvin. He says it's time to go. He isn't sure where, but he thinks they're about to find their father. Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who appear behind Charles Wallace. A stammering and distant voice speaks in the moonlight, emanating from "a circle of silver." Charles Wallace introduces the new voice as Mrs Which.

Analysis

The theme of the power of love is introduced in this chapter. Calvin's love for his family keeps him going, even though they don't love him back. Meg realizes she has something the popular and enviable Calvin wants. For the first time, she sees family love as something rare and special.

The idea of taking shortcuts will recur later when the characters experience time travel. Meg sees the result of math problems—not the process—as the goal. She doesn't work well with restrictions. She is already familiar with the concept of light years, and Einstein's famous equation. The inclusion of these concepts tells the reader they will resurface later on.

Calvin's more confident in literature and the humanities. His skill in these school subjects foreshadows his gift of communication.

Meg's conversation with her mother in Chapter 3 indicates how characters approach the unknown. Mrs. Murry's study of science teaches her humility, not arrogance. She knows enough to know what she doesn't know. And she trusts an explanation exists even if she hasn't seen one. Charles Wallace's skills aren't seen as a handicap, even though they make him different from others. Instead, Charles Wallace gives his mother courage to accept the unfathomable.

But Mrs. Murry still isn't sure who Charles Wallace really is. He's "new" and there's no category for him yet. Meg feels she is "not flesh nor fowl nor good red herring"—an old saying referring to something impossible to identify or classify. When Calvin accepts Meg for who she is and doesn't need an explanation, it's a gift to her. Calvin assumes an identity unlike his true self. He understands.

Meg and Calvin's dialogue brings the two of them closer together. It also answers readers' questions about Mr. Murry. The mysterious nature of his government work reflects 1960s fears about government secrecy and the Cold War. The silence as tangible as "a measurable weight" between Meg and Calvin is a prelude to a more universal fear—death. Unsure where her father is—or if he's even alive—Meg has to contend with the terrifying unknown.

The chapter ends with readers and characters uncertain of what will happen. The reader meets the most perplexing of the three old guides—Mrs Which. The word which refers to things or objects, not to people. Mrs Which doesn't take on human form. Her words take a while to reach human ears, as if she were speaking from a faraway distance.

The extraordinary nature of the three characters is revealed slowly. Readers learn Mrs Who is "a paltry few billion years" older than Mrs Whatsit. This detail implies they may all be billions of years old. Where do they come from?

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