Study Guide

A Wrinkle in Time Appearances

By Madeleine L'Engle

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—Why can't I hide it, too? Meg thought. Why do I always have to show everything? (1.13)

Meg's problem with her appearance is not only that it gives a false impression, but sometimes that it's too true – her behavior shows more than she wants to of what she's feeling.

"I hate being an oddball," Meg said. "It's hard on Sandy and Dennys, too. I don't know if they're really like everybody else, or if they're just able to pretend they are. I try to pretend, but it isn't any help."

"You're much too straightforward to be able to pretend to be what you aren't," Mrs. Murry said. (1.66-67)

Normality here is a matter of appearances: if you can act normal enough to fool people into thinking that you're just like them, then that's all you need to fit in.

"What gives around here?" Calvin asked. "I was told you couldn't talk."

"Thinking I'm a moron gives people something to feel smug about," Charles Wallace said. "Why should I disillusion them?" (2.105-106)

While the twins act normal to fit in, and Meg tries but fails, Charles Wallace purposely avoids trying to make people think he's just like everyone else. Is this dishonest, or just a smart survival strategy?

"But Charles Wallace doesn't look different from anybody else."

"No, Meg, but people are more than just the way they look. Charles Wallace's difference isn't physical. It's in essence." (3.99-100)

You can't judge a book by its cover. The insistence on Charles Wallace's essential difference is never quite explained – and if it's not physical, not based in something material in his makeup that anyone could look at and try to understand, then where is it?

She contented herself with looking at Mrs. Whatsit. Even though she was used to Mrs. Whatsit's odd getup (and the very oddness of it was what made her seem so comforting), she realized with a fresh shock that it was not Mrs. Whatsit herself that she was seeing at all. The complete, the true Mrs. Whatsit, Meg realized, was beyond human understanding. What she saw was only the game Mrs. Whatsit was playing; it was an amusing and charming game, a game full of both laughter and comfort, but it was only the tiniest facet of all the things Mrs. Whatsit could be. (6.17)

This novel seems very invested in promoting a distrust of appearances – people and people-like beings are always turning out to be much more than they seem to be. What we think of as reality is actually just a collection of fragments and facets from the larger reality that we can never directly access because it's just too big for our tiny heads. The "could" in the last sentence is interesting – it suggests that "the complete, the true" exists in the realm of possibility, of things that might happen rather than things that have happened or are happening.

"Of course our food, being synthetic, is not superior to your messes of beans and bacon and so forth, but I assure you that it's far more nourishing, and though it has no taste of its own, a slight conditioning is all that is necessary to give you the illusion that you are eating a roast turkey dinner." (7.118)

This is Camazotz in a nutshell – it looks good, and may even be good for you, but it's all fake. Contrast this to the food on Aunt Beast's planet, which looks gross but tastes delicious, and brings Meg back to health.

He was dressed like Charles Wallace; he looked like Charles Wallace; he had the same sandy brown hair, the same face that had not yet lost its baby roundness. Only the eyes were different, for the black was still swallowed up in blue. But it was far more than this that made Meg feel that Charles Wallace was gone, that the little boy in his place was only a copy of Charles Wallace, only a doll. (8.1)

Creepy, in the way only eerily realistic dolls can be. This episode recalls Mrs. Murry's earlier description of Charles Wallace as much more than his appearance. It's interesting too that Meg thinks this before she gets a gander at his personality transplant – it's not how he acts, it's not how he looks, but there's something else that is Charles that this fake version is missing.

One of them came up to Meg and squatted down on its huge haunches beside her, and she felt utter loathing and revulsion as it reached out a tentacle to touch her face.

But with the tentacle came the same delicate fragrance that moved across her with the breeze, and she felt a soft, tingling warmth go all through her that momentarily assuaged her pain. She felt suddenly sleepy.

I must look as strange to it as it looks to me, she thought drowsily, and then realized with a shock that of course the beast couldn't see her at all. Nevertheless a reassuring sense of safety flowed through her with the warmth which continued to seep deep into her as the beast touched her. Then it picked her up, cradling her in two of its four arms. (10.86-88)

Meg's other senses don't play her false the way her sight does – smell and touch give her a more accurate sense of the beasts than vision. Meg realizes that appearance is relative, and so is normality – something the self-loathing Meg huddled in the attic at the book's beginning wasn't able to see.

But she realized now that here on this planet there was no need for color, that the grays and browns merging into each other were not what the beasts knew, and that what she, herself, saw was only the smallest fraction of what the planet was really like. It was she who was limited by her senses, not the blind beasts, for they must have senses of which she could not even dream. (11.74)

It's not just that the beasts have more senses than Meg, it's also that the senses she does have deceive her, like her sight did with her first impression of the beasts. As with Mrs. Whatsit's multifaceted identity, there's a reality out there that Meg can't access because her body and mind just aren't set up to do so.

"We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal." (11.85)

This sets up a hierarchy – the unseen is more important than the seen, more worthy of the beasts' time, because it doesn't exist in time. It's funny that the beast still uses the verb "look" to describe what they do – the metaphor of seeing as knowing comes in even as the physical act of seeing is denied.

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