What is a Tesseract in A Wrinkle in Time?

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  • 0:04 Lost in Space
  • 2:05 Basic Geometry
  • 3:02 Tesseract
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

If you've ever studied geometry, you may know the tesseract as a cube in the fourth dimension. This lesson explains author Madeleine L'Engle's concept of the tesseract, from her novel ''A Wrinkle in Time.''

Lost in Space

Imagine that a member of your family is working on a top-secret government project. Over time, letters and notes from that person become less and less frequent. Without warning, communication drops off completely. The government assures you that everything is fine. Where did your loved one go?

This is the reality for the Murry family in A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle. Mrs. Murry and her children, Meg and Charles Wallace, are left wondering and worrying about the missing Mr. Murry. Meg and Charles Wallace learn from two mysterious women, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, that their physicist dad was working on a special type of space-and-time travel. While experimenting with traveling from Earth to Mars, Mr. Murry was captured. To make matters worse, he was imprisoned somewhere across the universe behind 'the darkness.' If you've ever watched the Discovery Channel or science-fiction movies, you may think of 'the darkness' as dark matter, or maybe even a black hole.

So, how exactly do they save Mr. Murry when he's hidden somewhere in the vastness of space? As you may know, space travel can take quite a long time. In our solar system, the planet Mars is considered relatively close to Earth, but it's still over 34 million miles away! Traveling at about 36,000 miles per hour, it can take about 39 days to get from Earth to Mars if the planets are at their closest points. The same journey can take over 280 days if the planets are at their furthest points. From Earth to Pluto, the furthest planet in our solar system, it can take over 10 years to travel over 4 billion miles. So how could Meg and Charles Wallace possibly save their father, especially if he's not even in the same solar system? According to Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, the answer is simple. All they need is a tesseract, something they describe as a 'wrinkle in time,' which is where the book gets its name.

Basic Geometry

Before you learn about the tesseract in A Wrinkle in Time, it's helpful to understand some basic geometry. You're probably familiar with the term 'three-dimensional,' but what are the three dimensions?

The first dimension is very simple; it's just a straight line. The second dimension can be thought of as a flat shape, like a square. The third dimension includes all shapes that have depth, like a cube. If you haven't figured it out yet, the world we live in is three-dimensional. You, your teacher, and the computer or smartphone you're using to watch this lesson are three-dimensional.

In standard geometry, the tesseract is a cube in the fourth dimension. The scientist Albert Einstein described it as time. As you can probably imagine, drawing what time looks like is pretty tricky! It's not something you can necessarily see. In A Wrinkle in Time, the concept of a tesseract is explained a bit differently.

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