A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
A Wrinkle in Time begins with Meg alone in her attic bedroom, feeling weird, wrong, and out of place in every way. And then she starts talking to cats:
"Go back to sleep," Meg said. "Just be glad you're a kitten and not a monster like me." She looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror and made a horrible face, baring a mouthful of teeth covered with braces. Automatically she pushed her glasses into position, ran her fingers through her mouse-brown hair, so that it stood wildly on end, and let out a sigh almost as noisy as the wind. (1.20)
Meg's self-criticism knows no bounds. In her eyes, she's an ugly, stupid, over-emotional freak whom everybody outside of her family hates. With a self-image like this, who needs enemies? Meg's mother tries to reassure her that everything will be all right, but Meg refuses to be convinced. And not surprisingly, her attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the worse she feels about herself, the worse she acts around other people, and the more people criticize her. What's a girl to do to break this vicious cycle? Going on a time-bending interplanetary journey might not be on the top of most lists of self-help tips, but it just might be Meg's ticket to self-respect.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
When Meg first gets swept away to a distant planet with Charles Wallace and Calvin, she's kind of, well, pathetic. While Charles Wallace adapts easily to the tesseract and Calvin follows him with a little effort, Meg needs a sharp kick in the rear to catch up. And when the trio ride on the back of centaur Mrs. Whatsit to the low-oxygen mountain heights, Meg almost forgets to breathe. Lara Croft she's not. Rather than striking out on her own, she's always looking for a hand to hold. On Camazotz, she's got two:
Meg's left hand was held by Charles, her right by Calvin, and she had no desire to let go either of them to touch the wall. (7.13)
Here's Meg's hand-holding literally prevents her from reaching out and directly interacting with this new world that she's found herself in. Meg never even needs to face the question of what she would do if she were alone, because there's always somebody there for her to lean on. While on the one hand the novel's all about getting by with a little help from your friends, in Meg's case her friends are holding her back from achieving self-reliance and growing as a person.
Perhaps the strongest expression of this tendency towards hand-holding in Meg is her desire to find her father. She thinks that if she could only put back this missing piece in her life, all her problems would be solved.
[Meg] had been so certain that the moment she found her father everything would be all right. Everything would be settled. All the problems would be taken out of her hands. She would no longer be responsible for anything. (9.103)
Because people with two parents don't have any problems, right? Oops. Meg's character development requires her to realize that if something needs doing, she's got to do it herself, or at least to try.
So Meg feels all wrong...how is she going to get to be all right, or at least more right with herself than she currently is? Mrs. Whatsit suggests it's all a matter of perspective:
"Meg, I give you your faults."
"My faults!" Meg cried.
"But I'm always trying to get rid of my faults!"
"Yes," Mrs. Whatsit said. "However, I think you'll find they'll come in very handy on Camazotz." (6.82-86)
By presenting Meg's faults as strengths, Mrs. Whatsit offers Meg a new way of perceiving herself: as someone who just needs a face-off with a giant brain to show her mettle. The very things that got Meg in trouble at home – her stubbornness, her rudeness, her tendency to be unmanageable and headstrong – turn out to be great weapons for brain-poking.
So all Meg needs is a little self-perception adjustment and maybe a giant brain to do battle with occasionally to keep her hand in, right? Well, not exactly. While Meg's faults are useful when directed at IT, they're less of a plus when they're aimed at her own allies.
But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. "I can't go!" Meg cried. "I can't! You know I can't!" [...]She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. (12.27-30)
Meg's reversion to toddlerhood here is in part caused by the influence the Black Thing continues to have over her mind and soul, but it's not entirely out of keeping with how she's behaved so far in the novel. While we Meg to be the protagonist, sometimes she feels like the antagonist in her own story, never the one to take center stage. But something shifts in a moment, and she's ready to take on the spotlight:
"It has to be me. It can't be anyone else. I don't understand Charles, but he understands me. I'm the one who's closest to him. Father's been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don't know each other. And Calvin's only known Charles for such a little time. If it had been longer then he would have been the one, but – oh, I see, I see, I understand, it has to be me. There isn't anyone else." (12.34)
This realization is a key turning point in Meg's development as a character: she realizes that if she wants Charles Wallace to be saved, she's going to have to let go of other people's hands and do it herself. And once she sets her mind to it, she succeeds, suggesting that she had the potential to stand on her own two feet all along...all she needed was to believe in herself.