Madeleine L’Engle’s best-known novel has been a staple in literature classes for decades. A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of the Murry family’s adventure to save their father from the clutches of evil while traveling through space and discovering a host of unique creatures along the way. Just as compelling as the exciting adventure is the character development of the protagonists, who discover their own strengths and weaknesses along the course of their journey. The novel is particularly appropriate for middle school and young teens due to its exploration of common teen issues, including self-doubt, identity struggles, sense of belonging, and personal growth. A Wrinkle in Time can be read as a coming-of-age story for Meg Murry, and an iteration of the hero’s journey pattern. Its focus on space, fantastical lands, and creatures will appeal to students who enjoy science fiction and fantasy.
A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962 during the height of the Cold War. Competition with and fear of the Soviet Union influenced the daily lives of all Americans. Fear of nuclear attack, the Red Scare, and the Space Race dominated American news, politics, and education. Science and math were given increased stress in schools, and NASA was preparing to send the first humans to the moon. A Wrinkle in Time is a product of this focus on science and space. Unlike many fantasy novels, L’Engle uses real scientific concepts to launch her characters into space. Although the book glosses over specifics, it introduces the idea of a tesseract and a “wrinkle” in the space-time continuum. This is a concept that is still in vogue today in a number of space movies and superhero dramas. Students may be interested to learn some of the basic theory of time travel and its role in the book. The links below are small excerpts from Stephen Hawking’s documentary Into the Universe and may be helpful for introducing these ideas.
The Red Scare, or fear of communists, was another focus of the 1960s. American distrust of communism stemmed, in part, from the totalitarian form of communism that arose in the Soviet Union. At various points, Soviet rule included imprisonment, execution, manipulation of historical truths, thought control, and repression of human rights (including religious freedom, rights of property, and freedom of speech). Americans saw democracy as the form of government that offered true freedom - the antithesis of communism. In A Wrinkle in Time, we see this political symbolism in the evil that pervades the universe. The Dark Thing has partly obscured Earth and has won over Camazotz, a dystopian planet entirely controlled by a single, all-powerful brain. Throughout their time on Camazotz, the characters discover the pitfalls of sameness and learn to value their unique differences. Before reading the novel, students may explore the history of the Cold War and discuss ideas of freedom and oppression.