One of the interesting advantages of a science fiction or fantasy novel is that the plot and the story’s messages are not bounded by rational fact or restricted by realism. In Madeline L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, this genre-induced freedom of imagination acting upon the mortal limitations of the human characters successfully highlight these characters’ exploration of the deeper significances of their universe. Human limitation, especially when compared to fantastical liberties, plays it’s own role in the novel, as it hinders the characters on their quest to help their Father and to defeat the Black Thing. From the very beginning of the novel, we see these limitations at work on the human characters. These characters’ flaws, the frustrating inadequacy of words, and the scientific laws of humans on Earth, all seem to be intent on creating a barrier between the characters and the deeper understandings of the universe that seem so elementary to the enchanted characters.
Humans are limited by many forces in L’engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time. For one, they are limited by the essence of who they are and where they come from. A few of the main scientific ideas in this novel are the presence of a tesseract, a fifth dimension, and a “wrinkle” that allows time travel. Human beings and the world as they know it can only exist in the third dimension. They are at an innate disadvantage to the other characters in the book that seem to be something more than human. Meg Murry is the best example of this because she is the epitome of human and lacks the “more” that Charles Wallace and, even, Calvin seem to have. Meg struggles to understand complex ideas that are not necessarily grounded in this dimension. For example, on page 76, after Charles Wallace is trying to help her understand the possibility of time travel through the fifth dimension, Meg exclaims, “I got it! For just a moment I got it!” The difficulty with which Meg attempts to understand this idea is juxtaposed by the easy understanding and use of this concept by the Mrs’, again highlighting their human limitation in understanding of the universe that they live in. The children are dependant upon the Mrs’ to travel to other places through the fifth dimension and they can only take the Mrs’ word for it on the worlds that they are incapable of understanding. This point brings another level to the limitations of human understanding because, in this story, there are other worlds that exist in the other dimensions. For example, when Mrs. Which accidentally brings the children to a two-dimensional planet and we learn from Meg’s acute and crushing pain that “this is a two-dimensional planet and the children can’t manage here (77)!” This is one of the first times that we learn that there are worlds that exist that are undetectable by humans, not because of distance or discovery, but because they exist in a different dimension than humans. It also highlights the unlimited nature of the non-human characters as the Mrs’ explain to the unsettled children that “it’s really a very pleasant little planet, and rather amusing to be flat. We always enjoy our visits there (79).”
Aside from being fundamentally at a disadvantage due to the nature of Earth, the human characters seem to be limited by their language and the inadequacy of words. This limitation is much more familiar to us than trying to understand alternate dimensions because it is something many people experience everyday. Anyone who has ever tried to explain what it felt like to stand on top of a mountain on a warm, sunny day, or to describe why a beautiful song gives them goosebumps, or to explain what they felt when they first held their child, would testify to the limitation that language sometimes places upon us. This theme is obvious many times in the book. For example, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which “find it difficult to verbalize” in the language of the children (59). Mrs. Who points out that Mrs. Whatsit is young and naïve because she “keeps thinking she can explain things in words (60).” Another instance that is important to note when examining the inadequacy of words in this novel is Meg’s interaction with Aunt Beast in Chapter Eleven. Meg is unable to explain to blind Aunt Beast what day and night looks like, to which Aunt Beast replies, “we do not know what things look like. We what things are like” then goes on to say “it must be a very limiting thing, this seeing” pointing out another perspective on human limitation. This is interesting to read because it seems as though seeing a limiting hindrance as opposed to the elucidating understanding that is often associated with sight. We see the limitation again when Meg attempts to describe the sound of Aunt Beast’s song. The novel explains it by saying, “If it was impossible to describe sight to Aunt Beast, it would be even more impossible to describe the singing of Aunt Beast to a human being (177).”
But maybe not everything needs to be spoken to be understood. This is an interesting concept to draw from a novel, seeing as a story is told through words. Oftentimes throughout the novel, we see characters refusing to tell each other information. Whether this is because they believe the other person would not understand them, as is often the case with Charles Wallace talking to Meg, or because that person needs to figure it out for themselves, as is the case with the Mrs.’ clues, it is a common occurance in the novel to have someone begin to explain something then suddenly stop or to give vague advice. This failure of language is not necessarily a bad thing because it puts an emphasis on another theme in the story: that which cannot be seen. Often, when words are inadequate, it is because there is a feeling behind them that is stronger or gentler or more beautiful than the words are. For example, when Mrs. Which will not tell Meg how to defeat IT, when words fail Meg, it is the idea, the feeling, of Love that saves her and her brother. In the case of Charles Wallace, he is able to understand so much more than everyone else without the use of words. Charles Wallace has some sort of access to the minds of those around him and, sometimes, it seems as though this access is not in the form of words. When the group is on Uriel, we see that Charles Wallace is able to pick up parts of the thoughts from creatures on a completely different planet. It is logical to believe that his understanding comes not from words but from the combination of emotions and abstract images in the mind of the people he is focusing on. Humans, at least, do not think in words but rather in ideas. When one thinks of the story of Cinderella, we do not go though every moment of the story. We seem to posses the whole idea, the whole story in a burst of understanding that we label “Cinderella.” Words are manifestations of thoughts and feelings; however, it was never a rule that only that which we can put into words are real and meaningful. It is from this sensation that I draw one of my last observations on the novel. The limitations on the human characters may hinder them from gaining the complete understanding of the deeper significance of the universe, yet, our inability to completely conceptualize these abstract concepts lead us to rely more powerfully on our feelings. In the end of the story it is obvious that Meg’s love is unlimited and stronger than she knows.