When Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin get back to the Murry house, Mrs. Murry is busy in her lab working on an experiment, but she invites Calvin to stay for dinner. Calvin is enamored with the Murry house. After he calls his own family to let them know he’ll be home late, he muses that Meg is really lucky to be loved like she is. His own family, he tells her, which has eleven children, rarely takes the time to notice him. He tells her that his mother doesn’t take care of herself and that nobody would even care where he was. The only reason he calls, he tells her, is that he cares and loves them.
Meg starts to help Calvin with his math homework because he’s only good at things with “words.” Even though he’s a few grades ahead of her, she whizzes right through his math problems and shows Calving shortcuts to completing them. Mrs. Murry says Meg is good with math because her father used to teacher her all these shortcuts. The reason she doesn’t do well in school, then, is because the teachers want her to do things their way and Meg refuses. Calvin quizzes her on advanced math and scientific formulas, like Einstein’s E=mc2, but she can’t tell him where Peru is or what city is the capital of New York. Calvin remains very excited to be surrounded by people that understand him and that he can talk to. Though he plays sports and tries to “function on the same level as everybody else,” he is glad that he doesn’t have to hold himself down when he is with the Murry’s. He also has the sense that they are all about to go somewhere far out of town.
After a hearty dinner, Calvin goes upstairs with Charles Wallace and reads him the book of Genesis as a bed time story. Meg continues doing her homework, but has trouble concentrating and begins to ask her mother why she is upset. They discuss Charles Wallace and how he is different from other people, though Mrs. Murry can’t explain just how. Though he doesn’t look any different from other people, she tells Meg, he has a different essence, something that makes him different inside. Calvin returns from reading to Charles Wallace and he and Meg decide to go for a walk.
On their walk, Calvin begins to ask about Meg’s father. He tells her what he’s hear in rumors: that he left his family for another woman. Meg gets defensive over this and Calvin tries to calm her down. He relates the facts that her father is a physicist and worked for the government at a nearby university on several top secret projects. Meg tells him that he had worked in several locations - New Mexico and Cape Canaveral before the family moved here. Soon her father left for business once more. Though his letters had stopped coming a year ago, Meg believes that her mother still writes her father everyday, an expression of “plain, ordinary love” that the other townspeople just can’t understand. Meg tells him of how her mother has pleaded with people in Washington but that all they’ll tell her is that he is on a “secret and dangerous mission” and can’t communicate for a while.
Just as the two begin to share a romantic moment as Calvin comforts Meg, Charles Wallace interrupts them with the news that “this is it” - the time where they are going to find their father. Next to Charles Wallace, suddenly, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit appear, and then an invisible voice from above them begins to speak, telling them that they have “much to do.” The voice is Mrs. Which, and though she doesn’t physically materialize, her presence is felt by all there.
Two themes are prevalent in this chapter: the primacy of the love of family and the nature of being different. L’Engle explores the meaning of family through the character of Calvin. Previously, Calvin had explained how he was a “sport,” a person who showed genetic difference from the rest of his family. That difference, it seems, also caused him to not be as much a part of his family as he wished. He relates to Meg how nobody in his own family would miss him, though he loves them all very much.
Calvin’s family contrasts with the “plain, ordinary love” of the Murry family. Though the family has its difficulties with fitting in and with their father being gone, Calvin can’t help but pine for the bonds that hold that family together. In this way, L’Engle is highlighting the power of familial love. It is a love that is different than romantic love, or brotherly love, because it is a kind of love that binds people together into a unit that we call family.
Other books in L’Engle’s series focus on different types of love, but in A Wrinkle in Time, family love is the strength that propels the characters and the narrative forward. This chapter also highlights Meg’s difficulties with finding herself and her family to be different than those around them. But part of Meg's journey is to find renewal by learning her true purpose within her family and discovering the power of intrafamily love.
Mrs. Murry takes a moment to explain to Meg how, though Charles Wallace looks ordinary, but there is an “essence” to him that makes him different. This is L’Engle’s take on the classic maxims: “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” or “beauty is only skin deep.” Meg, herself, must understand that there are beautiful things about her as well. Part of her journey in this story of quest is self-understanding, an understanding that only her family and friends can help her through. At the outset, however, Meg is reluctant and does not quite understand her purpose either on Earth or in the context of her family. She feels lost.
This chapter also marks the beginning of family's quest. Calvin’s “bedtime story” of the Book of Genesis to Charles Wallace is symbolic of creation and beginnings. Just as God created the heavens and earth in that biblical book, the children are about to enter a world of new creation. Where the family doesn't fit into their current environment, they'll find deeper meaning outside of the mundane - where meaning is more flexible and depth more apparent. Already we sense that understanding is limited here on Earth, and only in new worlds can there be a renewal of purpose.