This week, the participating blogs are featuring the characters. I ended up picking two—the Murry parents. Off-stage for most of the book, they are nevertheless, practically and metaphorically, integral to the story. And the more I thought about the Murry parents, the more I extended the whole idea of “parenting” to the other adults, and started thinking about the parent/child relationship as the driving force of the book as a whole. It's possible I got carried away...
First, the Murry parents.
The Murrys love their children. This is made clear right at the beginning of the book, when Calvin pays his first visit: "You don't know how lucky you are to be loved." And Meg is somewhat startled, and answers "I guess I never thought of that. I guess I took it for granted." (page 38). This is what children do--but as they get older, and more reflective, they (hopefully) learn to appreciate unconditional love.
Meg’s mother is brilliant and beautiful. She is kind and loving, and clearly appreciates her children as individuals. Even though when she’s heating up dinner for the kids in the lab (which L’Engle seems to find amusingly shocking… me, not so much) she’s in control, and rational.
She is also useless—never at any point does she actually do anything that helps anyone, whether in regard to saving the universe or helping her kids get along at school. "...I don't think I can do anything till you've managed to plow through some more time. Then things will be easier for you. But that isn't much help right now, is it?" (page 12).
To Meg, very much not together, very conscious of not being beautiful, a very hot person emotionally, the idea that she will somehow become the type of grown-up that her mother presents is ludicrous. And this, I think, is one of the great sources of tension in her life just before the events of W. in T.—how to reconcile the impossibility of growing up with the fact that it’s going to happen….
Meg’s father gets more page time to actually say and do things. He’s the one that actually started the whole mess, by putting his obligation to "the government" and the chance to try out a new scientific discovery ahead of his family (another harsh fact of growing-up--realizing your parents are people with lives of their own!). He ends up trapped; Meg has to save him. Likewise, when Meg sees her mother through the Medium's magic, she realizes that her mother is weak--Mrs. Murry thinks no one is watching her, and allows herself to give into the weakness of grief and loneliness....rousing in Meg a fierce protectiveness.
This is a reversal of the “natural” order of things. Parents are supposed to save their children! "Her father had not saved her" (page 163) and two pages later "She had found her father and he had not made everything all right" (page 165). And Mr. Murry drives this point even further home when he admits, flat out, that he cannot do a gosh darn thing to save his youngest son, Charles Wallace. Parents are fallible. They are not saviours. They don't have the power to make everything all right.
As I was re-reading, I found that the Murry parents play a much larger role than I expected in shaping the whole emotional arc of Meg's story. And the importance of parent/child relationships plays out in the roles of the other "adults" in the story.
Mrs. Whatsit – the playful, “relatable” (gosh I hate that word) parent, but the fun times don’t last long as she isn’t actually there when times are tough
Mrs. Who—the parent who is always telling you things and expecting you to work them out for yourself
Mrs. Which -- the authority figure. Does not communicate clearly, but must be obeyed, somehow gives the impression of safety.
Yet none of them can save the day.
"Mrs Whatsit, you have to save him!"
"Meg, this is not our way," Mrs Whatsit said sadly (page 186).
Then there's Aunt Beast—the parent who makes you want to be a child again, held safe in a warm embrace, and this relationship is made clear in the text: "As though Meg were a baby, Aunt Beast bathed and dressed her" (page 179). But Aunt Beast, by the monstrous strangeness of her form, evokes the jitteriness of adolescence makes you recoil from that infantile physicality. And she too cannot bear any of Meg's burdens.
The final “adult” who plays an important role in the series is IT: not a parent type, but rather representing all the pressures of conformity. Yet even IT is presented directly as a parental alternative--instead of the (desirable) messiness of love, and human emotion, IT offers the dubious comfort of being just like everyone else.
"Father? What is a father?" Charles Wallace intoned. "Merely another misconception. If you feel the need of a father, then I would suggest you turn to IT." page 132
Incidentally, when Charles Wallace is part of it, he plays the confrontation child very nicely--"You're not the boss around here" he says to his father (page 147).
Often in adventure stories for children the parents are absent. In fact, there are often no adults worth a fig exercising any kind of influence on the characters or the plot. A Wrinkle in Time, however, is strikingly full of adults. The amount of page time in which there are no adults present, and pretty actively involved, is relatively small. L’Engle doesn’t send Meg and co. out alone on a grand adventure—they are sent on an adventure that is orchestrated by those much older than they are. The whole book can be read as Meg reacting to grown-ups, and learning to think of herself not as a child, but as a puissant actor, moving from wanting grown-ups to save her, to realizing that "...it has to be me. It can't be anyone else" (page 188).
And so, thinking about this off and on for the past week, my conclusion is that the title “A Wrinkle In Time” can be taken as a reference to adolescence, a metaphor for the child’s experience of growing up (no time is as wrinkly as seventh grade). Every adult (human or otherwise) is a parent-type with whom Meg must play out the central conflict of adolescence--the need to be loved and protected child vs the need to grow up, to push parents away.
Meg and co. are not on a quest to defeat some Ancient Darkness by means of magic. They are there to save her father (not defeat IT), and the only weapon Meg has is her ability to Love. Which leads me to what I think is the central point L’Engle is making: that a huge part of growing up is learning unselfish love, leaving behind the needy, possessive love of the child.
I’ve seen a number of people comment on how surprisingly un-dated A Wrinkle in Time feels. Maybe this is because changing state from child to grown-up is just about as utterly timeless a part of the human condition as can be.
It was great fun exploring A Wrinkle in Time in such depth, and I hope the fiftieth anniversy commemorative edition finds new readers for it! As well as the story, it contains:
•Photo scrapbook with approximately 10 photos*†
•Letter from 1963 Caldecott winner, Ezra Jack Keats*†
•New introduction by Katherine Paterson, US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature †
•New afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Voiklis including six never-before-seen photos †
•Murry-O’Keefe family tree with new artwork †
•Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery acceptance speech
* Unique to this edition † never previously publishedHere's The Wrinkle in Time Facebook page, and here are my fellow week three character bloggers:
Things Mean A Lot
The Book Smugglers
Coffee and Cliffhangers
S. Krishna’s Books
Lisa the Nerd