In my Psych 101 class, we have recently been talking about the idea of incongruence and its role in the development of a person and their personality. The term incongruence is used in describing the discrepancy between the way a person views themselves and the way they are viewed by others. For many, starting at adolescence and throughout adulthood, the view of the self is much more negative than the way they are viewed by others, giving testament to the idea that we are our own toughest critics. For children though, they base they tend to base the view they hold of themselves on the way others perceive and describe them and sometimes this is beneficial, but a lot of times it is not.
In Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, we are presented with Meg Murry as our central character, a young girl who struggles with her own image and is frankly, quite unhappy with herself because of the way others see her. For a girl Meg's age, the views of others are crucial in how she can define herself and unfortunately, Meg does not fall under very "favorable" conditions in this realm. In the opening pages of the book, Meg refers to herself as a monster and an event is even cited where she is called a baby. In the shadow of brilliant scientist parents, Meg "do[es] everything wrong" (5). While Meg's mother is incomprehensibly beautiful, Meg has the typical preteen appearance issues of having glasses, braces, and "mouse-brown hair" that won't cooperate (7).
Meg just cannot seem to fit in or impress and she is hyperaware of this issue as are many children her age that might be found reading this book. This is why Meg makes the perfect heroine for young people, specifically young girls. In her appreciation, Anna Quindlen writes, "The most memorable books from our childhoods are those that make us feel less alone, convince us that our own foibles and quirks are both as individual as a fingerprint and as universal as an open hand." Meg's character, just by being herself, even before the story begins, is relatable for young people and let them feel less alone, reminding them of many things that are often failed to be mentioned in everyday life.
As cliche as it may sound, we tend to forget to remind each other of how special we are, especially children, who fight with identity problems constantly. Not everyone can fit into the same mold and for young people, learning how to live and act based on the examples surrounding them, it can seem impossible to fit in at all, which is very discouraging and school is a major place where this occurs. School is the main source of socialization as well as development for people, today. School can either drag you down or lift you up, but just as every child is different, so is there experience with education.
Meg is confronted by one of her teachers who says, "I don't understand how a child with parents as brilliant as yours are supposed to be can be such a poor student" (5). This observation, along with the other criticisms she receives, only serves to discourage Meg even more from even attempting to succeed in school. Later, though, we find out that Meg is far from unintelligent, in fact, she excels beyond measure at math, but does poorly only because she does not understand how to do it exactly the way they tell her to do it in school. Meg actually knows the ins and outs of mathematics so well that she knows too many shortcuts to do problems "the long way" anymore.
Not everyone can excel at everything, but that does not mean that they excel at nothing. This is what we try to emphasize at the gymnastics gym I coach at. I see a lot of girls come into the gym to take classes who do not have as much natural ability as others and are clearly not made for the sport, but that does not mean they cannot learn anything or even that they are not good at SOMETHING we do during class, because everyone is. I have to find those different things that each child is good at and make sure to emphasize them so that they will not become discourage and will continue to want to learn, because children DO want to learn, and they want to be good at things, but sometimes they do not realize they are good at that thing until it is pointed out and praised.
Because there are so many young people out there who do not have their good qualities emphasized and have their will to achieve slowly become snuffed out, books sometimes become an excellent guide and solace, especially ones with characters like Meg who start off "wish[ing they] were a different person" (52). Through characters like these, they can find a way to feel less alone and gain some hope in finding something about them that is special. As much as loved ones and teachers should be aiding young people as they discover themselves and develop, a lot of times, they spend more time focusing on what a child CAN'T do or how they DON'T fit in, rather than admiring what a child CAN do and encouraging them along that path, but having someone to relate to, even if he/she is fictional can take a child a long way in accepting themselves as a member of and yet, separate from the rest of society.