Meg begins to slowly awaken from her tesser and she can hear her father’s voice and Calvin’s voice, but she cannot open her eyes or talk to them. She can hear them saying that they can finally hear her heartbeat, though they couldn’t for a while. She wants to call out to them to let them know that she’s alive, but she can’t move her mouth or her tongue.
She can hear their conversation, though it sounds as though they are talking through ice. She can hear Calvin thanking her father for getting them away from IT. He tells Calvin that he wasn’t sure how much longer he himself could have resisted IT. He had fought the thing for so long that he was at the point of almost giving up and giving into the complete state of rest that IT offered. He tells him that the only reason any of them were able to resist was because IT never had to deal with resistance and so parts of it were atrophied and unused.
Mr. Murry tells Calvin that his trip to Camazotz was a complete accident. He had been selected to tesser second. The first person hadn’t come back, and so he knew it was a big risk. He knows now that they must “take time” and make the right decisions about how to go about things. Their previous rush to judgement might have been what sent them hurtling into trouble.
Mr. Murry explains that time is different on Camazotz - that it doesn’t simply move in the same way that time on earth moves forward. This gives him hope that he’ll be able to return to earth to give the message to the other scientists that “they don’t know anything.” He needs to tell them that “matter and energy are the same thing, that size is an illusion, and that time is a material substance.” These are all things he’s learned on his journey. He tells them that human beings playing with time and space are like “children playing with dynamite.”
Meg makes a strange noise and they immediately turn their attention to her. Meg sees her father and Calvin, but not Charles Wallice. She realizes that she is lying in a field of “rusty, stubby grass.” She notices that her father and Calvin are both wearing short sleeves while she feels frozen. She realizes that she is actually frozen and it restricts her movement so that even her mouth doesn’t move to form words.
She begins to question her father’s judgment of tessering her and Calvin away and leaving Charles Wallace behind. Soon, she fills up with anger, realizing that "she had found her father and he had not made everything all right. Everything kept getting worse and worse.” Mr. Murry tries to console her and tell her that he is not a perfect person, but Meg only gets angrier and angrier and accuses him of almost letting the Black Thing get her. Meg feels a piercing pain through her body.
They see three grey figures moving across the field towards them. They seem like animals, except they walk upright. When they approach, Meg sees that they have not real faces, just tentacles coming out of their furry bodies. Meg begins to think that her father has killed them all by bringing them here. The creatures ask them what they are doing, and as Calvin tries to explain that Meg is hurt, one of the creatures reaches out to touch her with its tentacle. Soon, it picks up Meg and cradles her and tells Mr. Murry that it is taking her away.
The title of the chapter - “Absolute Zero” - has a double meaning here. On the most literal level it refers to the lowest possible temperature and alludes to Meg’s frozen bodily state. On a more literary level, however, absolute zero also refers to the lowest point on the journey - spiritually and mentally - for Meg and those with her. The previous chapter featured a climactic standoff between the main characters and the main antagonist of the book - IT. This chapter relates their failure to defeat IT.
In many ways, L’Engle’s novel follows the classic structure of a Shakesperean drama. In theatre, a play is divided up into three acts. The first act introduces the tension of the play; the second act brings the tension to a climax and often features a difficult choice, or low point, for the protagonist; the third act resolves the tension. L’Engle, who was a devotee of Shakespeare and the theatre, divides her own novel into these acts. This chapter, therefore, represents the end of what would be the second act. Meg has reached her “absolute zero” and the novel will now turn to resolving that tension.
This chapter also introduces a level of nuance to the moral choices that L’Engle’s characters are forced to make. For most of the book, choices were presented as either right or wrong, good or evil, and a character’s choices reflected his or her inner character. But Mr. Murry’s choice to save his daughter and Calvin while leaving behind his youngest son allows L’Engle to explore the moral nuances of a less straightforward decision. In this world, then, good and evil are not always in stark juxtaposition. Rather, there are shades of gray that require a person to make an ethical judgment based on a deeply personal hierarchy of values.
Meg’s anger at her father’s decision is also a metaphysical reflection on these types of moral choices. L’Engle here suggests that evil - a prominent theme in the book - is wrapped up in the human emotion of anger, which is triggered by moral situations in which easy answers are not clear cut. This leads to L’Engle’s ultimate answer for such moral dilemmas: love. Mr. Murry does not react back in anger to his daughter’s accusations but instead attempts to soothe her with love. Meg, meanwhile, has a different understanding of what constitutes familial love. Her character arc will involve learning to control her more hotheaded emotions in order to understand the true meaning of love.
The theme of human fallibility is also prominent in this chapter. Before being reunited with her father, Meg had portrayed him as someone who would fix everything. When it becomes apparent that he will not, both Mr. Murry and Meg are forced to deal with the realities that he is only human. This theme draws strongly on the Christian concept of human fallibility. In one passage, Mr. Murry quotes a verse of scripture that deals with the issue of human fallibility, Romans 8:28: “...all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Thus, Meg comes to terms with the idea that she must not only overcome the forces of evil in the world, but the forces of fallibility in her own self and that of her father.