Study Guide

A Wrinkle in Time Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

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"Maybe if Father were here he could help you, but 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?" (1.67)

Mrs. Murry's reassurance to her daughter is basically saying that being a teenager sucks, and all you can do is wait to grow out of it. "Plow" is an interesting verb choice – it's like Meg is planting the seeds that she won't be able to harvest until later in life.

"Your father [needs our help], of course. Now go home, loves. The time is not yet ripe. Don't worry, we won't go without you." (2.147)

This passage has another agricultural metaphor for time with "ripe," suggesting a natural development that can't be hurried. One wonders how Mrs. Whatsit is measuring ripeness – if they can travel in time, isn't one moment as good as any other? Or perhaps the Earthlings have to reach a particular moment before the Mrs. Ws can sweep them off.

"Well, then, someone just tell me how we got here!" Calvin's voice was still angry and his freckles seemed to stand out on his face. "Even traveling at the speed of light it would take us years and years to get here."

"Oh, we don't travel at the speed of anything," Mrs Whatsit explained earnestly. "We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle." (4.42-43)

Speed is, for example, miles per hour – so take the hours out of the equation and you're dividing by zero, which doesn't work...unless you're a star, apparently, and then time bends for you.

"And the fourth?"

"Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you'd square the square. But you can't take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it's got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time." (5.32-33)

Calling time the Fourth Dimension connects it to space – and makes our brains hurt.

"Just how old are you?" Calvin asked her.

"Just a moment," Mrs. Whatsit murmured, and appeared to calculate rapidly upon her fingers. She nodded triumphantly. "Exactly 2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days. That is according to your calendar, of course, which even you know isn't very accurate." (5.75-76)

Mrs. Whatsit reminds us that our understanding of time depends on arbitrary measures, and is very local: what significance would a time system based on the Earth's revolving around the sun have for anyone outside this solar system?

[Mr. Murry] "Time is different on Camazotz, anyhow. Our time, inadequate though it is, at least is straightforward. It may not be even fully one-dimensional, because it can't move back and forth on its line, only ahead; but at least it's consistent in its direction. Time on Camazotz seems to be inverted, turned in on itself. So I have no idea whether I was imprisoned is that column for centuries or only for minutes." (10.23)

Mr. Murry suggests that time is an experience, but a shared one – he may not be able to trust his own experience, but he still feels like there's a clock somewhere he should be able to check his experience against. But if Camazotz is an entirely different planet, do "centuries" and "minutes" have any meaning?

Her father: "Yes. It's a frightening as well as an exciting thing to discover that matter and energy are the same thing, that size is an illusion, and that time is a material substance. We can know this, but it's far more than we can understand with our puny little brains. I think you will be able to comprehend far more than I. And Charles Wallace even more than you." (10.36)

Charles Wallace may understand this, but we don't. In any case, if such standard building blocks of making sense of the world like "size" are illusions, does that mean our experience of reality is no better than Meg's experience of Camazotz's finest turkey dinner?

Something completely and indescribably and incredibly delicious was put to Meg's lips, and she swallowed gratefully. With each swallow she felt strength returning to her body, and she realized that she had had nothing to eat since the horrible fake turkey dinner on Camazotz which she had barely tasted. How long ago was her mother's stew? Time no longer had any meaning. (11.64)

While we may have an ongoing sense of time passing, our internal clocks are so unreliable (who hasn't experienced a class period that went on forever, or a date that was over far too soon?) that without something external to time ourselves against, we're adrift in the sea of time. This really underscores how dependent we are on external cues like the sun or an alarm clock to gauge the passage of time.

"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)

Aunt Beast again links time with the material world, but also suggests that there is something beyond – but what would that be?

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