A Wrinkle in Time

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Nonconformity Theme Analysis

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.
Nonconformity Theme Icon

At the beginning of the book, Meg is unhappy because she doesn't fit in at school, and desperately wishes she could be the same as everyone else. She's smarter than most kids, but her unorthodox way of thinking is not understood by her school, and she reacts by being sulky and stubborn. Her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, is also made fun of for being abnormally intelligent and different. But then the two meet Calvin, a "cool" kid who is unhappy because he hides his differences, and the Mrs. W's, who are the weirdest and most wonderful people they have ever met, and Meg begins to reconsider the value of her "differences".

The final nail in the coffin of Meg's desires for sameness come when the children visit the planet Camazotz, which has been entirely taken over by the Black Thing. On Camazotz, everyone is the same, everyone conforms to the standards set by IT, and it is the unhappiest place in the book. When Charles Wallace gets assimilated IT and becomes the same as everyone on Camazotz, Meg realizes just how much she doesn't want herself or anyone she loves to have their differences taken away.

The novel also contains many quotes from and references to great writers, thinkers, and scientists of the past (Shakespeare, Einstein, Goethe, etc.), all of whom were very "different" but accomplished great things for the good and the light through their work, and who are presented as the Earth's greatest fighter's against the Black Thing. In other words, the novel presents difference as not just a fact of life, but as a vital thing, the most important thing in the fight against evil.

Nonconformity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in A Wrinkle in Time related to the theme of Nonconformity.
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 6 Quotes

"We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes ITs home here." There was something about the way he said "IT" that made a shiver run up and down Meg's spine.

Related Characters: IT (speaker), Meg Murry
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the paper boy on Camazotz is explaining to Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin the nature of the city in which they have found themselves. His description is chilling to the characters because it is a dystopian vision of perfect conformity and efficiency that evokes sinister government bureaucracy and the all-consuming power of technology. The Mrs. W's have just finished explaining that the forces for good in the universe are love and individuality, but Camazotz is the opposite. Instead of valuing artists, it values people who conform strictly to norms and don't make trouble. Human relationships on Camazotz are governed by impersonal bureaucracy rather than love. 

This scene also gives information about the specific enemies that the characters are up against. The boy's ominous mentions of IT and Central Intelligence imply the particular kind of trouble that Mr. Murry is in. Camazotz is the embodiment of evil, and this scene lets us know subtly that if these characters are going to save themselves and Mr. Murry they will have to do so by sticking with love and individuality instead of conforming to the relentless norms of Camazotz.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision."

Related Characters: The Man with the Red Eyes (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In this sinister scene, The Man with the Red Eyes is trying to convince the characters to stop resisting and conform to the norms of Camazotz. While he frames this as a way for them to find happiness, it is clear that the presence of these nonconforming people is a threat to The Man with the Red Eyes. L'Engle gives the man a soothing and delicate voice to stress, again, the disjunction between appearance and reality and the importance of looking to the essence of things rather than relying on their superficial appearance for judgment. 

This scene is also symbolic of the general conflict of the book. Here, The Man with the Red Eyes is offering the characters easy happiness and freedom from pain in exchange for their cooperation. While what he promises sounds wonderful (much like erasing your individuality to become popular at school), the reality is obviously much more complicated. The characters have to learn the value of their individuality and the power of love in order to discern good from evil and defeat The Black Thing.

Chapter 8 Quotes

"I'm different, and I like being different." Calvin's voice was unnaturally loud.
"Maybe I don't like being different," Meg said, "but I don't want to be like everybody else, either."

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Calvin O'Keefe (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

Meg was introduced in Chapter 1 as someone suffering from her differences. She did not appreciate her unique talents and personality because they separated her from her peers and she thought she would be happier if she were more popular. Calvin, who knows the loneliness of popularity that comes from stifling his individuality, has a more nuanced perspective on difference – all he wants is to find people who are able to relate to him as he is rather than accept him for who he isn't.

This scene is a turning point for Meg in which she is beginning to see that it's better for her to be who she is than try to be someone else. She's not yet willing to embrace that she is different – she says that maybe she doesn't "like being different" – but she is able to articulate for the first time that she doesn't want to be like everyone else. Seeing the extreme conformity on Camazotz has given her perspective on the blessings that she has been given, which she had initially seen as a curse.

"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 9 Quotes

"But that's exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike."
For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. "No!" she cried triumphantly. "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!"

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker), Charles Wallace Murry (speaker), IT (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Meg is reciting the Declaration of Independence in order to fight off IT. She believes that this document can be an effective weapon against IT because it is the foundational document of a society built on individuality and freedom of expression. When she says that "all men are created equal," though, IT tries to manipulate those words by twisting them to support IT's point of view.

However, when he tells Meg that everyone on Camazotz is equal because they are exactly alike, Meg recognizes that this is nonsense, and she tells him that "like and equal are not the same." This is important growth in Meg's character – at the beginning of the book, Meg would have liked to be like everyone else. However, now that she has seen the dystopian society on Camazotz, she understands that her values need to change to embrace nonconformity.

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 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.