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In A Wrinkle in Time, conformity is evil. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin go to the planet Camazotz, a dystopian world where everyone conforms to the rhythm of IT and is tortured for erring from it. Here, conforming to a higher order is depicted as painful, stultifying, and paranoia-inducing; and the higher order itself is mindlessly tyrannical and cruel, as we see in a scene where a boy is tortured with electricity for failing to bounce his ball with the rhythm.

In A Wind in the Door, the main action of the story revolves around convincing a reticent farandola (a mouse-like creature which, in the story, lives inside the human mitochondrion) to conform to a higher order–in this case a vague, omnipresent cosmic "order to creation" which has its own song corresponding to the rhythm of IT. But this order is presented as the sole right and good in the universe. Refusing to conform is depicted as nihilistic, suicidal, and even fascist; the character Mr. Jenkins compares a group of farandolae who refuse to conform to the order and "Deepen" to such dictators as Napoleon and Hitler in Chapter 11.

On the face of it, there does not seem to be much difference between these two scenarios; in both there is a higher order which organizes the lives of beings according to some sort of abstract music, and refusing to conform has dire consequences for those who refuse. But resisting IT's order is heroic, while resisting the universal order is fascist. Why is this?

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    I added a self-answer but please do answer if you have another perspective. I'm sure there's more than one way to interpret this. – Torisuda Jan 29 '17 at 6:50
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You make a lot of good points here. I would like to offer a slightly different perspective, though, that add something to this. To me, A Wind in the Door is all about growing up, which you touch on in your comments. I don’t see conformity as the real issue here, certainly not in the same way as in A Wrinkle in Time. In AWT, the crucial point is that IT was using force to elicit compliance and conformity from the residents of Camazotz for ITs own benefit – all taking, no giving. Camazotz no doubt represents Meg’s view of her experiences at school, but it also stands as a warning about what can happen, has happened, if certain parts of Man’s sinful nature are allowed to operate unchecked. This theme returns a couple of times in AWD.

In AWD the issue, to me, is not so much that Sporos must conform to some vague cosmic plan, but rather that he needs to be true to his own nature. His task is to step up and take his own unique place in the world. The idea of a unique individual embedded in a social matrix is a major part of the message of AWD. It is first overtly stated in the scene where Jenkins, still unnerved by his Echthroi impersonators, realized “Nobody should be exactly like anybody else.” (chap. 7, p. 128) This stands in distinct contrast to the situation in Camazotz, where everyone was exactly alike, and highlights the difference between forced conformity and the natural order.

The two examples are again contrasted in the final scene. On the one hand we have the adult fara Senex filling his role in the natural order. He helps the mitochondrion function properly, giving energy and life to Charles Wallace. In turn, Charles Wallace provides the environment where the farae can live and thrive. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, each serving the other. On the other hand is the immature farandola Sporos, who temporarily buys the Echthroi lie that he doesn’t have to, indeed shouldn’t, grow up. The young farandolae cannot fill an adult role, so they maintain a parasitic existence on the adult farae. In fact, so long as they are under the influence of the Echthroi they revel in their parasitism. It is all taking and no giving again, just like IT. But Sporos and the others cannot become other than adult farae; that is their nature. Their only options are either to become adults and take their place in the world, or remain parasites, kill their host, and die. Yet each is an individual, just as Senex is an individual. They will not be cookie-cutter replica farae. Each one will bring his own personality to his new role and make his unique contribution to the natural order.

When Meg sees the situations beginning to look hopeless, she panics and falls back on her sinful nature. She is ready to invade the dance, grab Sporos, smack him around, plant his punk butt, and make him deepen. Senex stops her, saying, “Not that way. Not by force.” He might just as well have said, “No, Meg, that’s the way things work on Camazotz.” (Except he could not know of Meg’s experiences there.) Instead, Calvin, Meg, and Proginoskes get Sporos to see and understand the truth of the natural order. They “raise him up in the way he should go” so to speak. Fortunately for all, it works and Sporos leads all the delinquent farandolae to deepen and become adults, and Charles Wallace recovers. The key point is that Sporos made the transition voluntarily, based on his understanding of the natural order. He and the others then come into proper relationship with each other, their host, and the universe, as Proginoskes said. That it was voluntary is what makes the difference. That’s why there is not really a contradiction here. Instead, it is a contrast between people being forced into roles for which they are not naturally suited, like the little boy on Camazotz who was not very good at bouncing a ball, solely for the benefit of the coercive authority, and people who are true to their nature and take their unique place in the world in a web of mutually beneficial relationships. For L’Engle, the quality of one’s life is defined by the nature of one’s relationships. A lesson for our times, possibly even more so than when the story was first written.

  • Upvoted, good to see another thoughtful take on this. – Torisuda Mar 23 '18 at 13:57
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The Time books use a lot of Christian imagery, so there is probably also an explanation in terms of religious parallels, but for this answer I've adopted a purely character-based interpretation.

Meg's point of view of the world has evolved; the contradiction represents her two different perspectives

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg felt out of place in the world. She didn't seem to fit in with her peers. Her teachers didn't seem to understand her. She was uncertain about her future, and lashed out with sarcasm and copious self-loathing. We can see this from this passage early in A Wrinkle in Time:

School. School was all wrong. She’d been dropped down to the lowest section in her grade. That morning one of her teachers had said crossly, “Really, Meg, I don’t understand how a child with parents as brilliant as yours are supposed to be can be such a poor student. If you don’t manage to do a little better you’ll have to stay back next year.”

During lunch she’d rough-housed a little to try to make herself feel better, and one of the girls said scornfully, “After all, Meg, we aren’t grammar-school kids anymore. Why do you always act like such a baby?”

And on the way home from school, walking up the road with her arms full of books, one of the boys had said something about her “dumb baby brother.” At this she’d thrown the books on the side of the road and tackled him with every ounce of strength she had, and arrived home with her blouse torn and a big bruise under one eye.

A Wrinkle in Time, pp. 3–4. Kindle Edition.

Camazotz represented Meg's view of her world at the time, a place where she was penalized on math exams for using a different method to solve the problems even though it resulted in the same answer. Meg felt she was being persecuted, cruelly forced to conform to an unjust order imposed on her by a higher power. Her adventure on Camazotz let her struggle against that injustice symbolically. Entering IT's room and doing battle with IT, and defeating it with her love for her brother Charles Wallace, who is also a misfit under the current order of the world, was an act of rebellion, an act of destruction that symbolized what Meg wished to do to the order of her life back on Earth.

By the time of A Wind in the Door, Meg is feeling much more secure and having an easier time fitting in. Her mother points this out early in Chapter 2, and Meg responds that getting close to Calvin has helped her fit in more because of how well regarded Calvin is at the school. Meg is still uncertain about her future, but she's much more positive about it; she even asks her mother if she'll ever be a double PhD like her mother is, implying that she's given some thought to where she might want to go in life.

Charles Wallace is the one who suffers for being different in A Wind in the Door, but unlike Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, who angrily rebelled and castigated herself for being unable to fit in, Charles Wallace is trying to find a way to adjust his own behavior and peacefully get his classmates to accept him. When discussing the subject in Chapter 3, Charles says "What I really need are lessons in adaptation. I’ve been reading Darwin, but he hasn’t helped me much." Meg tries appealing to a higher power on Charles's behalf, and goes to talk with her old enemy Mr. Jenkins, the principal of her school in Wrinkle and now the principal of Charles Wallace's school in Wind. This fails, but it shows how Meg has matured: instead of reacting with violence and rebelling, she tries to solve problems with diplomacy, and she does so on behalf of another person instead of for her own benefit.

The universal order in A Wind in the Door springs from a recognition that everything in the universe is interconnected. As the cherubim Proginoskes puts it in Chapter 11, "[W]e all need each other. Every atom in the universe is dependent on every other." The farandolae are meant to Deepen, transform into tree-like farae, and take their place in the cosmic order, singing the song of creation alongside the stars. Fearful of growing up, some of them refuse to Deepen and reject the idea that everything is interconnected, but this rebellion, unlike Meg's against IT, is not noble; instead it plays into the hands of the Echthroi, creatures who want to negate all of existence. Meg and her allies must convince Sporos, one of the wayward farandolae, to stop rebelling, to stop fearing growing up, and play his "indispensable part" in "the great plan", take his "own unique share in the freedom of creation". (Chapter 11, p. 219.)

The nobility of conforming, of taking one's place in the cosmic order in A Wind in the Door, symbolizes Meg's new perspective on her life. Now Meg feels that she has a place in society. She cares for other people, like Calvin and Charles Wallace, more than herself. She is learning to see others' perspectives, most dramatically in Chapters 5 and 6 when she has to choose the real Mr. Jenkins from among a group of imposters by learning to understand him. She has come to see the complexity of life, sighing, “I wish life didn’t have to be so complicated." (Chapter 2, p. 35). Meg now sees conforming and taking her place in society as a duty that carries both hardship and privileges, as a farandola Deepening into a fara can no longer move, but gains other abilities in return. As the fara Senex puts it:

Now that I am rooted I am no longer limited by motion. Now I may move anywhere in the universe. I sing with the stars. I dance with the galaxies. I share in the joy—and in the grief. We farae must have our part in the rhythm of the mitochondria, or we cannot be. If we cannot be, then we are not.
A Wind in the Door Chapter 11, pp. 216-217. Kindle Edition.

"The temptation for farandola or for man or for star is to stay an immature pleasure-seeker" (Chapter 10, p. 203), but growing up, though it includes its share in the grief, also includes its share in the joy, its privileges that an immature pleasure-seeker cannot have. Meg understands this now that she's become more mature: conforming to the system takes away some of her scope to be different, but it allows her to stay with Calvin, and to go off to college and find a fulfilling career like her parents have done.

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I don’t feel it does. Conformity in AWT was to serve evil, while in AWD it was for a positive benefit. Conformity itself just “is”. How it’s used is what makes it good or evil.

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    You make a good point here, but the question is why conformity is portrayed so differently in the two books. Conformity itself just "is", yes, but by associating it so strongly with good or evil, it's possible for books to convey a strong message for or against it. If you feel that these books overall convey a neutral impression of conformity, please could you edit to explain this more clearly? – Rand al'Thor Mar 3 '18 at 22:08
  • If the word "contradict" feels too strong to you, then think of my question like this: in the first book conformity is something that evil forces impose, and to rebel against it is good. In the second book the evil forces are encouraging rebellion against conformity. Unlike real life, there's an author here who consciously made the decision to portray this differently between the two books. Why did she do this? – Torisuda Mar 5 '18 at 4:36

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