Flatland Essay, Research Paper
Edwin A. Abbott starts his book Flatland with a very dry description of the figures in Flatland. This sets the reader up for the rest of the book, and quite simply, the rules of this foreign planet. The book is set in a world of only two dimensions, a flat land in you will. All shapes are seen as straight lines, this hardship is explained further in the later parts of the novel. Houses are next to be explained simply a pentagon with two doors. One door for men, and one for women.
The flatland caste system is based on regularity and number of sides. The lowest of the inhabitants of flatland are the women. Mere straight lines, of up to a foot in length. Soldiers and the working class follow next as acute isosceles triangles. The Middle class being equilateral triangles. Professional men and Gentlemen are squares or pentagons, and so forth. Here also, the genetic rules of flatland come into play, and define how a family can progress to the top of the social structure. In so few words, after progressing to the working class, each successive child will have one more side than the father. These rules, however basic will control the rest of the novel; a civilization of geometry.
An interesting aspect of the way this story is written, is how it uses geometry to symbolize things much bigger, and more historic. With out a doubt, the most important uses of symbolism can been seen in the beginning of the novel, with the definition and structure of the mathematical social society.
Soldiers and the lowest working class are very distinct. This is continuous with third world countries, and most places around the globe that are less advanced than ourselves. The pointy shapes of the soldiers also associated them with the shape of a woman. All three of these social levels are not very respected, and while distinct, they can blend into the crowd, and be forgotten.
A thought provoking issue raised in the book was the method of identification. Higher classes were taught how to identify other shapes by sight alone, while the lower classes would have to go about touching an angle on another shape, in order to determine the class of another object. This is another barrier that protects the higher classes from the lower classes. Perhaps correlating to the sometimes-unnecessary training given to the higher classes.
Colors, although weird, play a unique role in the story as well. Basically, they are a fad. It is interesting to note that the women and priests held out and were not colored. Although there is sound mathematical logic to this, the symbolism is deeper. It shows have very few members of a society can hold out, and not be changed by the opinions of others. Women and priests are also highly regarded, so this leads one to think that they would be the last effected by a craze. This then lead to a hippie revolution of sorts.
As colors became popular, the inhabitants of Flatland became rebellious, and no longer wanted anyone to be color less. This, however, also served a function in flatland. The method of reproduction, and knowing which direction someone was traveling was dependent on where their rear was. So, the color revolution suggested that the back of all shapes be painted for better recognition. As with all fads, though, color died.
Cripples and for the most part anyone different from the norm is not accepted by society. Such is also the case in flatland. Irregular figures are separated from the general public. They are assigned to governmental positions, and they are housed in government buildings. While the situation in our society is not quite so extreme, it is obvious that people that can be easily distinguished from the norm are discriminated against. This is, however, more acceptable practice in Flatland, due to identification of flatlanders.
The book in my opinion was not all that exciting. While all the issues raised in this book were interesting in their own respects, I found most of them to be lacking. The entire mathematical theme of the book, that dealing with multiple dimensions, was self-evident. It is blatantly obvious to me that in order for someone to see our entire three-dimensional world, would be able to see it in individual planes separately. This is exactly the problem at the conclusion of the book when trying to explain a 3rd dimension to a two-dimensioned world. It would be impossible, or nearly impossible, for any human being to really contemplate vision of our entire three dimensions from a fourth dimension about which we know nothing. When someone asks, where the 4th dimension is, perhaps spinning their arm in a circle to show that there is no where else to go, they are using all the logic they have available to them. We learn from experience, and for many it is hard to see abstract ideas. Ideas such as a 4th dimension. “Up-ward, not northward” even that can not be translated into another dimension. Flatlanders explored all directions, North, South, East, and West. We can do that, and explore up and down. Flatlanders could not contemplate a 3rd dimension, nor have it explained to them. Likewise, describing a 4th dimension would be as difficult.