Making the decision that they must stay together, the children walk up to the main entrance of the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building. Just as they are about to knock, a giant door opens and lets them in. In front of them are rows of men, lined up against the walls of an enormous corridor. They are all wearing business suits and the hall, made of green marble, reflects an eerie green glow onto their faces. Meg comments that though they had the same features as men on the planet earth, there was a sameness to them like “people riding in a subway.”
After interrogating one of the men on how to meet the person in charge, Charles Wallace makes a smart comment and the man says that he has to turn them in so that he won’t get sent to IT. He slips a card into an invisible opening in a solid wall and suddenly the children are transported to a room lined with machines like the “great computing machines...that (Meg) knew her father sometimes worked with.”
The room was huge and the children walk through it for what seems like miles until they finally come to the end. Charles Wallace begins to tense up and tells Meg not to let go of his hand. Calvin tell them that “There is nothing to fear except fear itself,” and Charles Wallace tells them that they must go forward in order to “make decisions” not based on fear. At the end of the room is a platform with a man sitting in a chair.
The man begins to talk to them in a kind and gentle voice, and Meg realizes that he is not talking to them with words but rather through their minds. The man’s eyes are bright with a reddish glow and Charles Wallace tells them not to look into those eyes or else they will “hypnotize you.” The man tells Charles Wallace that there are other ways to get into his head, and Charles Wallace threatens to kick him - clearly the first time Meg has ever heard Charles Wallace threaten anyone with violence.
The man tempts them with the idea that they should give into him so that he could take away all their “burdens of thought and decision.” He begins boring into their minds, reciting the multiplication table. Charles Wallace fights the man’s power by yelling out nursery rhymes and Meg and Calvin follow; Calvin yells out Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and Meg simply yelling out “Father!” The man laughs at them for their attempt to break his hold on their minds and says that they passed his tests with flying colors.
Meg pleads with the man that they are only looking for their father. The man retorts that he could show them their father but wants to know why. When Meg gets angry at the man, the man tells her to have patience, something Meg has very little of. The man tells them that they don’t have to speak to him, that he can simply read their thoughts, and Charles Wallace replies that “The spoken word is one of the triumphs of man.” Suddenly, Charles Wallace rushes at the man and hits him as hard as he can, knocking the wind out of him. Charles Wallace explains that he didn’t think the man was real, that perhaps he was a robot, and that he could feel that something was coming “through” him instead of “from” him. The man is displeased with Charles Wallace, but tells him that if he looks into his eyes, the man will show him what is behind them. Charles Wallace reluctantly agrees.
The color drains from Charles Wallace’s face and he begins to look different. He slowly begins to walk towards the man, and Meg then tackles Charles Wallace to the floor, breaking the man’s spell on the boy. The man tells Meg that he could lose patience with her, and she retorts, angrily that he should at least feed them since they were starving. The man agrees, but tells them that what they eat will not be real food - only an imitation of it. Because the man can trick Meg and Calvin’s mind, they will think they are eating a turkey dinner, while Charles Wallace will only feel like he is eating sand.
When the food comes, they agree to eat, and just as the man said, Charles Wallace only tastes sand. Charles Wallace then makes a deal with the man, that if he will show him his father and allow him to leave when he wants, he will give into the man’s spell. Though Meg and Calvin protest, Charles Wallace convinces them to let him try. He gives himself over to the man’s stare and within moments, he looks and talks different than the old Charles Wallace. Meg screams that “That isn’t Charles!”
The Man with the Red Eyes confirms the depiction of evil as an infectious force that can eat a person from the inside out. The title character himself is not fully evil. Indeed, Charles Wallace notices that the man only has a force moving through him and is not precipitating evil himself. As a result, this suggests with greater clarity how L’Engle understands the nature of good and evil in the universe. Evil is a force outside the make-up of mankind. Ultimately, human beings are not inherently evil or good, but instead give themselves over to the forces of the universe that embody these traits.
L’Engle also uses deliberate techniques of personification in order to highlight that the physical characteristics of the man contrast with the physical characteristics of the children. The use of the eyes is important here because L’Engle draws on traditions form the Greek philosophical school that believed the eyes were windows into the soul. The man is said to have red, pulsing eyes - a window into the dark soul of the evil that was coming through him - while Charles Wallace is contrasted as having piercing blue eyes, representing the goodness that underlies his character.
L’Engle also introduces a concept hinted at in the previous chapter, but which becomes more formal in this one - namely a critique of modernity. L’Engle characterizes the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building as being cold and void and into which men in business suits line up to be told what to do. This scene sets the tone of the chapter and gives gives the reader a particular kind of texture for understanding the kind of world that the children find themselves in. Meg remarks that it was very much like the sameness of people on a subway. L’Engle is here critiquing the way in which the modern incarnation of the city has the ability to create uniformity and sameness amongst the working class people who become ensnared within it. Readers should remember the pastoral qualities of planets like Uriel and how they were described in a much more positive light.
The room of computers that line the hall suggests a deeper critique of technology. L’Engle here criticizes the growing dependence on technological advancement that was characteristic in the 1960’s and which continues up into our own time. Having lived in both New York City and in the Connecticut countryside, L’Engle herself is able to contrast the two modes of living. Her critique is not necessarily against city life, or using technology to advance humanity; instead, her critique is on how technology and city life can suppress the urges of creativity.
L’Engle, here, also begins to give more concrete examples of what this lack of creativity could mean. The tasteless food that Charles Wallace is forced to eat is a symbol of the loss of quality of life that occurs when one abandons the creative impulse. Giving one’s self over to the machinations of any entity - whether it be the state or the city - means that the small pleasures in life are soon taken away. This can again be seen as a sly social commentary on the abuses of 20th century communism which sought to replace all pleasures in life with strict conformity to the rules of the state. Through this chapter, L’Engle is able to envision a bleak world - one given over to the loss of creativity and color.