Study Guide

A Wrinkle in Time Fate and Free Will

By Madeleine L'Engle

Fate and Free Will

[Calvin] "When I get this feeling, this compulsion, I always do what it tells me. I can't explain where it comes from or how I get it, and it doesn't happen very often. But I obey it. And this afternoon I had a feeling that I must come over to the haunted house. That's all I know, kid. I'm not holding anything back. Maybe it's because I'm supposed to meet you. You tell me." (2.121)

Mrs. Who later says that Calvin is not her idea, but she thinks he's a good one, suggesting that perhaps one of the other Mrs. Ws was responsible for Calvin's compulsion. Is pulling people around like that any different from what goes down on Camazotz?

[Meg] "If Charles Wallace is a sport, I think I'm a biological mistake." Moonlight flashed against her braces as she spoke. (3.173)

Meg sees her identity as fate – she is what she is, she can't help it, and she'll never be able to change. Does the development of her character over the course of the book support or deny this belief?

"But what's going to happen?" Meg's voice trembled. "Oh, please, Mrs. Which, tell us what's going to happen!"

"Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!" (5.110-11)

Meg wants to know the future, and for once Mrs. Which obliges. It seems that her prediction kind of makes itself happen by her very act of predicting it. Would Meg be able to continue to keep fighting if she didn't have this reassurance from Mrs. Which about what they're going to do?

Calvin reached out and caught both Charles and Meg by the arm. "You remember when we met, you asked me why I was there? And I told you it was because I had a compulsion, a feeling I just had to come to that particular place at that particular moment?"

"Yes, sure."

"I've got another feeling. Not the same kind, a different one, a feeling that if we go into that building we're going into terrible danger." (6.170-172)

On the one hand, duh, of course it's going to be dangerous. On the other, this raises the question of how much free will the kids have in this situation. Is it really an option for them to turn back at this point?

"Now, my dears," the words continued, "I shall of course have no need of recourse to violence, but I thought perhaps it would save you pain if I showed you at once that it would do you no good to try to oppose me. You see, what you will soon realize is that there is no need to fight me. Not only is there no need, but you will not have the slightest desire to do so. For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision." (7.62)

Camazotz, and IT, are decidedly on the side of fate (in IT's case, for other people more than for itself). IT makes the case that free will brings only suffering and anxiety – if you just do what you're told, you never have to worry whether you're doing the right thing. It makes a certain amount of sense.

The man lifted his lips into a smile, and his smile was the most horrible thing Meg had ever seen. "Why don't you trust me, Charles? Why don't you trust me enough to come in and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest. I am freedom from all responsibility. To come in to me is the last difficult decision you need ever make." (7.148)

"Freedom from all responsibility" suggests the moral element in the fate vs. free will debate – if people only do what's fated to happen, can they be held morally responsible for their actions? Even choices, however, are shaped by influences beyond an individual's control – so what does that mean for moral responsibility?

"Nobody suffers here," Charles intoned. "Nobody is ever unhappy."

"But nobody's ever happy, either," Meg said earnestly. "Maybe if you aren't unhappy sometimes you don't know how to be happy." (8.86-87)

What is IT's definition of happiness, and how does it differ from Meg's?

"You will just have to take my word for it, Margaret," came the cold, flat voice from Charles Wallace. "IT wants you and IT will get you. Don't forget that I, too, am part of IT, now. You know I wouldn't have done IT if IT weren't the right thing to do." (9.23)

Here IT, through Charles Wallace, is suggesting that IT's desires are fate: IT wanted Charles Wallace, and IT got him; IT wants Meg, so IT will get her too, and she should just give up now because resistance is futile.

"There hasn't been time for anything. Everything's awful." Despair settled like a stone in the pit of Meg's stomach. She 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.

And instead of this happy and expected outcome, they seemed to be encountering all kinds of new troubles. (9.103-104)

Up to this point Meg hasn't necessarily wanted free control over the situation, she just wanted to turn things over to a more benevolent dictator than IT. In what ways does Meg take control of her own free will over the course of the novel?

"Can't she see what's going to happen?" Calvin asked.

"Oh, not in this kind of thing." Mrs. Whatsit sounded surprised at his question. "If we knew ahead of time what was going to happen we'd be—we'd be like the people on Camazotz, with no lives of our own, with everything all planned and done for us. How can I explain it to you? Oh, I know. In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet." [...]

"You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?"

"Yes." Mrs. Whatsit said. "You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you." (12.58-73)

So fate doesn't control our actions, but we're not entirely free either – the trick is to make our voices heard within the limitations placed on us, and perhaps even make something beautiful out of our restrictions.

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