The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Offered as a fictional mathematicians memoirs, Edwin A. Abbotts Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions depicts a nightmarish dystopia in which living geometrical figures persecute irregular figures (those with unequal sides) and condemn straight lines, or females, to perpetual ignorance and subservience. The novel is divided into two parts: a preface and the “central event,” as Abbott calls it.

In part 1, titled “This World,” the mathematician A. Square describes his two-dimensional world, Flatland, for an audience in Spaceland, a three-dimensional world. The government of Flatland is administered by a cabal of many-sided polygons who promote a societal hierarchy that ascends gradually from straight lines (women) to circles (priests). In between are irregular or isosceles triangles, the soldiers and working class; equilateral triangles, who are the tradesmen; squares and pentagons, who represent the professional classes, such as lawyers and mathematicians; and polygons of more sides, including hexagons, who enjoy the status of no-bility.

In Flatland, evolution is not only a biological fact but also a state policy. “It is a Law of Nature with us,” writes A. Square, “that a male child shall have one more side than his father, so that each generation shall rise (as a rule) one step in the scale of development and nobility.” To assist nature, the ruling circles engage in selective breeding and extermination. Irregular...

(The entire section is 534 words.)