A Wrinkle in Time | Study Guide

Madeleine L'Engle

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A Wrinkle in Time | Chapter 8 : The Transparent Column | Summary

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Summary

Charles Wallace eats the prepared food. He looks the same, but Meg can tell he is only a copy of his real self. She demands to know where her brother is. The man says he is right in front of her. Calvin whispers to Meg they have to hold onto Charles Wallace. His real self is still there somewhere.

Meg and Calvin hold Charles Wallace's arms tightly. Charles says the man is their friend, and Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which are their enemies. Meg feels "someone, something else" is looking through Charles's eyes, which are now cold and strange. The men in smocks grab Calvin and Meg, forcing them to let go of Charles.

Charles Wallace tells Meg to stop fighting. He wants her to realize Camazotz is "a wonderful place" where "everybody has learned to relax, to give in, to submit." While Meg struggles, Calvin asks the man with red eyes to tell them who he is. "I am the Prime Coordinator," the man replies. Calvin asks if he and Charles Wallace are hypnotized. The man answers that "hypnotized" is "too primitive a word." When Calvin asks about Mr. Murry, the man says Charles Wallace will escort them.

Meg and Calvin follow Charles Wallace down a long white hallway. Meg suggests Calvin use his gift of communication to talk to Charles Wallace. Calvin tries to engage Charles in friendly conversation, and for a moment Charles's eyes appear to see clearly, but he quickly returns to his rhythmic "marionette's walk." He tells Calvin and Meg they should turn to IT if they need a father.

Charles Wallace tells Meg and Calvin of the virtues of Camazotz. The planet has conquered illness by putting any sick people to sleep. "Murder," he says, "is a most primitive word." Charles Wallace moves through a wall into a small square-shaped room, explaining he simply rearranged the atoms in the wall. The square room moves upward like an elevator.

The people of Camazotz are happy because they are all alike, Charles Wallace continues. He tells Meg she is unhappy at school because she's different. Calvin claims he likes being different, and Meg says she would rather not be like everyone else. Charles Wallace moves quickly through a wall, almost leaving Calvin behind. He threatens to take Meg and Calvin to IT if they cause more trouble. When Meg asks what IT is, Charles giggles in a sinister way. He describes IT as "the Boss," or "the Happiest Sadist."

Meg refuses to see IT. Charles Wallace, continuing to speak in a monotone voice, says "individual lives" are to blame for wars and unhappiness. Camazotz uses only one mind—IT—and everyone is happy and organized. "Old witches like Mrs Whatsit" want to keep people confused. Calvin says Mrs Whatsit isn't a witch—it's just her way of "laughing in the dark." Meg protests that Earth isn't perfect, but it's better than Camazotz. No one is unhappy on Camazotz, but no one is happy, either.

The children see the boy in the Camazotz town who dropped his ball. He is in a small room bouncing a ball in rhythm, screaming in pain each time it bounces. Charles Wallace explains, "He'll never desire to deviate again." He leads Calvin and Meg to another small room with a "large, round, transparent column" in the center. Meg recognizes her father trapped inside.

Analysis

Appearances frequently deceive. Charles Wallace looks like his old self in many ways. He still uses his "calmest, most reasonable voice." Like the people on Camazotz, he is just similar enough to a human to be terrifying. But since Meg knows the real Charles Wallace, the difference is more tragic.

Calvin nearly reaches him through friendly communication. Calvin's straightforward kindness and determination—in his attempt to reach the real Charles Wallace—borders on love, but he doesn't quite get there.

As IT speaks through Charles Wallace, the propaganda IT spreads tells the reader more about Camazotz. The ill and infirm are "put to sleep," or "[taken] care of"—a euphemism for murder.

Charles Wallace is operating with IT's superior scientific knowledge. But when Charles Wallace recites facts, they are chilling. His ability to rearrange atoms, and his statement that humans "consist mostly of empty space" imply pride and control. He calls humans "low, individual organisms," implying that he has achieved a higher life form. But this life form has no conscience or concern for others. When he calls IT "the Happiest Sadist," it's a sinister pun. The phrase uses the contrast of "happy" and "sad." The word sadist also means a person who enjoys harming others, and Charles Wallace clarifies that this is the meaning he intends.

Charles Wallace explains the appeal of Camazotz by referring to Meg's social situation. He implies Meg's unhappiness at school is her own fault. His ideas show why the argument for conformity is so compelling. People who are different can often feel lonely and unhappy, as Calvin did before he met the Murrys. People with different goals and opinions frequently come into conflict. Camazotz attributes trouble to the uncontrolled freedom offered by individuality, and thus offers a society without the troubles of war and illness. Camazotz also removes the possibility of emotion, but as Meg points out, even unpleasant emotions are crucial to the human experience.

Meg knows the world has problems. But she cannot imagine totalitarian control as "the only alternative." She believes there must be a happy medium. Calvin and Meg also gain a new perspective. As adolescents, they are figuring out where they fit in a power structure. Hierarchy and fitting in are important to survival. Still they both realize they wouldn't choose conformity even if they could. Being different is important to their survival.

Meg and Calvin then see the torture being inflicted on the boy with the ball. His isolated environment, and the way Charles Wallace observes him without sympathy, recall a lab experiment. The boy isn't treated as a human being, but rather as a malfunctioning tool in a machine. This image shows what is at risk if scientific discovery does not include a human, compassionate element.

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