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.
Language and Knowing Theme Icon

If Meg thought comprehending her and Charles Wallace's differences was hard, understanding the people and planets of a universe she never knew existed outside Earth is even more difficult. The Mrs. W's communicate in ways of their own—Mrs. Who, for example, hasn't really mastered the human language, so she quotes often from great authors to get her point across. Indeed many of the characters—Meg, Mrs. Whatsit, Mr. Murry—incorporate Shakespeare, Scripture, and other famous works into their thoughts and words to best express their feelings.

But there is communication beyond the written and spoken word, which often fails (as seen best when Meg tries to explain light to animals that come from a sunless world). Meg can sometimes best tell Charles Wallace, Calvin, or her father that she loves them through a tender gesture or a warm embrace. Charles Wallace can somehow intuit the feelings of his mother, Meg, and Calvin without even being in the same room. Calvin's gift of communication, too, is intuitive and mental.

Yet just as Aunt Beast will never understand the human sense of sight, all three children learn through their journey that there are some things they can't understand, and they must come to terms with this. As a talented math student who uses shortcuts, Meg always wants an easy and quick final answer, but her experiences and the wise people in her life teach her that she can't always get it. When she reaches Camazotz, she finally realizes that an effortless understanding of the universe is not something one ought to want, because IT is bent on total understanding, total control, and this world of total understanding and control is evil and suffocating. Meg is able to defeat IT not through her own knowledge but through a love that is more profound than words.

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Language and Knowing ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in A Wrinkle in Time related to the theme of Language and Knowing.
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).

"Lead on, moron," Calvin cried gaily. "I've never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I'm going home!"

Related Characters: Calvin O'Keefe (speaker), Meg Murry
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Nobody can explain why Calvin has so suddenly and completely hit it off with Charles Wallace and Meg, but the warmth between the three of them seems genuine. This is a theme throughout the book, that genuine love cannot be explained or accounted for, and its power is beyond that of reason. Calvin, having found others who are different in the way that he is (even though he has been hiding his differences in public) makes him suddenly feel a kind of familial connection that makes him feel that going to the Murry home is like going to his own home. That's a remarkable statement that shows how powerful the love between these characters is.

It's worth noting that Calvin, unlike Meg, seems not at all perturbed by what he can't understand. He is not suspicious or dismissive of his feelings of love and joy that come from a mysterious place – he embraces them and allows them to make him happy.

Chapter 3 Quotes

"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.

"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

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.

"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 6 Quotes

From somewhere Mrs. Who's glasses glimmered and they heard her voice. "Calvin," she said, "a hint. For you a hint. Listen well:
For that he was a spirit too delicate
To act their earthy and abhorr'd commands,
Refusing their grand hests, they did confine him
By help of their most potent ministers,
And in their most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprisoned, he didst painfully remain
Shakespeare. The Tempest."

Related Characters: Mrs. Who (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, the Mrs. W's are about to leave Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace on Camazotz to try to save Mr. Murry by themselves. As parting gifts, the women provide mostly just words to aid the characters on their journey. This is further confirmation that, for Madeleine L'Engle, the power of words and ideas is equal to or better than the power of material objects. It's also important that these characters are given gifts that they do not know how to use; each of the gifts is fairly meaningless until its meaning is clarified by a situation they are in. This echoes the book's concern with the importance of trusting in mysteries and not dismissing that which you don't understand.

This specific passage, too, is relevant because it speaks beautifully to the nonconformity that the book espouses. The quote from The Tempest that is given to Calvin is one about the human ability to resist the pressure of others, despite the consequences. While this advice proves specifically helpful on Camazotz, it is also advice that is broadly applicable across all parts of the book.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Breathing quickly with excitement, Calvin continued to pin Charles Wallace with his stare. "You're like Ariel in the cloven pine, Charles. And I can let you out. Look at me, Charles. Come back to us."

Related Characters: Calvin O'Keefe (speaker), Charles Wallace Murry
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Calvin is trying to pull Charles Wallace back from the brink of submitting fully to IT. To do so, Calvin quotes from Shakespeare's play The Tempest, a passage that Mrs. Who gave him as her parting gift when she left them on Camazotz. The passage is directly relevant to the situation that the characters are in. It's about Ariel refusing to obey the commands of his master, and Calvin hopes that Ariel's courage will inspire Charles Wallace.

On a broader level, though, the Shakespeare passage almost succeeds in bringing Charles Wallace back from IT not simply because of its literal content, but because it is a work of art. L'Engle has repeatedly emphasized that art strikes out against conformity, because in order to create art the artist has to fully embrace his or her individuality. Art is an enemy on Camazotz because it celebrates individuality and encourages critical thought.

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.

"We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

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

This is one of the most explicit appeals to Christianity in the book. At this point, Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Murry have tessered away from Camazotz. They were forced to leave Charles Wallace behind, and this passage is Mr. Murry's response to Meg's misdirected fury. Mr. Murry does not instruct Meg to love him more or forgive his shortcomings, but rather to love God in general. This is reminiscent of L'Engle's statement that Meg, when she was furious with her father, was in the grip of The Black Thing.

For L'Engle, good/evil and love/hate are abstract forces with concrete implications. Being filled with love for God is, in practice, the same as loving the individual people in your life. In the book, being filled with love for God is also how you fight The Black Thing, which manifests in everyday life as meanness and bitterness. This chapter, in particular, illuminates L'Engle's idea of opposed cosmic forces for good and evil that individuals can choose between. Being loving to others, then, serves a higher purpose.

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.