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A Wrinkle in Time | Themes

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Moral Courage and Responsibility

A Wrinkle in Time depicts good and evil as active, conflicting forces. Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace are empowered to make sure the good side wins. But the outcome isn't certain. They have to make tough decisions and take on increased responsibilities. Meg's quest to find her father becomes a challenge to do the right thing.

Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which play the role of moral counselors. They urge other characters to confront problems instead of avoiding them. When the Happy Medium hesitates to look at the "unpleasant" and shadowed planet Earth, Mrs Which says it's up to responsible people to face evil. In Chapter 4, Mrs Whatsit tells the children to "look straight ahead," so they can see the Black Thing. If they know what they are fighting, they can overcome it. It is also important for them to choose to be on the side of good instead of evil. Calvin and Meg learn IT will take over people's minds unless they actively resist.

Showing courage is still challenging. Mrs Whatsit admits she is asking Meg "to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it." Mrs Which proclaims they will "continue to fight" even when the outcome is uncertain. The stakes can be high. The children witness a star beating the Dark Thing in Chapter 6, but the star sacrifices its life. Meg returns to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace, unsure if she will succeed or even survive. Her fear is a logical response, but she persists in spite of it.

The novel shows the consequences of giving up and giving in. On Camazotz, IT encourages citizens to rest, relax, and avoid making decisions. Life is planned for them. Their life is easy—they know exactly what to do. But it's not a life any of the children want. The process of figuring out independent solutions, rather than having others solve problems, is part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Meg learns her father cannot solve problems for her anymore. She figures out her weapon against IT on her own. No one gives her the answer. Similarly, Mrs Whatsit explains to Calvin that humans have the freedom to make choices in their lives as well as the responsibility to determine what happens next.

Scientific Discovery

A Wrinkle in Time uses scientific discovery as a crucial part of the human endeavor. When Calvin, Charles Wallace, and Meg list their planet's greatest fighters, they name revolutionary scientists like German theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, French-Polish physicist Marie Curie, and Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Science helps Meg and Charles Wallace make sense of the world. It also allows Mr. and Mrs. Murry to learn more about the universe, including their human limitations.

When Meg understands something new, greater possibilities open up to her. She grasps the concept of the tesseract "for a brief, illuminating second" in Chapter 5. Her discovery is portrayed as a light—or illumination—that helps her see the world differently. She notices Charles Wallace has a look "of probing, of listening" on his face when he hears the music on planet Uriel. Meg has the same look when she solves a tough math problem. Calvin has a similar moment of discovery when Meg helps him with his math homework in Chapter 3. And Mr. Murry has a familiar look of "excitement and discovery" on his face when he sees the atoms rearrange in the transparent column.

Mr. and Mrs. Murry, both seasoned scientists, share what they have learned about the process of discovery. Mrs. Murry has learned she doesn't have to understand things for them to exist, and, as much as she has learned, there will always be more to learn. This knowledge makes her more invested in her career. Mr. Murry realizes he and his colleagues can be wrong. They took a risk traveling to the fifth dimension, and didn't get the results they wanted. Experiments can come with great risks, and scientists should be informed and responsible before undertaking them. Mr. Murry has grown more humble and admits the physics concepts he is studying are "far more than [people] can understand with [their] puny little brains."

Identity and Appearance

Human characters in A Wrinkle in Time struggle to hide their true identities, afraid they won't be accepted. Meg is an "oddball" and an outsider at school. She and Charles Wallace both hide their true intelligence from others. Calvin has earned social acceptance at school in part by pretending to be someone he is not.

When the children travel to Camazotz, they see the perils of blending into the crowd. In Camazotz, everyone's identity is defined by their role in a group hierarchy, while individuality is punished. The citizens know their roles, but they've sacrificed freedom and happiness. The children also learn more about their personal strengths and weaknesses through the gifts their three guides give them. Meg finally conquers IT by staying true to herself—her stubbornness, her impatience, and her love for Charles Wallace.

Appearances, the children learn, don't always portray the truth of someone's nature. Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which appear as old women, but their real selves are much more complicated. The women enjoy dressing up in disguise, and even their names suggest flexible identities. Similarly, Aunt Beast and the creatures on the planet Ixchel do not trust appearances at all. They believe physical descriptions are a poor way to describe someone. They do, however, understand what things really are—something Meg realizes is a deeper knowledge than what things look like.

The Power of Love

Love is the strongest form of communication described in the book. It is also the characters' most powerful asset. Calvin respects the "plain, ordinary love" of the Murry parents, as well as their professional accomplishments. Meg sees love break through interplanetary barriers. She knows nothing about the beasts when she lands on their planet, but she feels their love. Although Meg doesn't always feel she has much in common with her own family, their love gives her security and confidence.

Love gives characters strength to do what seems impossible. Mrs Whatsit suggests Mr. Murry can accomplish for his children what he cannot accomplish for himself—freeing himself from IT, and defeating the Black Thing. Meg's love for Charles Wallace defeats a much more powerful adversary. The title of Chapter 12—The Foolish and the Weak—implies love may seem "foolish" and "weak," compared to the more frightening forces of anger, hate, and oppression. But love reaches something human in Charles Wallace, and the simplest force becomes the strongest.

The Danger of Conformity

Camazotz shows conformity taken to its extreme. Everything is done in a certain way at a certain time. The man with red eyes and Charles Wallace point out the temptations of this life. The society is perfectly functional, no one gets into disagreements, and there is no conflict. Nothing unexpected happens, and no one makes mistakes. Conformity is presented as "peace and utter rest" without the responsibility of making decisions.

Meanwhile Meg and Calvin struggle to make independent decisions. But they learn that the challenges they face—doubt, the unknown, failure, being different—can also make life worth living. The faults that set Meg apart from her classmates also help her save her brother. Earth's great "fighters"—the artists, scientists, and religious figures named in Chapter 5—are all people who refused to conform. They were curious and willing to seek the unknown, even when it meant resisting cultural, societal, religious, or scientific norms. The book shows how nonconformity leads to true progress and achievement.

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