Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin Abbott Abbott

From December 28, 2011

 

I must revise my opinion that people are getting more ignorant as time goes on.  Reading the Editor’s note at the end of Flatland, I learned that even in the nineteenth century people didn’t understand the concept of satire.

 

The mathematical aspects of Flatland do grow tedious after ten chapters, especially when he makes the point that this really wasn’t the point of the story.  To be fair, however, it is important to know the differences in Flatland because we can then draw a comparison to the lands of zero dimensions, one dimension and three dimension that we visit later.  It is also important to know a lot of the background to the story, because it is an satire of social class.  In some ways it might almost be an allegory of religion, especially during the inquisition.

 

In Flatland the greatest ambition parents have for their children is to see them ascend to a higher class.  If all goes well, the child is born with one more side than his father had, though girls are always born as a straight line.  The more sides a shape has, the higher their social standing, however if they are irregular, that is not possessing equal dimensions on all sides, they are either imprisoned or executed.  The irregulars, as such uneven shapes are called, are thought to all be criminals.

 

The square who serves as our narrator and historian,also becomes a Prophet when he is shown that Flatland is not the only dimension out there.  He is tasked with teaching others that there is more to the universe than this dimension.  He is arrested for such seditious talk, and spends at least seven years in prison, but he does not waver in his position to the slightest.

 

Though I do tend to get a little bogged down in the mathematical aspects of the story, I do love the creativity of it.  Though women are not portrayed in a flattering manner, the idea of their Peace-cry, the separate doors that men and women have in houses, and the movement women have to make, do have logical explanations.  The idea, too, that the longer a person’s lineage the more prominent they would be in a society is also interesting.  The very idea that children are more highly advanced in the social caste is nothing but a more concentrated view of how our own society works, even today.  Is it not the desire of most parents to see their children be more successful?

 

It is unfortunate that more people haven’t read Flatland.  It is a well constructed, shapely story, that has important messages to give about freedom of speech and expression, and the costs of suppression.

 

Vocabulary

Celerity (noun) – Swiftness of movement

Peroration (noun) – The end of a speech, especially designed to create an enthusiastic reaction in the

listeners.

Heterodox (adjective) – Not confirming to orthodox views

Betoken (verb) – to be a sign of; to indicate

Benighted (adjective) In  state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance

Phantasm (noun) – A figment of imagination; an illusion or apparition

August (adjective) – Respected and impressive

Vouchsafe (verb) – To give or grant; To Reveal or disclose

Lilliputian (adjective) – Trivial, or very small

Quietism (noun) – Calm acceptance of things as the are without trying to change them

Escutcheon (noun) – A shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms

Castigation (verb) – To reprimand someone severely

Flagitious (adjective) – Criminal or villainous

Egress (noun) – the Action of going out or leaving a place

Gamboge (noun) – A gum resin from certain Asian trees that is used as a yellow pigment or a purgative

Sophism (noun) – A fallacious argument, especially one used to purposely deceive

Colligation (verb) – To case, or to be juxtaposed or grouped together in a syntactical relationship

Abrogate (verb) – To repeal or do away with a law or formal agreement

Sagacious (adjective) – Having or showing keen mental discernment or practical sense

Mercurial (adjective) – Subject to sudden or unpredictable mood or mind changes

Fetter (noun) – A chain or manacle used to restrain prisoners

Fecundity (adjective) – Producing or capable of producing a great many offspring

Avocation (noun) – A hobby or minor occupation

Portent (noun) – A sign that something momentous or calamitous is about to happen

Stolid (adjective) – Calm, Dependable; without emotion or animation

Sedition (adjective) – Causing or inciting people to rebel against a monarch or state

Antiquarian (adjective) – Relating to or dealing with antiques or rare books

Circumspection (noun) – he quality of being wary or unwilling to take risks

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