A Wrinkle in Time
Chapter 2: Mrs. Who
Upon awaking the next morning, Meg wonders whether the irrational events of the previous night were merely a dream, but her mother assures her that "you don't have to understand things for them to be. That day at school, her social studies teacher sends her to the principal's office for being rude. The principal, Mr. Jenkins, tells Meg that he is sure she could do better in school if only she would apply herself. He asks Meg about her home life, and Meg feels that he is prying when he asks if they have heard from Mr. Murry. She becomes defensive and antagonistic when Mr. Jenkins remarks that the Murrys should just face the facts and accept that Mr. Murry has left them for good.
After school, Meg, Charles Wallace, and their pet dog Fortinbras go to visit Mrs. Whatsit and her two friends, who have moved into the local haunted house. As they approach the house, Fortinbras begins barking, alerting Meg and Charles Wallace to the presence of Calvin O'Keefe, a popular athlete at Meg's high school. Calvin explains that he is here to escape his family; he is the third of eleven children. But upon further questioning by Charles Wallace, Calvin admits that the house itself also seemed to exert a strong and inexplicable force on him that afternoon. Satisfied by this response, Charles Wallace invites Calvin home with them for dinner.
Before heading back, however, Charles Wallace leads Meg and Calvin into the haunted house. Inside, a plump little woman in large spectacles is busily sewing with Mrs. Buncombe's stolen sheets; a black pot boils on the hearth beside her. Charles refers to this woman as Mrs. Who, and asks her if she knows Calvin. Mrs. Who, who speaks largely in foreign quotations, which she then translates into English, remarks cryptically that Calvin is probably a "good choice." She tells the three children enigmatically that the "time" draws near, but first they must go home and get plenty of food and rest. As they leave the haunted house, Meg begs Charles for an explanation of the woman's strange comments and quotations, but Charles insists that he still doesn't fully understand what is going on. Meg must content herself with this lack of explanation as she, Charles, and Calvin head to the Murry house for dinner.
Meg's difficult day at school is a realization of all the fears she had expressed the night before, first while tossing and turning in bed and then while complaining to her mother in the kitchen. She is sent to the principal's office because she has no tolerance for the rote memorization her teacher demands of her. Critics have compared Meg's frustration with the useless information she learns in school to L'Engle's personal frustration with the narrowness of certain Christian doctrines. Just as L'Engle understands her novels as part of a constant quest to find a meaningful theology from among thickets of empty doctrine and repressive dogma, Meg insists on trying to find meaning and purpose in a tedious and seemingly pointless pedagogical exercise.
The two episodes of this chapter, Meg's day at school and her excursion with Charles Wallace, are linked thematically by Meg's inability to comprehend them. At school, she cannot see the point of rote memorization and tedious book learning. After school, she is unable to understand the tacit assumptions and shared sense of purpose that govern the interactions between Charles, Calvin, and Mrs. Who. Her mother's words of wisdom are thus doubly relevant in light of Meg's circumstances: "You don't need to understand things for them to be."
Although Charles and Calvin seem to understand more than Meg, they, too, are driven by feelings they do not completely understand. During their walk in the woods, Charles explains to Meg that by concentrating very hard on Meg and Mrs. Murry, he can understand their thoughts. He insists that he does not really understand how this works, because the process seems purely passive: Charles does not feel he must make any effort to "read" his loved ones' minds; rather, he feels that they themselves are freely telling him their thoughts. As Charles tells Meg, "I can't quite explain. You tell me, that's all." Calvin, too, cannot explain the mysterious feeling of compulsion that sometimes overcomes him and demands his obedience: he says, "I can't explain where it comes from or how I get it... but I obey it." He does not know why he felt driven to come to the haunted house that afternoon, knowing only that he had no choice in the matter. Thus, all the major characters in the chapter share the sense that they are a part of something that they do not fully understand, but which nonetheless governs their behavior and their interactions with one another.
Already in this second chapter, we see in Meg the power of love that will make possible her ultimate triumph over evil. While walking through the pine forest to the haunted house, Charles Wallace holds her hand and Meg realizes that even if she can know nothing else for certain, she knows her brother loves her; it is this strong sense of love that permits her to rescue her brother from the clutch of IT at the end of the novel.
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