"How do you know?" Meg had demanded. "How do you know I'm not dumb? Isn't it just because you love me?"
"I love you, but that's not what tells me. Mother and I've given you a number of tests, you know." (1.40-41)
Meg almost seems to be putting science over affection here: she'd rather have her parents think that she's smart because of factual evidence than because they care about her. As Calvin points out later, she's so used to her family's love for her that she pretty much takes it for granted. How does this change by the end of the book?
Charles Wallace slipped his hand confidingly in Meg's, and the sweet, little-boy gesture warmed her so that she felt the tense knot inside her begin to loosen. Charles loves me at any rate, she thought. (2.70)
This suggests that maybe Meg's self-hatred is due in part to her blindness, her feeling that nobody loves her, everybody hates her, she might as well eat worms.
Calvin put a strong hand to Meg's elbow, and Fort pressed against her leg. Happiness at their concern was so strong in her that her panic fled, and she followed Charles Wallace into the dark recesses of the house without fear. (2.133)
As Patrick Swayze told us, love and fear are opposites. So long as Meg feels loved, she's not afraid, even though the danger is just the same.
Meg said in a startled way, "I guess I never thought of that. I guess I just took it for granted." (3.13-14)
And this is what privilege looks like: having something good and never even thinking that other people don't have the same thing. Calvin makes Meg realize for the first time that family love isn't a sure thing in life, but something precious that she should be grateful for.
"No. At first we got lots of letters. Mother and Father always wrote each other every day. I think Mother still writes him every night. Every once in a while the postmistress makes some kind of a crack about all her letters."
"I suppose they think she's pursuing him or something," Calvin said, rather bitterly.
"They can't understand plain, ordinary love when they see it. Well, go on. What happened next?" (3.152-154)
For all Meg's worrying that everyone else is normal, and she (and her family) are not, here Calvin reverses the perspective: it's the townspeople who can't recognize the value of the "plain" and "ordinary."
"But I must know what happens to the children," the Medium said. "It's my worst trouble, getting fond. If I didn't get fond I could be happy all the time." (6.64)
Love is the enemy of happiness? Perhaps, but what kind of happiness is there without caring about anyone or anything? The happy medium that Mrs. Murry and the twins advise Meg to strive for is looking less and less desirable...
The gentle words, the feeling that this beast would be able to love her no matter what she said or did, lapped Meg in warmth and peace. She felt a delicate touch of tentacle to her cheek, as tender as her mother's kiss. (11.62)
It seems what Meg wants is unconditional love, even though she's not so good at giving it herself: she acts like she hates her father when he doesn't live up to her standards. Perhaps this example from Aunt Beast helps set Meg back on the right track.
Meg's tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. "But I do understand." She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast's ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast's arm went around her. (12.32)
If the Black Thing drains all the love out of Meg, does that mean that love is linked to that other thing the Black Thing seeks to destroy, independent identity? Is it possible to love someone in a world where everyone is exactly the same?
"Mrs. Whatsit hates you," Charles Wallace said.
And that was where IT made ITs fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, "Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that's what she told me, that she loves me," suddenly she knew.
That was what she had that IT did not have.
She had Mrs. Whatsit's love, and her father's, and her mother's, and the real Charles Wallace's love, and the twins', and Aunt Beast's.
And she had her love for them.
But how could she use it? What was she meant to do?
If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.
But she could love Charles Wallace. (12.135-144)
And so Charles Wallace is saved through the power of love. (Cue soaring violins.) But why does this work? Why is not doing anything, just standing still and loving Charles Wallace, enough to extract him from IT's clutches?
Meg knew all at once that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which must be near, because all through her she felt a flooding of joy and of love that was even greater and deeper than the joy and love which were already there.
She stopped laughing and listened, and Charles listened, too. "Hush."
Then there was a whirring, and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which were standing in front of them, and the joy and love were so tangible that Meg felt that if she only knew where to reach she could touch it with her bare hands. (12.170-172)
The image of love as an object is kind of strange. Why externalize feeling in this way, as a thing that might be touched, rather than as something that you feel inside you?