On a dark and stormy night, Meg Murry tosses and turns in her attic bedroom. She is unable to fall asleep because she is preoccupied with all that seems wrong in her life: she doesn't fit in at school; her high school teachers have just threatened to drop her down a grade on account of her poor academic performance; and worst of all, her father has been missing for many years and no one has heard from him. Meg hears her family's big black dog Fortinbras barking downstairs, and she begins to worry that a stranger may be skulking around the house; she suspects the tramp who, according to local gossip, recently stole twelve bed-sheets from the constable's wife, Mrs. Buncombe.
Dismissing her fears as silly and attempting to calm her nerves, Meg decides to make herself some cocoa in the kitchen. She is surprised to find her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace waiting for her at the kitchen table, though she notes that Charles always seems capable of reading her mind. Mrs. Murry soon joins her children, and tells Meg that she has received a call from Mrs. Henderson, the mother of the boy Meg had beaten up at school that day. Meg complains to her mother that she hates being an "oddball" at school. She wishes she were more ordinary like her twin younger brothers, Sandy and Dennys. Mrs. Murry tells Meg that she needs to learn the meaning of moderation, the importance of finding a "happy medium." Charles then comments that he has spoken about Meg's problems with his friend Mrs. Whatsit, though he refuses to explain who this woman is.
As Charles Wallace is preparing sandwiches for his mother and sister, Fortinbras begins to bark loudly again. Mrs. Murry goes outside to find the cause of the commotion. She returns with Charles's mysterious friend Mrs. Whatsit, an eccentric tramp completely bundled up in wet clothes. Mrs. Whatsit explains that she glories in nights of such wild weather, but that tonight she has been blown off course in the storm. Charles asks her why she stole bed-sheets from Mrs. Buncombe, confirming Meg's suspicion that Mrs. Whatsit is the neighborhood tramp. After removing her boots and drying her feet, Mrs. Whatsit suddenly remarks that "there is such a thing as a tesseract" and then hurries out the door. Mrs. Murry stands very still at the threshold, stunned by Mrs. Whatsit's parting words.
This chapter introduces Meg Murry as an ordinary adolescent with many of the same problems facing most teenagers today: she desperately wants to fit in and to feel more comfortable in her identity. She feels like an outcast at school because she doesn't get along with the other students, who accuse her of acting immature. Part of her alienation results from the notoriety of her unusual family: her teachers tell her that they expect her to do better in her classes since both her parents are brilliant scientists; the boys at school make fun of her "dumb baby brother" Charles Wallace, who did not begin to speak until the age of four. Finally, all the townspeople gossip about her absent father, implying that the Murry family should just face the facts and accept that he has left them. On top of it all, Meg feels deeply insecure about her personal appearance; compared to her beautiful mother, she describes herself as "repulsive-looking" and wonders whether her social alienation is related to the physical unattractiveness she believes herself to possess. Thus Meg stands out for the very same reasons that make her so representative of most adolescents: awkward and insecure, she lacks confidence in her own abilities.
In contrast to the very typical Meg, Meg's younger brother Charles Wallace is highly extraordinary--indeed, almost supernatural. Not only does he strike the reader as highly precocious for a five-year-old--preparing liverwurst and cream cheese sandwiches, conversing freely with old ladies, and teaching himself new vocabulary words--Charles Wallace also displays an exceptional ability to read the minds of his mother and sister. Mrs. Whatsit, too, exhibits extrasensory powers: she can see the Russian caviar behind a closed cabinet door, and she can somehow sense Meg's distrust of her. These magical abilities introduce the emerging story as one of science fiction and fantasy.
The first chapter not only establishes the tone of the narrative, but foreshadows several important events that will take place over the course of the novel. The description of the moon in the first sentence alludes to the celestial battle between the shadowy Thing and the stars, witnessed by Meg and her fellow travelers in Chapter Four: "Every few moments the moon ripped through [the clouds], creating wraithlike shadows that raced across the ground." Meg's mother's remark that Meg needs to learn to find a "happy medium" prefigures Meg's encounter with a creature by this name in Chapter Six. Finally, Mrs. Murry tells Meg that she just needs "to plow through some more time" before things will get easier for her, which is indeed literally what Meg will do when she travels through a wrinkle in time.