Mrs. Whatsit in A Wrinkle in Time

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

Madeleine L'Engle's science fiction/fantasy book, 'A Wrinkle in Time' has characters that are believable and realistic as well as characters that are entirely fanciful. This lesson's focus is on one of the fanciful characters, Mrs. Whatsit.

Setting the Stage

'It was a dark and stormy night...' This is the way A Wrinkle in Time begins. Nights like this are ordinary for some of us, but this particular dark and stormy night is anything but ordinary for the Murry family.

Meg, Charles Wallace, Mrs. Murry, and Fortinbras (their dog) are all experiencing insomnia, and, as it turns out, it's not just the storm keeping them awake. They sense that something unusual is going to happen.

During this impromptu family time, young Charles Wallace first mentions Mrs. Whatsit, but he is reluctant to elaborate when his family wants to know some details. As a little boy, apparently he's pretty trusting: He visits Mrs. Whatsit and 'her two friends' when he visits 'the old shingled house back in the woods that the kids...say is haunted.'

Enter Mrs. Whatsit

As the family snacks in the kitchen, Fortinbras growls and bristles. Meg is afraid that the neighborhood vagrant (referred to as a 'tramp' in the story) is close by. It turns out that she is right, but this 'tramp' is really Mrs. Whatsit.

When this unusually hospitable family invites 'the tramp' in, they have a difficult time determining her gender and age under her multiple layers of unmatched clothing. Charles Wallace immediately greets her as Mrs. Whatsit. The Murrys discover a short, plump old lady with a voice like 'an unoiled gate' under the clothing.

The family shares a snack with Mrs. Whatsit, and this unusual encounter ends in an even more unusual way. Mrs. Whatsit tells Mrs. Murry that 'there is such a thing as a tesseract.' This information is noteworthy (an understatement) to Mrs. Murry. See, the tesseract (a form of time/space travel) was the subject of Dr. Murry's research, making it a possible clue to the physicist's disappearance. After Mrs. Whatsit leaves, Mrs. Murry puzzles, 'What did she mean? How could she have known?'

On a Mission

It turns out Mrs. Whatsit and her two companions, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, are not from Earth, and their appearance on Earth is for a very clear purpose: to help the Murry family get their father back. The three women serve as travel guides on a sort of mission (nearly) impossible for Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin. The three children must travel through space and face a great evil force in order to rescue Dr. Murry.

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