Wrinkle in Time Feminine Identity Essay

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Wrinkle in Time

Feminine Identity in and Around Madeleine L'Engle's a Wrinkle in Time

Though often considered a children's or "young adult" novel, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time has many complex themes, and its endurance and devoted readership are evidence of its considerable literary merit. It seems virtually unconscionable, then, that the novel should have been so quickly and completely relegated to the ranks of juvenile fiction; though its plot and the coming-of-age angle of the story render it an enormously enjoyable and even instructive book in adolescence, the sophistication of its construction belies the worthiness of continuing study and analysis on the novel by scholars with more developed critical senses, and the foundation in literary theory and history that only time devoted to the study of these subject can provide. Such background knowledge provides the careful reader of A Wrinkle in Time with a wealth of knowledge that provides a much greater context to the work than it can itself provide.

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One of the more compelling theoretical frameworks with which to approach L'Engle's masterpiece is feminist theory. In many ways, in fact, the book can be read as an allegory of feminine self-exploration, self-discovery, and independent (or at least control-resistant) identity making. The novel is almost Dickensian in the thickness of its plot and the many turns, not to mention its depiction of a virtually parentless child. But rather than a Victorian-era masculine orphan waif, the protagonist of this tale is a girl nearing her adolescence, and who must completely determine her own identity rather than aspiring to fulfill a defined role in society, as a Pip or Oliver Twist. Though much current literary theory considers such examination taboo, there is also a great deal that can be said about the authorship of this novel from the feminine perspective, making A Wrinkle in Time a monumental work of feminist literature inside and out.

Essay on Wrinkle in Time Feminine Identity in and Assignment

This feminist strain is observable even in the general structure, story, and even authorship of the novel. There is no escaping the fact that this is a coming-of-age story of an adolescent girl, including the obligatory teenage romance. Yet this is not your standard Judy Blume fare -- there is a definite sense of agency and urgency about Meg that does not exist for many teenagers, especially females, in similar novels. Meg takes on the type of heroic role that is typically reserved for male figures, and in another interesting twist it is her father -- the traditional figure of male dominance and, according to Freudian theory, feminine sexuality -- that she must rescue, placing her in a position of power over him, and over the men (or boys) that accompany her. This could be seen to reflect Culler's statement that all readers are asked -- or forced -- by most literature to adopt a male perspective. A Wrinkle in Time breaks with this standard framework, and the perspective of the novel seems to assume a female reader.

It is also worthy of noting the fact that Madeleine L'Engle is, of course a female author, and science fiction was -- and still is, to a large degree -- one of the most heavily (perhaps the most heavily) male-dominated genres of literature. This shows a further rejection and/or re-appropriation of male dominated frameworks, and serves as an outer allegory of sorts that mirrors the internal story of the novel. Just as Meg is adopting a traditionally male role and redefining both the parameters by which this role and females are allowed to operate, L'Engle is making the same sort of gesture, whether purposefully or no, in the external world.

There are also some traditional questions in feminist theory that are directly addressed in A Wrinkle in Time. One of the most simple and obvious is the general rejection of women who do not conform to the cultural and societal norms of their world. Meg is the most obvious example of this in the novel; she feels like an outcast at school and largely in her family, largely because she is heavily cerebral and intellectual instead of being consumed with more traditionally feminine interests and activities (i.e. homemaking and beautifying). She is far more comfortable with books than with people, saying "I do face the facts...They're a lot easier to face than people I can tell you that" (LE'ngle 23). There are also other very interesting examples of this rejection of non-typical females, however. Meg's mother is seen as something of an oddity for maintaining her faith in her husband despite his unexplained absence for more than a year. This illustrates the phenomenon of the rejection of non-traditional females on another level than Meg; her mother is not only placed on the outside of her community due to a perceived strangeness, but also because she has lost her male counterpart.

At the same time, these characters can be seen to be rejecting both the male dominated views and frameworks upon which the inner world of the novel operates, as well as the external view that rejects such women and such female characters. As Culler notes, gender is largely performative and is "more likely to be the result of political cooperation than it is a condition of possibility" (Culler). Thus, Meg and her mother's rejection of the political model that dictates what is expected of females based on their gender is a refusal to perform the prescribed female role. So even as their culture and society seems to be rejecting them as non-traditional and abnormal examples of womanhood, they are rejecting this very notion of womanhood and even the right and ability of their society to develop such and impose such limitations.

This rejection of the political and societal cooperation offered leads to some complications for these characters and for the feminist scholar examining the work, however. In rejecting the narrow gender role being offered to women, both of these characters seem to be at risk of moving no further than the arguably more liberating but still narrowly defined masculine role in society. Cullen notes that there are prescribed attitudes and methods of performing most given actions that help to define, for better or for worse, the "socially established ways of being a man or being a woman" (Cullen). These are not simply two different categories of behavior and identity; in most cultures -- and certainly in twentieth century Western culture -- these are the only two categories of behavior and identity. The rejection of one not only implies the adoption of the other, it demands it, at least from an external perspective that cannot move beyond the overlaid and pervasive framework of gender.

To suggest, for instance, that Meg's agency and intellectual abilities are more typically masculine is to already buy into this framework, and to limit the choices and identities available to Meg. This point-of-view suggests that the only way to move beyond the stereotypical and socially enforced gender roles of women is for females to behave in a more masculine manner, rather than actually being able to redefine femininity or escape the framework of gender altogether. To some degree, this issue is unavoidable, as neither author nor reader (nor characters, for that matter) are truly able to escape the society in which they live.

This does not mean that A Wrinkle in Time supports the binary opposition that is the framework of gender upon which most people unconsciously operate most of the time. Although the book cannot escape this framework entirely, it does attempt to readjust it and possibly even break it down at points. This is never done fully explicitly, of course, nor should (or could) any decent work of literature ever carry all of its meanings and implications on the surface of the text, but the attempt to buck the entire framework of gender is nevertheless quite present. On Camazotz, Meg encounters a planet of even greater rigidity and far more restrictive roles; as she watches the children of the planet at play, she notes how the balls and jump ropes move in unison, "all in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers (L'Engle 103). Though of course the implications of such automaton-like behavior go much deeper and broader than simply referring to gender, the phenomenon of societal cooperation in defining and limiting identity is the same, only more extreme. Meg and her companions of course realize that such a way of life is inherently inhuman, and the new dimension of freeing these people is added to the success of their venture.

Even Meg's ultimate success in freeing her brother Charles Wallace from the grasp of "It" can be seen not as a particularly masculine or feminine act, but rather as an attempt to break free from such definitions and boundaries. It is still impossible -- or perhaps merely disingenuous -- to deny the role gender plays in the various aspects of this heroic finish, but the mixture of gender roles necessitates a breakdown of the system. While… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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