A Wrinkle in Time | Study Guide

Madeleine L'Engle

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A Wrinkle in Time | Chapter 7 : The Man with Red Eyes | Summary

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Summary

Calvin wants Charles Wallace to stay outside, since the danger will be greatest for him, but Charles Wallace and Meg want the group to stay together. They decide to enter CENTRAL Central Intelligence as a group.

The building is a "dull, greeny marble" inside. One blank wall feels solid and cold. Charles Wallace asks a man in the building how they can find whoever's in charge. The man is impatient and surprised they don't know the procedure. He runs a spelling machine, and has come to report a jammed letter. Charles Wallace makes jokes and projects a false confidence even when the man threatens to report him. Meg wishes Charles Wallace "wouldn't act so sure of himself," but she knows he is putting on a front. The man worries about being sent to IT. He enters a card into a wall, and the card slides through the marble. He warns the children they may be detained and advises them to "relax and don't fight."

The blank wall gives way to a room full of computing machines. Frightened, the children enter. They walk through the long room until they see an end. Charles Wallace begins to panic. He feels someone trying to reach him and begs Calvin and Meg to hold his hands.

At the room's end a man sits on a chair raised on a platform. His red eyes glow, and he has an aura of the Black Thing's "coldness and darkness," but he greets the children in a gentle voice. Above him a light glows "pulsing, throbbing, in steady rhythm." Charles Wallace closes his eyes, and tells Calvin and Meg to do the same. The man with red eyes says "there are other ways" for him to hypnotize them. Charles Wallace threatens to kick him.

As four men in dark smocks surround the children, the man with red eyes tells them they don't need to fight. Soon they won't even want to oppose him. He is only here to help them and save them from trouble. He will make all the decisions. Charles Wallace says they can make their own decisions, but the man with red eyes says it will be easier if they make all their decisions together. He encourages the children to recite the multiplication table with him.

While the man recites, the children shout nursery rhymes and the Gettysburg Address to distract themselves. At the end of the recitation, Meg screams involuntarily for her father. The man with red eyes congratulates them on passing their "preliminary tests." Meg tries to look straight at the man. She can't tell if his face is "young or old, cruel or kind, human or alien."

Meg asks to be taken to her father. The man with red eyes asks why she wants to see him. Meg insists she doesn't need a reason—she wants him because he's her father. But Mr. Murry abandoned the family, the man reminds her. He tells the children they don't need to "vocalize verbally" since he can understand them.

Charles Wallace runs forward and hits the man, to everyone's shock. The man calmly asks for an explanation. Charles Wallace says he didn't think the man was real. Now he realizes the man himself isn't doing the talking. Someone or something else is speaking through him. The man invites Charles to "try to find out who I am." Charles focuses on the man's eyes and goes closer.

As Charles Wallace approaches the man with red eyes, Meg flings herself onto her brother to pull him back. Displeased, the man tells Meg she will need to cooperate if she ever wants to see her father again. Sullenly, Meg says they should have something to eat. The man is amused and replies, "Starvation does work wonders." He tells Meg they have only synthetic food anyway.

Charles Wallace wants to "get on with it." Meg pleads to go in his place. The man says Charles Wallace's neurological system is the only one complicated enough to survive, but Meg persists. Can she and Calvin not know who the man really is? The man says they can't know him in the same way, "nor is it as important to [him] to have [them] know."

Four men in smocks bring a table set with a turkey dinner. Meg and Calvin reluctantly eat. The food tastes fine to them, but it tastes like sand to Charles Wallace, the only one who has "shut [his] mind entirely" to the man with red eyes. With a horrible-looking smile, the man tells Charles he should trust him enough to discover what he is. Charles can leave afterward, the man says, but he probably won't want to.

Charles Wallace makes the man promise to reveal Mr. Murry's location if Charles comes in. Meg protests the man is stronger than Charles, but the boy wants to know his father. And they're not just finding Mr. Murry—they're fighting the Black Thing. Meg turns to Calvin for help, but Calvin thinks they should let Charles go.

Charles Wallace approaches the man again. This time Charles's pupils contract. His smile becomes artificial, and he invites Meg to eat. He speaks in a flatter version of his old voice. Meg realizes Charles Wallace has been taken over by the same power controlling the man. She smashes a dinner plate in anger. Charles tells her to stop being so uncooperative. Meg screams to Calvin that Charles is gone.

Analysis

The "sickly green" and "bilious" people and marble inside CENTRAL Central Intelligence is a reflection of the illness and sickness on planet Camazotz. Threats are constant. The man in the office building threatens the children with the "Process machine" and "reprocessing." The idea of relaxing and giving in to authority also recurs. The man warns the children to "relax and don't fight." But the reader already knows Meg has trouble with authority. She tends to resist authority in school. How will she handle threats in this new environment?

Citizens fear the power of machines like the "Process machine." An array of "computing machines" in CENTRAL Central Intelligence makes the children wary. Meg knows her father sometimes uses a computer, among other mysterious tools he uses for his work. Charles Wallace assures himself that the computers aren't radioactive. The motif of frighteningly powerful machines occurs frequently in science fiction. The 1960s were marked by anxiety about new and constantly improving computing technology. The potential of these machines was exciting, but like any new technology, their capabilities were a little frightening at first.

The man with red eyes exudes the "coldness and darkness" of a machine. He can communicate with telepathy, or mind-reading. However, he has some human traits, like a soothing and kind voice. The threat is heightened by the looming presence of IT before the reader or the children know what IT is.

The man with red eyes keeps his identity vague. Is he himself IT? Is he an ordinary person trapped by IT? Are the thoughts he expresses his own? Meg is not even sure what his face looks like. Charles Wallace has to make physical contact before he realizes the man is human like him, a vessel for IT. When the man tells Charles Wallace, "Try to find out who I am," it's a sinister inversion of their discovery of Mrs Whatsit's identity. Charles Wallace is going forward into pure evil. But he is propelled by drive to understand, and he wants to know more.

The theme of moral courage and responsibility comes into play in this scene. Charles Wallace reminds the others they can't base decisions on fear. Choosing how to act is an essential part of being human, and so is taking responsibility for this choice. Worry and fear can result, as the children worry over what to do next.

The man with red eyes wants to "assume all the pain, all the responsibility." He offers to do all the hard work, promising ease and rest. The offer is tempting. In Camazotz, everyone knows their place and identity. Meg and Calvin's anxiety over who they are, where and how they fit in, would disappear. The children wouldn't agonize over decisions. All the choices would be made for them. A scripted life is easier, but L'Engle argues it's not worth it.

With the script of Camazotz there is no real room for scientific discovery. The man with red eyes recites the multiplication table as a repetitive device. Unlike Meg he doesn't care about learning more, or finding a solution. He cares about the routine.

Charles Wallace still has the mind of a scientist. He and his father share a flaw stemming from their scientific curiosity. They think they can delve deeper into a dilemma without becoming personally affected. Charles Wallace thinks he can go into IT and come back. He is the one IT really wants. The man with red eyes recognizes this vulnerability in Charles Wallace, as well as his uniquely complex "neurological system."

But the reasons Charles Wallace gives Meg are understandable and sympathetic. He wants to know his father. He feels responsible for defeating the Black Thing. Meg and Calvin cannot enter IT without their neurons exploding, but Charles Wallace can. In a way Charles Wallace, unsure of what will happen, sacrifices himself. However, both his gift—the resiliency of his youth—and his fault—his pride—prevent this "sacrifice" from being truly sacrificial: he believes he is stronger than IT.

Meg's "dogged tenacity that had so often caused her trouble" turns out to be an important tool for finding her father. She never gives up. When another family member seems lost, she will persist in getting him back too.

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