The novel's overarching theme is characterized as a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. L'Engle's characters all generally line up in one of these two categories and there is very little overlap or moral ambiguity between the two. Characters such as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who represent good in the world, while the forces of evil are represented metaphysically by the Dark Thing or the Black Thing, and symbolized by characters such as the man with the red eyes and IT. Meg Murry and her family inhabit the space in which good and evil battle over dominion in the world.
In the novel, good and the characters represented by good take on the traits of freedom, equality and creativity, while the characters of evil inhabit the qualities of hatred and conformity. Meg's battle, thus, is between submitting to the forces of evil or embracing the light of goodness.
The Christian Framework of the Novel
Though no character is explicitly modeled on Christ or other biblical characters, and while only loose biblical metaphors are employed in the book, the book can be said to deployan overarching framework of Christian morality, especially in the way that it represents the dominance of light over dark. Several passages in the book refer to the Bible such as the music on Uriel which praises creation and is translated as words from the Book of Isaiah and when a verse from the Gospel of John ("the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it") is used to assert the defeat of evil.
Thus, while religion is implied rather than used explicitly in the book, the overarching themes of light triumphing over darkness, creativity triumphing over chaos, and good triumphing over evil are given religious symbolism based in L'Engle's own understanding of Christianity and religion.
Individuality vs. Conformity
The main character, Meg, is caught between the desire for conformity and the expression of her own creative nature. At the beginning of the novel Meg feels embittered towards other students at her school that make fun of her and tease her for being different, as well as those who see her little brother as being odd. She desperately wants to be more like her twin brothers who have little problem fitting in.
But on Camazotz, Meg understands the toll that conformity can take on a person and a society as the people there have no individuality and are brainwashed. Meg, for the first time, understands the harsh reality of life when her own creativity is quashed and she is unable to assert her individuality.
The Intersection of Faith and Reason
L'Engle's novel deals with the issues of faith and reason in a way that doesn't privilege one over the other. Both, L'Engle suggests, are crucial for understanding the world. Science and reason cannot function without the motives of faith and love, and likewise, faith and love are informed by the realities of the world that science and reason provide.
Mrs. Which quotes a line from the scientist Pascal that sums up L'Engle's understanding of these concepts: "The heart has its reaons, whereof reason knows nothing." While Meg's journey is made possible through her own understanding of science and reason, she could not have undertaken the journey without the love of her family. Both elements are crucial for guiding her in the right direction and the completion of her quest.
The Nature of Beauty
L'Engle's novel sharply contrasts the themes of exterior beauty with that of inner essence. Meg is worried, from the beginning chapters, that her outer looks - her glasses and braces and knotted hair - make her less popular and, thus, makes her life harder. She is also worried about Charles Wallace, who, though he looks ordinary, has an odd way of speaking. Meg worries that just as she didn't fit in because of her exterior look, Charles Wallace won't fit in either because of his oddities.
However, L'Engle constantly reminds the reader that one cannot "judge a book by its cover." Though Meg's exterior beauty might not win her popularity, it is her inner intelligence and character that helps her to find companionship with Calvin. Mrs. Murry also reminds Meg, in one scene, that it is Charles Wallace's inner "essence" that makes him special. Though his exterior way of talking might not win him friends, it is his special character and talents that help him propel their mission forward through time.
The Love of Family
L'Engle's stories often are meditations on the nature of love, and in A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle chiefly focuses on the nature of love between a family. Meg's own life is thrown into turmoil over the fact that her father has left and not contacted them in a year, and from the beginning of the novel her troubles are often related to this absence in her life. Mrs. Murry and Charles Wallace are also deeply affected by this loss in their own way.
Though it is sad, L'Engle reminds the reader that it is this bond between family members that helps to give the children the strength they need on their journey. The novel also shows how this love can bring others into their family, such as with Calvin. Calvin's family is contrasted with the love between the Murry family. Calvin's own home life is in disarray, and when he meets the Murrys he feels as though he has finally found where he belongs. Thus, the love shared between families not only gives Meg and Charles Wallace the strength they need, but it gives Calvin the motivation that he needs as well. The Murry family is, thus, shown to have entered a sacred bond different than that of romantic or brotherly love.
The Nature of Evil
L'Engle's novel also gives a compelling argument for a characterization of evil that fits into a Christian framework. While several of L'Engle's characters, including the Man with the Red Eyes, embody elements of evil, the element that most takes on the form of greatest evil is the Dark Thing.
The Dark Thing, a mass of darkness that fills the universe blocking the light of suns and stars, is based on a particular Christian theological notion of sin. While sin is often characterized in Christianity as a particular act of evil - such as murder - it can also be understood to be a general force in the universe, a darkness, that is combated by forces of good, usually represented by light.
This conception of evil is not necessarily a specific act or instance, then, but instead an invisible force that is the root cause of the evil in the world. This is demonstrated best in the novel when the Medium shows the children the planet Earth and suggests that all of the evil and confusion in the world is really a result of the Dark Thing that surrounds the Earth's atmosphere. Through the Dark Thing, L'Engle is able to personify sin into a defeatable force that the children can physically combat.
Courage becomes a theme later in the novel as Meg makes a decision to tesser back to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace. This courage, however, is not the kind of unabashed, unafraid courage that is normally a part of hero quests. Instead, L'Engle posits that Meg's type of courage is the courage of the weak and the foolish.
This type of courage, L'Engle suggests, is the type of courage found within the Christian framework. It is the type of courage that figures such as Christ showed in giving themselves up to death in order to defeat evil. This is not a courage based on bravery but is, instead, based on a trust and love of goodness and of others. This is the kind of courage that can save others in the novel and within humanity, L'Engle suggests.
A Wrinkle in Time Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Wrinkle in Time is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Mrs. Which tells Meg that her father is behind the great darkness that they saw in the sky. Though Meg despairs at this fact, Mrs. Whatsit comforts her and tells her that they would not have brought her here if there was no hope.
A Wrinkle in Time is frequently characterized as a children's book, but it contains many adult themes concerning religion and family. A Wrinkle in Time study guide contains a biography of author Madeleine L'Engle, over 100 quiz and test questions, major themes, a list of characters, and a full summary and analysis.