A Wrinkle in Time

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Mrs. Whatsit Character Analysis

First appearing to Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin as an old, funnily dressed woman, Mrs. Whatsit is nothing close to what she appears to be. She was a star who gave her life to fight the darkness—now she is a beautiful winged centaur-like creature, when she's not taken on the form of an eccentrically dressed tramp. Calvin describes her—along with Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which— as angels and messengers of God, for they are fighters for the good, are on the side of God, and are there to help but not directly intervene in what the children must do to save their father and themselves from IT.

Mrs. Whatsit Quotes in A Wrinkle in Time

The A Wrinkle in Time quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Whatsit or refer to Mrs. Whatsit. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nonconformity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Square Fish edition of A Wrinkle in Time published in 2007.
Chapter 4 Quotes

"Should I change, too?" Mrs. Who asked. "Oh, but I've had fun in these clothes. But I'll have to admit Mrs. Whatsit is the best at it. Das Werk lobt den Meister. German. The work proves the craftsman. Shall I transform now, too?

Related Characters: Mrs. Who (speaker), Mrs. Whatsit
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a very concrete instance in which the book is addressing the conflict between appearance and reality. While Meg had initially assumed that the three Mrs. W's were all vaguely distasteful because of their appearances, she is here being shown quite literally that their appearances have nothing to do with what they actually are. Furthermore, this changing of appearances comes off as a game. Meg takes appearances seriously enough to base character judgments on them, while these women engage in whimsical transformations of themselves at will. They clearly have no attachment to any one appearance except in the ways in which appearances can be put on for fun. 

This is also a scene in which language, like appearance, is shown to be disconnected from reality. Mrs. Which is dressed up like a witch. This is a pun on her name, but it also suggests a deeper truth, which is that language – like superficial appearance – sometimes only masks what is true. It also shows that language can be a game, like appearance, that can be tried on and cast aside.

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"Listen, then," Mrs. Whatsit said. The resonant voice rose and the words seemed to be all around them so that Meg felt that she could almost reach out and touch them: "Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein..."

Related Characters: Mrs. Whatsit (speaker)
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the few moments of truly sublime beauty in the whole book. To see creatures like Mrs. Whatsit shown as truly good and joy-bringing entities cements Meg's understanding that her initial impression based on Mrs. Whatsit's appearance was completely wrong.

While the story is not explicitly Christian, it has common themes with Christianity. For one, characters are rewarded for respecting and embracing things that cannot be known or understood. Meg has to learn to be humble before that which is greater and more powerful than she; this is a very Christian journey. In addition, the supreme power of love is, perhaps, the most important theme of the New Testament. Since the most beautiful and joyful moment of the book is one that becomes explicitly Biblical, it is safe to say that the author is embracing the ideas of Christianity, even if she is not creating an explicitly religious story. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.
"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.
Mrs. Who's spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"
"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."

Related Characters: Charles Wallace Murry (speaker), Calvin O'Keefe (speaker), Mrs. Whatsit (speaker), Mrs. Who (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mrs. Whatsit sheds some light on what the real forces for good in the world are. As expected, the people she names are all ones who have prioritized their individuality and brought their unique visions to the world. She names Jesus and a few artists/writers – these were all people who had the courage to have radical ideas. It's also important that each of these people grappled in their work with ideas that weren't quite comprehensible. This is what artists do, they try to make sense of the world through creating art rather than by trying to control the world or analyze it. In other words, artists tend not to have illusions of being in control of the world around them. As we've already seen, this book does not look favorably on those who are arrogant enough to believe that they understand everything and are therefore powerful. 

This section also clarifies the author's thoughts on the relevance of Christianity. While she certainly believes that Jesus is an exemplary force for good, she puts him alongside secular heroes like Shakespeare and Euclid. This shows that Christianity is, for this author, an important force in the world, but one that operates in conjunction with all different kinds of ideas. It is one way of capturing a positive way to live in the world, but not the only way.

Chapter 11 Quotes

"Angels!" Calvin shouted suddenly from across the table. "Guardian angels!" There was a moment's silence, and he shouted again, his face tense with concentration, "Messengers! Messengers of God!"

Related Characters: Calvin O'Keefe (speaker), Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Meg is trying to explain to the beasts who the Mrs. W's are. Again, Meg's dependence on rationally describing their appearance leads her astray. For one, the beasts lack sight so this description is meaningless to them. More important, as L'Engle has repeatedly emphasized, appearance has nothing to do with essence, so a description focused on appearance is a poor representation of who somebody actually is.

Calvin – somebody whose strength has always been communication, and whose personal experiences have led him to understand the gulf between appearance and essence – has more success by describing the Mrs. W's as embodiments of good, or angels. It's important that Calvin uses the word "angels" to describe them, since the reference is explicitly Christian. While Christianity has hovered around the edges of the book, L'Engle has generally been careful to frame the moral conflict of the book in more general terms ("The Black Thing" rather than "satan," for example). Here, she is explicitly using a Christian term to describe fighters for good. It's unclear whether she means this as a metaphor or whether the Mrs. W's are literally angels, but it certainly makes it clear that Christianity is the underlying idea in the cosmology of the book.

Chapter 12 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Calvin O'Keefe (speaker), Mrs. Whatsit (speaker)
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Meg has gone to Camazotz to try to save Charles Wallace. Calvin, scared about what will happen to them, is struggling with what he perceives to be the incompatibility between the ideas of fate and free will. If something is fated in the universe, how can an individual still have free choice in the decisions he or she makes? Mrs. Whatsit, then, gives a lovely metaphor of sonnets – poems with a strict form and rhyme scheme. Despite the constraints of the form, individual sonnets have different words, ideas, and meanings within them. Human beings, Mrs. Whatsit seems to be saying, operate within a predetermined form, but we have choices about what to do within that form. This stands in opposition to the people of Camazotz, who live within a form, too, but who do not have choices within that form, since they must all be alike.

This is a lovely way to understand L'Engle's ideas of the relationship between the struggle of good vs. evil, and the importance of nonconformity. Sonnets would be neither interesting nor powerful if they were all alike – and people are the same. In order to further the good of the universe, a person must make individual choices, or else he or she gives up his or her innate power. Without this power, evil would reign like it does on Camazotz.

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Mrs. Whatsit Character Timeline in A Wrinkle in Time

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Whatsit appears in A Wrinkle in Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...absurd amount of brightly colored clothing. Charles seems to know her and calls her Mrs. Whatsit. Meg is very suspicious of her, considering her strange clothes and the time of night,... (full context)
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
As Mrs. Murry calmly helps Mrs. Whatsit to take her water-filled boots off, Mrs. Whatsit reveals out of the blue that she... (full context)
Chapter 2
Nonconformity Theme Icon
The Value of Love Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...her with a snack, Fortinbras on a leash, and a plan to go visit Mrs. Whatsit (who is staying, it turns out, in the haunted house not far from their property).... (full context)
Nonconformity Theme Icon
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
As they near Mrs. Whatsit's house, Meg and Charles are surprised to run into a boy from Meg's school: Calvin... (full context)
Nonconformity Theme Icon
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
The three of them approach the haunted house and don't find Mrs. Whatsit, but instead a friend of hers, Mrs. Who, inside. Mrs. Who is a plump, cheerful... (full context)
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...confused. Charles doesn't know quite what's going on yet but says that he's sure Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who can be trusted. Calvin is happy, feeling as if he's going home... (full context)
Chapter 3
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
...but tells them that the time has come for them to find Mr. Murry. Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who suddenly appear out of nowhere, and the children then meet their third... (full context)
Chapter 4
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...very much autumn in the Murry's village) with a tall mountain in the background. Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who materialize nearby, and Mrs. Which appears as a shimmery witch, which Mrs.... (full context)
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
At this point, at Mrs. Which's command, Mrs. Whatsit shape-shifts into her real form. She is not a funny old woman, but a magnificent... (full context)
Christian References Theme Icon
As they fly over a group of creatures just like Mrs. Whatsit, they hear them making a beautiful music whose song Mrs. Whatsit roughly translates into their... (full context)
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...the children are given oxygen-omitting flowers so they can breathe in the thinning atmosphere. Mrs. Whatsit reaches the top of the mountain, and the children disembark to gaze at the stars... (full context)
Chapter 5
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...behind the dark shadow. And they are going to get to him by tessering. Mrs. Whatsit then explains to Meg what a tesseract is: it's like a wrinkle in time and... (full context)
Nonconformity Theme Icon
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
...Orion's belt. As they cross a nondescript plain and enter a dark stone cavern, Mrs. Whatsit explains that they're there to visit the Happy Medium. The Medium looks rather like a... (full context)
Chapter 6
Christian References Theme Icon
...Darkness in a part of the galaxy. Mrs. Which reveals that that is what Mrs. Whatsit did: she was once a star, and gave her life in the battle against the... (full context)
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
Mrs. Whatsit tells the children that she cannot come with them in search of Mr. Murry; they... (full context)
Chapter 8
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
...down and eats turkey dinner, he tells Meg and Calvin that they were wrong, that the Mrs. W's were their real enemies the whole time. He is colder, crueler, and stronger, and tells... (full context)
Chapter 11
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
Christian References Theme Icon
...better as angels or messengers of God, but the beasts still don't understand…when suddenly Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which appear! (full context)
Chapter 12
The Value of Love Theme Icon
As in previous times when they've appeared, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which cannot fully materialize on the beasts' planet. Meg begins complaining... (full context)
The Value of Love Theme Icon
...out, "All right, I'll go, I know you want me to go!" To which Mrs. Whatsit sternly replies, "We want nothing from you that you do without grace, or that you... (full context)
Nonconformity Theme Icon
The Value of Love Theme Icon
...Calvin immediately protest Meg going back to Camazotz alone. But they are persuaded when Mrs. Whatsit tells them that she and the Happy Medium have both seen that for Meg to... (full context)
The Value of Love Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
Christian References Theme Icon
...from Calvin. Again, the Mrs. W's each give Meg a gift for her journey. Mrs. Whatsit simply gives Meg her love, Mrs. Whatsit's love for her. Mrs. Who gives her a... (full context)
The Value of Love Theme Icon
...she appears, he begins to speak to her coldly and cruelly, telling her that Mrs. Whatsit is on ITs side and other lies. Meg begins to hate this Charles so much... (full context)
The Value of Love Theme Icon
...all share a joyful family reunion. Suddenly the Mrs. W's appear, deepening their joy. Mrs. Whatsit apologizes for failing to say goodbye earlier, and mentions that they are already involved in... (full context)