A Wrinkle in Time
Chapter 7: The Man with Red Eyes
Calvin wants to enter the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building by himself and then report back to Meg and Charles Wallace, but the Murry children insist that they heed the parting words of Mrs. Which and stay together. Just as they are trying to figure out how to enter the building, a door opens before them, revealing a great entrance hall of dull, greenish marble and icy cold walls. Filling the hall are a number of similar-looking men wearing nondescript business suits.
The children decide to ask one of the suited men how things work in CENTRAL. The man instructs them to present their papers to a series of slot machines. He seems unable to understand the fact that they are strangers to the planet and do not know anything about the elaborate mechanical system governing all transactions and interactions. He says that he runs a "number-one spelling machine" on the "second-grade level." He warns that he will have to report the children to the authorities in order to avoid the risk of "reprocessing." Before he leaves, he advises them, "just relax and don't fight it and it will all be much easier for you."
The marble wall in front of the children suddenly dissolves, and they find themselves in an enormous room lined with machines and their robot-like attendants. At the end of the room they approach a platform on which a man with red eyes is seated in a chair. Above his head a glowing light pulsates with the same rhythm as his red eyes. The children immediately sense that the cold blackness emanating from this man is the same as that exuded by the Dark Thing, and Charles Wallace instructs Meg and Calvin to close their eyes lest the man hypnotize them. The man tries to do so by having them recite the multiplication tables rhythmically with him, but Charles and Calvin resist by shouting out nursery rhymes and the Gettysburg Address, respectively.
The man speaks directly into the children's brains without opening his mouth or moving his lips. He asks the children why they want to see their father, unable to understand that the sheer fact that he is their father is reason enough. Suddenly, Charles darts forward and kicks the man; he believes that the man is somehow not in full possession of himself. The man tells Charles that of all the children, he is the only one endowed with a neuropsychological system complex enough to understand him; Charles must look into the man's eyes in an attempt to decipher his identity.
The Man with the Red Eyes serves the children an elaborate turkey dinner, but to Charles all the food tastes like sand. The man explains that the food is synthetic, but Charles would be able to taste it if only he would open his mind to IT. He invites Charles to come with him and learn who he really is, and Charles agrees in spite of Meg's strong protestations. The man stares into Charles Wallace's eyes until the boy's pupils fade into the surrounding blue irises. Once extricated from the man's hypnotic stare, Charles acts like a different person. He asks Meg why she is being so "belligerent and uncooperative" and bids her eat the food prepared for them, which he now claims is delicious. Horrified, Meg shrieks to Calvin that the boy beside them is no longer Charles; the Charles they know is gone.
On Camazotz, a reigning uniformity precludes all individuality. However, L'Engle distinguishes between uniformity and togetherness: thus in order to fight the evil forces on the planet, the children must stick together even while maintaining their individual identities. Their togetherness is symbolized by the simple act of holding hands, a gesture that has figured significantly throughout the book: Charles reached for Meg's hand when they walked to the haunted house; Calvin held Meg's hand as they walked through the Murry garden the night after they met Mrs. Who; Meg reached for Calvin's hand when they saw a vision of his mother through the Happy Medium's crystal ball; and now all three children hold hands as they enter the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building.
The chapter again emphasizes the difference between appearances and reality, for many things on Camazotz are not as they appear. Charles kicks the Man with the Red Eyes because he seems somehow phony; the food that the man serves them appears to be a turkey dinner, but it is really just synthetic food formulated to taste like turkey. To Charles Wallace's penetrating mind, however, the food tastes like the sand it really is.
Meg will ultimately realize that the evil force represented by the Man with the Red Eyes lacks one thing that she has: love. Indeed, already in this chapter it is apparent that the inhabitants of Camazotz cannot understand love. The Man with the Red Eyes asks Meg why she wants to see her father, not understanding that her filial love for him is reason enough. The exchange recalls Calvin's earlier remark about the gossipy inhabitants of their hometown who invent stories about Mr. Murry's whereabouts: like the Man with the Red Eyes, "They can't understand plain, ordinary love when they see it."
Camazotz further resembles Earth in its inhabitants' expectation of conformity and uniformity. L'Engle writes that the men in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building "all wore nondescript business suits, and though their features were as different one from the other as the features of men on earth, there was also a sameness to them." So, too, does life on Earth often include situations in which the only difference among men is their facial features. Nonetheless, as Meg notes, on Camazotz everything adheres to a sameness lacking even at a table of men in corporate dress or a group of tuxedoed gentlemen. Camazotz is uniformity and conformity taken to the extreme.
When Charles calls Meg "belligerent and uncooperative," he echoes the words of her high-school principal Mr. Jenkins, who asked her if she "enjoy[ed] being the most belligerent, uncooperative girl at school." Charles, like Mr. Jenkins, has become a figure of uncompromising and unfeeling authority. His resemblance to Mr. Jenkins underscores the extent to which Meg's journey from Earth by means of a wrinkle in time is also a journey into the psychological content of her own consciousness. Through the transformed Charles Wallace, Meg revisits her memories of a crucial experience on earth.
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