In A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962), 14-year-old Margaret (Meg) Murry finds herself in trouble and miserable. Her beloved father has disappeared, her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, is the object of ridicule, and she’s having enormous problems at school. Then, one dark and stormy night, she meets a “woman” with the odd name of Mrs. Whatsit, who seems to know more than she lets on and who leads Meg, Charles Wallace, and a popular boy from Meg’s school, Calvin, 14, on a quest to find Meg’s father.
This quest takes them to other planets and into great danger as they pass behind an evil presence called the Black Thing. The children and their extraterrestrial helpers, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, manage to rescue Mr. Murry from a prison planet, but leave Charles Wallace behind during the attempt. Mr. Murry uses a technique called a “tesseract” in order to jump from one planet to another to make their escape once the children free him from his prison cell. But because Mr. Murry is greatly inexperienced at tessering, which is how he ended up on a prison planet in the first place, Meg is almost killed.
Once she recovers, she understands that only she can return to the prison planet by herself to rescue Charles Wallace because the two of them are very close. In the end, Meg is successful and the family is reunited back on Earth. I decided to select this book for my fictional character review because I remember no other book from my childhood enchanting me the way A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle, 1962) did when my sixth grade teacher read it aloud to us. The opportunity to look at Meg from a different point of view intrigued me. Is she gifted? Does she have some kind of disorder?
Perhaps she has dysthymic disorder, a kind of low-grade, long-term depression? Does she meet the criteria to be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)? Looking at the story from this point of view opens up a whole new way of seeing this character, and the task of analyzing what Meg is experiencing and what her mother and teachers could have done differently to support her is what I hope to accomplish. One thing that the staff at Meg’s school and even Meg’s mother have failed to deal with is Meg’s grief over the loss of her father. Mr. Murry was a physicist who disappeared while doing top secret experiments for the government.
He’s been gone for a year, and the government will provide no information about where he is or when, or even if, he will ever return. Meg’s mother lives in a kind of denial, expecting him back at any time, and so Meg has nowhere to turn to express her grief. She tries to hide her feelings like her mother does, but they just back up on her as she turns them inward. Perhaps because of this, I feel that Meg fits the criteria for a diagnosis of dysthymic disorder. For a child or a teen, two or three criteria must be met for a period of at least a year in order to qualify (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000, p.
311). I believe that Meg meets five of these criteria. Meg certainly suffers from low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. She calls herself a monster and a delinquent. She thinks that her 10-year-old twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, are the only normal ones in the family. She feels her plainness acutely, with her mousy hair, her thick glasses, and her braces, and she compares herself unfavorably to her mother, who is a great beauty. Her teachers also compare her unfavorably to her brilliant parents right to her face. Meg feels that she is “doing everything wrong.
” (L’Engle, 1962, p. 7) Another criterion of dysthymia is feelings of pessimism and despair and a kind of hopelessness. Meg has been dropped to the lowest section in her class, and her teachers chastise her frequently for not trying and not being smart enough. She is grieving the loss of her father and his loving support. She is also subjected to nasty town gossip, such as once overhearing a townsperson say, “I’ve heard that clever people often have subnormal children,” and that the “unattractive girl” was not “all there” (L’Engle, 1962, p. 13).
All of these things have culminated in despair and hopelessness for Meg. She also suffers from “subjective feelings of irritability or excessive anger” (DSM, 2000, p 775). She talks back to and even shouts at her teachers and her principal, Mr. Jenkins, when they criticize her or bring up her father’s absence. In addition, when a boy a year older and 25 lbs. heavier than she is called Charles Wallace her “dumb baby brother,” she beat him up so badly that his mother called to complain (L’Engle, 1962, p. 8). Another symptom of dysthymic disorder is Meg’s inability to concentrate on her school work.
She faithfully does her homework every night, but when she gets to class, she can no longer remember what she read. I also feel that Meg meets the criteria established for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, although it is very hard to know exactly how much of an impact her dysthymic disorder has had on her ODD behavior since there is often some relationship between the two diagnoses and there are some areas that overlap. With Oppositional Defiant Disorder, there is a pattern of negative, hostile, defiant or disobedient behavior towards adults and/or authority figures that lasts for six months or longer (DSM, 2000, p.
100). I feel that Meg’s ODD manifests in six different ways. The first three criteria suggest that she suffers from ODD because she frequently loses her temper, is quite touchy or easily annoyed, and she argues with adults who are in authority. At school, as I mentioned before, she talks back to her teachers and to the principal, she gets angry and shouts at them, and there was also the incident on the way home from school in which she beat up an older boy. She also has a pattern of actively refusing to comply with the rules of adults.
In this case, Meg’s mother believes that Meg has set up a mental block about math. For most of her life, Meg’s parents tested her IQ and played a lot of math games with her. They know that she is gifted, and they taught her a lot of short cuts in math, so that Meg can actually do math that is two grades above her. However, in 9th grade, the grade that Meg is in, the math teacher wants Meg to show her work; she wants Meg to do the math the long way so that the teacher can see that Meg knows how she arrived at the result.
This annoys Meg to no end as she thinks it is a total waste of her time, so Meg refuses to do it. Another criterion of ODD that Meg meets is doing things on purpose to aggravate other people. For example, when Meg is called into the principal’s office, Mr. Jenkins starts asking her questions about her missing father. Meg starts shouting at him and when he asks her to keep her voice down, she refuses and just shouts all the louder. Lastly, Meg blames others for her misbehavior. It’s the teacher’s fault, or the principal’s fault, or the fault of the boy who taunted her.
She does not take responsibility for her own actions. It’s unfortunate that Meg has not received the mental health treatment that she needs. But it’s important to remember that the setting is 1962, and that the guidelines for these mental health disorders had not yet been established. School officials and teachers were often working in the dark and had no idea how to handle “problem children” like Meg. Her teachers berate her for not trying and the principal tells her that she must face facts about her father’s absence.
Meg’s mother is doing her best to hold her family together in the face of humiliating rumors and the loss of the man she loves. Because of her own grief, it no doubt never occurred to her that Meg could use some professional help. In conclusion, one would hope that these days, Meg’s grief, her dysthymia, and her ODD would be identified by her teachers or her mother, and addressed by the school social worker. She should definitely be receiving help from a mental health professional.
If the topic of the loss of her father is too sensitive for Meg to discuss with anyone at school, such as a school psychologist, then she should be offered the chance to talk to someone from another town. As it is, her main confidant and her emotional rock is her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, and although he is smart and mature for his age, he can’t bear that burden for her. References American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistics manual of mental disorders (4th ed. , Text revision). Washington, D. C. : American Psychiatric Association. L’Engle, M. (1962). A wrinkle in time. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
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