A House Like a Lotus Essay - Critical Context

Madeleine L'Engle

Critical Context

Readers of Madeleine L’Engle’s other works, both for children and adults, will recognize many of the characters in A House Like a Lotus. Polly features in three other novels: The Arm of the Starfish (1965), Dragons in the Waters (1976), and An Acceptable Time (1989). Polly’s parents, Calvin and Meg O’Keefe, were the main characters in L’Engle’s Newbery Medal-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time (1962). Zachary Gray also appears in An Acceptable Time and in two of L’Engle’s novels about another teenage protagonist, Vicky Austin. Several of the more minor characters also feature in previous novels. This recurrence is evidence of L’Engle’s belief that people and events are interconnected and interdependent; what one person does, or does not do, affects others in ways that perhaps can neither be explained nor even imagined, but that are nevertheless crucially important.

Readers will also recognize many of the themes that recur in L’Engle’s work. One of her first books for children, And Both Were Young (republished 1983), attempted to deal with the death of a parent and had to be rewritten at the publisher’s request because it was believed that the subject was too difficult or upsetting for young people. Her novel A Ring of Endless Light (1980), a Newbery Honor Book, also deals with death in a sensitive way. What L’Engle is really concerned with, however, is life and how to live it most fully. Max, despite her illness and impending death, is vibrant, and she tells Polly that “no one is too insignificant to make a difference. Whenever you get the chance, choose life.” L’Engle is convinced of the importance of each individual in the scheme of things, and her novels are concerned with the idea of interdependence—what one person chooses to do makes a difference and can affect the entire universe.