Monday, November 23, 2009

Empowerment of Children in AWiT

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle seems to present the same triumph present in most of literature: good overcoming evil. Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, and the “Mrs. W’s,” as Calvin calls them, are able to defeat IT and rescue Mr. Murry by using their special gifts and the all-powerful thing we all possess: love. Yet, there is more at work than this big issue, something worthy of protection from anti-banning efforts: empowerment of children.

I realize that sounds awfully lofty, but what I mean is that by having a rag-tag group of kids fighting the forces of evil, largely on their own, it helps kids sit back and think, “Wow! I could do something, too!” At the same time that kids can identify with the children, I think that they can also identify with the idea of being unhappy with themselves—like Meg’s self-consciousness and temper—and struggling to fit in.

I think that especially important is the fallibility of Mr. Murry, Meg’s father, whom she had previously deemed “omnipotent.” In an exchange between them on Aunt Beast’s planet, Meg reveals that she was so resistant simply because she wanted him to do everything for her—and he reveals that he wishes he could, too. This moment, however brief, is important for children to read and take away with them. Their parents can’t control everything, and the sooner they learn a little independence, the better.

Additionally, like we learned with Sydney earlier this semester, in his Defense of Poetry, it is possible—and likely—that a reader can learn something from characters in a poetic work, like this one. For instance, in the moping and brooding that Meg Murray does, a child sees that they do not want to identify with those traits of hers. But in her determination and ability to overcome evil, a child sees the positive things that they do very much want to identify with.

But the break from reality into fantasy is where this book gets into trouble. Whereas I am inclined to see the fantasy of the beasts and travelling the cosmos as innocent release for young minds, it seems that others are more inclined to damn them as too witch-like, satanic, or anti-Christian ideals. (I’ve read a bit ahead onto the essays for next week to get these ideas!) This seems very silly to me, because every character is compatible with the Judeo-Christian (and perhaps Muslim, though I don’t know much about Islamic beliefs) idea of things: we’re susceptible to evil, but if we keep ourselves wary of temptation and hold onto the love of God, we can overcome those things.

Since I don’t have service learning at the moment, I think I might take this time to talk a little about how I personally read this book—and tell a brief anecdote about the first time I read this book. The first time I read this book, in third or fourth grade, I think, we all were given copies of the book to borrow for the duration of our reading. My copy of the book was old, the pages were the color of nicotine-stains, and it smelled like what I imagined a crypt smelled like. Needless to say, the smell and general unattractiveness of my copy of A Wrinkle in Time utterly prevented me from enjoying it at all.

As I began my reading now, I didn’t remember the book at all. (I guess the stench of the old book caused a little memory loss, too.) But something that immediately struck me was that this novel did not talk down to children. Though the sentences were simple, the diction really was not childlike at all. I was very impressed that such a successful children’s book relied on its readers to do work, like looking up words they didn’t know or ask for help understanding the mathematics mentioned here and there. I think this goes back to the theme of empowerment that I mentioned earlier. By treating children like mature readers, I think (most) will respond like mature readers, taking on new burdens of reading, like putting in their own knowledge and experiences and time into the text. And I think that’s a really, really cool accomplishment from Ms. L’Engle—one worth protecting!

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