Flatland Essay - Critical Essays

Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland Summary

Flatland is a two-dimensional world inhabited by two-dimensional beings. A. Square, the narrator, informs the reader of the rules of Flatland. In this world, women are straight lines, and men are figures with many sides.

  • Social status in Flatland is determined by how many sides one has: more sides means more status, because the more sides you have, the closer you are to a sphere.
  • As lines, women in Flatland are considered second-class citizens. Abbott intended the novel to be a satire of Victorian England, and this is most obvious in his treatment of women.
  • In the second half of the novel, A. Square imagines a one-dimensional world called Lineland. He then meets the Great Sphere, a three-dimensional being who tries to explain the third dimension to A. Square. A. Square becomes confused and attacks Great Sphere, just like humans do when confronted with the unknown.

Analysis

Flatland functions as a geometry lesson, a satire of Victorian England, and an attempt to mediate the nineteenth century debate between science and religion. As a geometry lesson, the novel illustrates basic concepts of dimensionality in a manner appealing to young readers. Abbott, who was the headmaster of the City of London School, recognized the value of entertainment in instruction and advocated a broad, liberal education for his students.

His novel is also a satire of Victorian England, specifically its class consciousness, its penchant for conformity, and its disenfranchisement of women. The Color Revolt, in particular, ridicules conformity in art and the societal forces that stifle creativity and individuality.

Finally, in its suggestion of higher dimensionality, Flatland offers a plausible, though not scientifically provable, explanation for the spiritual world, including God and heaven. Using induction to demystify supernatural phenomena, Abbott effectively bridges the chasm between observable fact and blind faith and shows that science and religion are not necessarily incompatible.

The structure of the novel complements its theme. Divided into two parts, Flatland has twenty-two chapters. The chapters often pair off, treating first a general topic and then a subtopic. For example, chapter 5 discusses Flatlanders methods of recognizing one another, and chapter 6 focuses on the art of sight...

(The entire section is 406 words.)