A Wrinkle in Time

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Themes and Colors
Nonconformity Theme Icon
The Value of Love Theme Icon
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
Christian References Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Wrinkle in Time, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon

Whether looking at Mrs. Whatsit, Aunt Beast, Camazotz, or even Meg Murry, one cannot trust appearances. As Mrs. Murry said of Charles Wallace to Meg, "…people are more than just the way they look. Charles Wallace's difference isn't physical. It's in essence." Frumpy looking Mrs. Whatsit is in reality a gorgeous centaur-like fallen star, tentacled Aunt Beast is a warm, motherly figure, and Camazotz, as innocuous as it looks when first landed on, is the unhappiest place one can imagine. To know what something is really like, the novel insists, one can't rely on one's eyes and must seek a deeper understanding of the mind and heart of the other.

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Deceptive Appearances ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Deceptive Appearances appears in each chapter of A Wrinkle in Time. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Deceptive Appearances Quotes in A Wrinkle in Time

Below you will find the important quotes in A Wrinkle in Time related to the theme of Deceptive Appearances.
Chapter 1 Quotes

How did Charles Wallace always know about her? How could he always tell? He never knew—or seemed to care—what Dennys or Sandy were thinking. It was his mother's mind, and Meg's that he probed with frightening accuracy.

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Charles Wallace Murry, Sandy and Dennys Murry
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the major concerns of A Wrinkle in Time is with powers beyond rational knowledge. This quote establishes Meg's character as someone who is perturbed when confronted with phenomena that she doesn't understand. Meg's preference for the comprehensible (as opposed to mystery) tempts her to jump to easy conclusions based on appearances, which is something Charles Wallace is less prone to. As shown in this quote, this is part of Charles Wallace's gif: understanding things about people that they aren't explicitly communicating, or knowing essential truths about other people that aren't readily apparent. Charles Wallace's gift is also important because it is not rationally explained. He has powers that nobody can exactly account for or duplicate. This is one of many nods in this book to the importance of forces beyond rationality.

It is significant that Charles Wallace focuses his gift on characters who are the least "normal" (i.e. those who don't conform to the "rules" or expectations of society). Sandy and Dennys represent people who fit in socially, and Charles Wallace prefers to spend his energy on those who don't. As the book ultimately shows, this is because those who are able to express their individuality are those who have power. The only people who can fight evil are those who understand and respect themselves enough to not automatically conform to their surroundings.


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"The tesseract—" Mrs. Murry whispered. "What did she mean? How could she have known?"

Related Characters: Mrs. Murry (speaker)
Related Symbols: Tesseract
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

This is yet another instance of communication that goes beyond reason. Nobody in Meg's family can explain who this woman is or why she knows anything about the tesseract, which clearly has extreme significance for Mrs. Murry. This scene is another indication that the book will concern itself with the power of knowledge that is not easily explained. It's important to note, too, that Meg is skeptical of Mrs. Whatsit because of her appearance. Meg's concern with what Mrs. Whatsit looks like – her concern about how Mrs. Whatsit doesn't conform – blinds her to the importance of Mrs. Whatsit's presence or knowledge.

This quote is also important because it introduces the tesseract, which is a potent symbol in the book, as well as an engine of its sci-fi plot. While the reader does not yet know what the tesseract is, it is later revealed that the tesseract is a technology that scientists (believing too much in their own ability to reason through any problem) accidentally misused. This has placed the earth (and Mr. Murry) in grave danger, which thematizes the danger of placing too much faith in reason and giving too little respect to the unknown and unknowable.

Chapter 2 Quotes

"…I'm a sport."
At that Charles Wallace grinned widely. "So ‘m I."
"I don't mean like in baseball," Calvin said.
"Neither do I."
"I mean like in biology," Calvin said suspiciously.
"A change in gene," Charles Wallace quoted, "resulting in the appearance in the offspring of a character which is not present in the parents but which is potentially transmissible to the its offspring."

Related Characters: Charles Wallace Murry (speaker), Calvin O'Keefe (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see the effects of the kind of appearance-based stereotyping that the book is committed to debunking. Calvin, who knows that everyone just sees him as an athletic popular kid who lacks anything interesting beyond those qualities, does not believe that Charles Wallace truly understands who he is. For this reason, Calvin is suspicious and over-explains what he means when he says he's a sport (he's actually using a technical term from biology). This shows how restrictive Calvin's popularity and public image has been to his inner life and individuality. Charles Wallace, on the other hand, is displaying his mysterious gift for understanding people – he seems to see straight past Calvin's appearance and reputation to his essence. He never seems to doubt that Calvin is the person he is claiming to be.

This passage also directly addresses the question of difference. All three of these characters are seen as eccentric or different in some way, and here Charles Wallace and Calvin are acknowledging it for the first time in a way that seems positive (as opposed to the way Meg thinks about her differences as negative).

Chapter 3 Quotes

"But you're good at basketball and things," Meg protested. "You're good in school. Everybody likes you."
"For all the most unimportant reasons," Calvin said. "There hasn't been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn't me."

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Calvin O'Keefe (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Of all the characters, it is perhaps Calvin who is most articulate about the ways in which conformity and difference affect people. Meg, for much of the book, is entrapped by the idea that she is somehow inferior because of her superficial differences from others, and Charles Wallace seems so above the notion of superficial difference that it wouldn't occur to him to talk about it this way.

Calvin, however, is a complicated character who respects and likes his own differences, but still hides them in order to fit in. Here, Meg is incredulous that Calvin could be someone other than the person he appears to be (a theme that will repeat throughout the book). Calvin lets her know that the popularity that he has attained (which she seems to crave) has come at a cost. It is significant that this cost, for Calvin, is communication--he hasn't had anyone he could talk to about the things he cares about. Something the book wants us to understand is that genuine individuality is what allows for communication and communication is what allows for love.

"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."

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Mrs. Murry (speaker), Charles Wallace Murry
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another example of Meg's tendency to place too much importance on superficial appearance. Even her own brother, whom she loves deeply, is in some way unseen by her because of it – Meg doesn't understand his "essence" because she can't look past his appearance. Meg's mother, on the other hand, does understand that Charles Wallace is different, and she is able to love him for it. She recognizes that his individuality is a gift and that it has given him powers of understanding that cannot be explained.

This chapter has made it clear that Meg is uniquely adept at math. She wants the world to behave like a math problem in which you follow rules to solve a puzzle and arrive at a single right answer. That Meg's mother, a brilliant scientist, is here suggesting that things might not be that simple is important. Meg needs to hear this from many credible sources throughout the book before she can truly embrace this way of thinking.

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.

It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing in itself?...What could there be about a shadow that was terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Thing
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:

Coming off the peace and joy of the experience with the singing creatures, the characters must also experience their first taste of true evil, which is The Black Thing. It is significant that a shadow is the embodiment of evil here, as a shadow is entirely immaterial. A shadow has no "essence," – it is only appearance, and the book asks readers over and over to distrust appearances.

This quote also shows that evil, like good, is difficult to confront or account for rationally. Meg does not understand what The Black Thing is or where it came from or how it works, but that does not negate its power over her and the danger it poses to society. The book instructs readers that it would be hubris to write The Black Thing off just because it is not comprehensible, just as it is hubris to try to defeat it with reason. The Black Thing is something beyond reason that must be confronted with forces that are also beyond reason.

Chapter 5 Quotes

The Medium lost the delighted smile she had worn till then. "Oh, why must you make me look at unpleasant things when there are so many delightful ones to see?"
Again Mrs. Which's voice reverberated through the cave. "Therre will nno llonggerr bee sso many pplleasanntt thinggss too llookk att iff rressponssible ppeoplle ddo nnott ddoo ssomethingg abboutt thee unnppleasanntt oness."

Related Characters: Mrs. Which (speaker), The Happy Medium (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Thing
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an example, again, of how focusing on appearances can lead people astray. The Happy Medium does not want to look at unpleasant things because it feels better to look at pleasant ones. Mrs. Which has the wisdom to acknowledge that even though it might be nicer to look at good things, the essences of those things are threatened by the essence of evil. Because of that, it is important to think beyond what is superficially pleasing and consider how to preserve the things we love and enjoy. As Mrs. Which suggests, this involves deep engagement with bad things.

This scene is another one in which language is treated as more superficial than essence. Puns (like Mrs. Which appearing as a witch) are jokes about language itself, rather than about the concepts language attempts to evoke. This is also the case with The Happy Medium – Meg's mother wondered aloud in the first chapter if Meg would ever find "a happy medium." Of course, her mother's statement referred to Meg's inability to control her thoughts and actions, and the "Happy Medium" that Meg has found is a person. Language, here, is not corresponding to concepts as we thought it would, which shows that languageis itself independent of the essence of the thing it represents. Later this idea will tie into the characters' inability to defeat evil through language and rationality.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Now the red eyes and the light above seemed to bore into Charles, and again the pupils of the little boy's eyes contracted. When the final point of black was lost in blue he turned away from the red eyes, looked at Meg, and smiled sweetly, but the smile was not Charles Wallace's smile.

Related Characters: The Man with the Red Eyes (speaker), Charles Wallace Murry
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most concrete examples in the book of the disconnection between appearance and reality. This scene, in which Charles Wallace's body is physically present but his personality is gone shows that Charles Wallace's essence is something that is entirely separate from how he appears. To confront this version of Charles Wallace is a challenge to these characters because it seems to them to be Charles Wallace, but they have to remember that this version of him is not who he truly is.

This scene also shows the unreliability of language. The possessed Charles Wallace tries to rationally convince Meg and Calvin that they need to conform to Camazotz. While the argument seems reasonable and is coming from someone who looks like a trusted person (Charles Wallace), it is crucial that the characters remember that there is a truth that this version of Charles Wallace is obscuring. They cannot listen to his words no matter how compelling they seem.

Chapter 8 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Charles Wallace Murry (speaker), IT (speaker), Meg Murry
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Charles Wallace's body (though not him as a person, as his essence is different than his appearance) is trying to talk Meg and Calvin into submitting to the conformity of Camazotz. He does this by offering the kind of easy happiness that The Man with the Red Eyes offered. This is a moment in which Meg is beginning to realize that the kinds of easy solutions that she craves are not always the correct ones (in contrast to math, which she is so good at).

She begins to understand that happiness and unhappiness are linked – you can't have one without the other because they exist in relation to one another. In a way, this is another case of deceptive appearances. The Man with the Red Eyes promises that everyone is happy on Camazotz and there is no suffering or pain. However, even if people on Camazotz were always happy, that happiness would lose its meaning in the absence of all different kinds of emotions. In other words, just like it's important to have many different kinds of people in the world, it is also important to have many different emotions.

Chapter 10 Quotes

"You don't even know where we are!" she cried out at her father. "We'll never see Mother or the twins again! We don't know where earth is!...What are you going to do!" She did not realize that she was as much in the power of the Black Thing as Charles Wallace.

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Mr. Murry
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Murry have tessered away from Camazotz and materialized on another planet. When Meg realizes that Charles Wallace is not with them she loses her temper at her father, whom she blames for everything that has gone wrong. Though Meg has come very far in understanding the importance of nonconformity and accepting (even embracing) her own eccentricities, she is still failing at the most important thing, love.

In A Wrinkle in Time, love for the self (which means being true to individuality) and love for others are the two most important forces for good in the world. Meg is doing better at the former than the latter in this passage – she's still not able to empathize with her father, forgive his shortcomings, and love him for exactly who he is. This failure of love is described as being "in the power of the Black Thing," which shows that L'Engle equates evil not simply with bad intentions, but even with the failure to love fully.

Chapter 11 Quotes

It was a music more tangible than form or sight…It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.

Related Characters: Meg Murry
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aunt Beast has been trying to help Meg understand the importance of love. Finally, Aunt Beast ends up embodying love and singing Meg to sleep with an indescribable song. Meg's interactions with Aunt Beast are reminiscent of her first interactions with The Mrs. W's – Meg judged them negatively based on their appearances and then began to understand that, regardless of how they look, they are forces for good. This is one of many examples of L'Engle's insistence that appearance and essence are unrelated.

This passage is also a powerful example of L'Engle's insistence that love must transcend rational language and understanding. Here, Meg has tried and failed to explain sight to Aunt Beast, who is blind. Meg winds up understanding that sight is a sense that can conceal as much as it reveals, since it shackles a person to a particular conception of the universe. Meg learns that it is not important to teach Aunt Beast about sight. By accepting this, Meg shows a newfound humility in the face of the universe's mysteries, and she also opens herself up to receive love from Aunt Beast that comes in the form of a song she can't understand.

"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.