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Week 5--Fairy Tales, Scientific Stories, and Literary Ones

Anne Dalke's picture
Hi, guys. This week's reading is Edwin Abbott's Flatland which, like Brecht's Galileo, is a story about why and how people revise stories and what the consequences are of so doing. What does Flatland add to our ongoing thinking about such matters? To our thinking about the relation between fairy tales, scientific stories, and literary ones?
ashaffer's picture

Going back and reflecting

The more we discuss Flatland, the more I realize what a great book it is. I love the chance that it gives the reader to glimpse into another dimension. A thought that has sprung up since discussing Flatland and the dimensions, aside from Antonia's smart or pretty dilemma is the idea of objectivity. In the last few weeks, we looked at how an anthropologist "ought" to look @ things and report them. Me being me, I immediately questioned why he "ought" do any such thing. Now, I am recalling a thought that Paul threw into our class discussion when we were trying to consider other dimensions, namely alternate/parallel/other universes. He said something about how in one universe, the story includes Ashton, but in another it might not/does not. I'm wondering if this might reflect back into the question of objectivity. Could looking at something objectively be like trying to think in another dimension- one in which you (your judgements, your bias, etc.) do not exist?
Riki's picture

"Galileo was a schmuck"

On Tuesday we talked of change and various examples of good and bad change, deciding that either way, it generally shapes us into better people. Few of us accept change with open arms, yet most of us praised it in our essays. Yes, theoretically it is beneficial -- it breaks up the monotony of life, but when it's your home that's breaking or your parents getting divorced, you aren't quite so willing to accept it. In this sense, our lives are stories and they are constantly changing, or being revised.

 Then we spoke of challenging the opinions of the majority. On what grounds can one do this? Who's to say what's right and what's wrong? This summary isn't right. But it isn't wrong, either. It's just biased because it's my interpretation of the events that transpired. This is my story. You can believe it if you want to. We believe what's convenient, what's useful. All stories are biased -- we believe what we choose to believe, not what we know to be true. What is truth for that matter?

This led us to conclude that we can ignore truth and reality when arguing stories.

Anne Dalke's picture

further dimensions--serious satire?

In case you're interested in knowing more about two-dimensional sex--
please consult Rachel and Madi! the spirit of exploring further dimensions, you might be interested to know about a new theory for the origin of the universe:

According to this view, electrons, quarks, and all the other elementary particles in the universe behave as point particles when observed at a distance, but each is actually composed of tiny loops or strings of energy. The different vibrations of a string, like the different notes that can be plucked on a violin, correspond to different particles....Each string vibrates in a space-time that has 11 dimensions....The newest twist on string theory, dubbed M theory, allows for more-complex objects: surfaces rather than just strings. These surfaces are known as membranes, or just branes....In this construct, our cosmos could have plenty of company. Other would-be universes—also represented by branes—may be floating" through these other dimensions.

The world we are living in is similar to Flatland. This is serious satire, indeed.

Student 23's picture

Summary #3!

From the post above me (Catrina), I'm surprised how different the discussions in each of our classes are! Not just in content but in mood and direction... where your class seemed to philisophically ponder the mysteries of life as a whole, my class immediately launched into probably the most heated, passionate discourse I'd ever seen there. Our Tuesday class started off debating the infantalizing effects of education-- Is classical education something constraining? Does it keep us from learning?

Half of us said "Yes, it is infantalizing" and half of us said "No, education is a responsibility". What I realize now as I write this is that we were pretty much divided along a line of age. The more mature students saw education as a privelage and a tool to make the world a better place, while the rest of us (myself included), fresh out of high school, were a bit more pessimistic. Education, we said, removes the consequences of screwing up. In school, if you confuse a formula or turn a paper in late, you correct your mistake (hopefully) the next time, no harm done but to your grade. In life, you get fired from your job or crash a plane or run into debt.

"Life," someone said, "is like Orgo lab."

"But life isn't as complicated as Orgo lab!" somebody else replied.

"How about raising children?"

On Thursday we finally moved onto Flatland, opening class BEFORE the professor arrived with some speculation on two-dimensional sexuality. On a more serious notre, when she finally did get there, we reflected on the previous class's discussion with the question "Do we have responsibility for what we say in the world of education?" We rapidly segued into the merits of being politically correct and to sensitivity to others' feelings; hence we entered some choppy seas right from the outset. Every opinion, the majority of us concluded, offends somebody, no matter how sensitive it may be. Perhaps the centerpiece of Thursday was trying to answer whether or not Flatland was a satire of Victorian classism/sexism, or rather just outright offensive.

A few people were obviously highly offended.

So assuming Flatland is a satire, does satire as an "art form" perpetuate bigotry? The general consensus was that it does, that it relieves tension about the ugly bits of our culture, allowing those ugly bits to continue. However, a few disagreed-- satire, well-crafted, is a means by which we point out the absurd reality of those ugly bits. There is a fine line, it seems, between real and funny. But who says something can't be both?

So is Flatland a farce? We never decided. Those who said it was remained staunchly in that opinion, and those who said it wasn't did the same.

Also in question was the value of evangelism and enlightenment, a theme which we extracted from the highly religious overtones of Flatland. Is religious belief a result of first-hand enlightenment? Is it right to then impose that belief on others? And how effective is this? The mood turned slightly existential: "Is knowledge of the other side something that disconnects you and makes you unhappy with your own world?"

The one element uniting our discussion with Catrina's discussion was the comparison of Flatland to Galileo. Mr. Square, we decided, was Galileo, imprisoned for his discovery of another story which redefined the second dimension.

Catrina Mueller's picture

Summary #2!

On Tuesday, we began by discussing our opinions of institutions/cultures that inhibit story change. Some ideas under this discussion were schools and success.

We then went on to ponder if Bryn Mawr inhibits expression. Eventually, the class came to an agreement that there were some topics on campus that are “taboo” and cannot be talked about openly. The most predominant taboo word of the discussion was feminism. Then, we contemplated if BMC inhibits people from thinking BMC is not a good place. Some ideas under this topic include: “We ‘have’ to love it”, “Freshwomen have enthusiasm and that we are too idealistic”, and that there is pressure to love it.

Then we went on to decide where this pressure is coming from. Is the pressure external or internal? Is it from peers? From family?

Galileo became the topic of our next discussion. The topic was “was Galileo willing to think outside the box.” We decided he was willing to think outside society’s box, but not outside of his own box.

From this topic arose a very interesting question: “Is it worth being brilliant and ostracized or would you rather be accepted and not brilliant”. Some of us began wondering if it is such a polarized thing or if you can be both.

Professor Grobstein then proposed the question “Was it a good idea for Galileo to have upset things?”

On Thursday we first talked about Flatland. We mentioned the “antifeminism” in the book and wondered if it was a social commentary or if Abbot was actually an anti-feminist.

We then discussed the idea of different dimensions. Professor Grobstein explained how we really think in 6 dimensions and how time is a dimension. Someone then brought up the question “how many dimensions are there really?

We then moved to a philosophical debate of whether “if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound or not?” There were two opinions on this point. One was that there is not a brain there to interpret the “data” of sound and thus there is no sound. The other was that sound, like matter, is conserved so it makes a sound whether we are there or not.

We then talked about altered states of consciousness. Buddhist monks’ multi-tonal humming, dreams, and hypnosis were all discussed.

We closed with a discussion of the similarities and differences between Galileo and Flatland.

Riki's picture

I hate the fourth dimension

The only thing I could think about when reading this book was a video I watched last year in my history class. It goes through all ten dimensions and explains/somewhat illustrates them. I had to watch it a few times to feel as though I "got" it, and I could still probably use a few more viewings. Anyway, the url is if anyone is interested in watching it. If that doesn't work, just search youtube for The Tenth Dimension.

I had a very difficult time reading this book only because I can't really imagine living in a two-dimentional world. The fact that I couldn't mentally get past this was somewhat of a hindrance to me reading it, because I like to picture what's occuring in a story as I read it. Although, it goes the other way too -- I wouldn't be able to read a story involving the fourth, fifth, et cetera dimensions because I wouldn't be able to comprehend anything beyond what I know.

Hilary McGowan's picture

Flatland on perspectives

The very first chapters of the book were quite intriguing to me. I really enjoyed the part where they show the examples of how to look at regular objects. From one point they may look like there are many sides, but from another only one side may be visible. This idea of looking at things in a different way really made me re-evaluate how I look at my own life. Am I only seeing the simplistic view without searching for the whole? Do I see only one side to a person and don't even realize all the complexities that I'm missing?

Flatland, though at first a tad angering, really "blew my mind". I hadn't thought that anyone had seriously thought this much about other dimensions until 60 years ago. The fact that the author blended in story telling with mathematics and science again made me think about the status of the world around me.

Hilary McGowan's picture


So the art of summarizing our discussions in class resembles summarizing the meaning of life. Our conversations spanned from the to and fro of the reality of reality to the perception of science. We didn't really talk very much about the revision of stories, but more about what the books we read meant to us. Tuesdays discussion resembled last weeks in the topic of Galileo. DId we like or dislike him, and did that matter because of what he did for science and the world.

A lot of students had the same general idea of revision of stories, it happens and we generally like it. But when we got the revised story of Flatland (revised in that it revises our previous thoughts of the world) it confused most of us. The compreshension factor of dimensions, the universe, and other worlds ate up most of our class time. The explanation/story/possibility of different dimensions in close proximity to us opens our mind a little bit further. DO we want to believe in this possibility and be dissatisfied the rest of our lives, or live contentedly in our own familiar world. Basically, it comes down to what story do we want to believe?

Danielle P's picture

The story in the book

The story in the book Flatland has many similarities to the society presented in Life of Galileo. Generally, Flatland depicts a society and people with many characteritics reflected by our society today. The theme of denial and close mindedness is prevalent throughout the novel as evidenced by the square's refusal to accept the concept of Spaceland (going as far as to physically attack the visiting Sphere) and the Sphere's later refusal to consider the possibility of a fourth, fifth, or sixth dimension. However, after a headache inducing discussion on Thursday, I find that I can easily empathize with the people of Flatland; the truth of the matter is that complex ideas are sometimes just too much to grasp and accept. For many people the staying inside a certain "bubble" is a preferable way of life, even when they know that there is something more out there.


As for me, I also like my bubble - I'll stick with just three dimensions, thank you.

Hyperpuffball's picture

Serious Satire

I took Flatland to be a satire: Abbot's overhashing of the female role in society, the narrator's disdain for the purely emotional nature of the women, and the switched shape symbolism of the sexes gave me a few cues. And yet I found myself increasingly frustrated with every mention of a logicless woman and their quick tempers.

This is mostly because the world we live in is so similar. I am a chemistry major, considering a math minor. I am in no way a purely emotional figure, nor is my brain necessarily wired to feel more than think as opposed to a man's brain, which is supposedely made to think more than to feel. It's utter (excuse my language) crap. Whomever conducted that study needed to make it clear that a woman's brain, while different from a male brain, does not always follow the observed pattern. Women can think more logically than emotionally- more analytically than comparitively.

I get science. Much better than I understand, say, comparitive literature. I'd rather write a lab report than a book report, I'd prefer to find the tangent plane to a surface than discuss the elements of a writer's tone that show a poem is about platonic love.

I'd rather sit in a lab and be respected for my findings, rather than sit in a lab and be respected for trying to overcome my nature.

Rochelle's picture

Here! Here!

Nothing frustrates me more than my own mother's behavioural tendency to become emotional over the most pitiful things, only so I can watch my brother and father role their eyes thinking, "women!". And what's worse is that the same patronizing expectation is placed on me, being her daughter and therefore likely to repeat the pattern. I however, am in no way similar. I am good with technology, brilliant at math and am more emotionally detached than a seventeen year old male to his accidental child. Hurray to all the thinking women of the world.

nmuntz's picture


I have to agree with Ashton, that I was kind of offended and irritated that the book seemed so sexist, and we were reading it at a women's college!  But it wasn't until I realized that it was first published in 1884, and read that the A. Square didn't really believe in the degradation of women, that I began to fully enjoy the original insight that Abbott gave into his story.  In fact, after reading the book, I was amazed at how many correlations it had with Brecht's Galileo!  Clearly there are parallels here, such as:

1.) Both Galileo and A. Square fight against the main power of the time (the Catholic Church, and the government of Flatland)  to try and persuade people of the truth, but to little success at the beginning.

2.) In the beginning of the play, Galileo tries to teach Andrea (the newer generation) his ideas, because children seem to be much more open minded.  The same is with A. Square, his first attempt at teaching the Gospel of the Third Dimension is to his Grandson.  Fresh blood, whose mind hasn't been confined to the standards and morals of society yet.  I think this small action speaks a lot about the characters, and proves that they want to lay the foundation of these new ideas with youngsters who can bring about a new era.

There are  Many other parallels but I just thought these two were particularly important to recognize.  Any other parallels that are really important?

ashaffer's picture


I am amazed as I read Flatland that my initial reaction is to assume that the author is making a commentary on our life and society. What I mean is, upon reading his less than glowing summarization of the female form and character in Flatland, my knee-jerk reaction was to be a bit put off and offended. I automatically assumed that in describing the women in Flatland, the author was attempting to draw a broader parallel to the women in Spaceland- the “real world,” if you will. After a little reflection, I am less inclined to believe that this is the case. My reasons for changing my mind are: 1. The author directly says in the text (directed @ the reader/audience) that one in Spaceland, their society probably seems a bit mean and he personally does not ascribe to all of its rules and 2. I am considering the nature of the work→ it is meant to describe a very different world than the one in which we live. Wouldn’t it make sense for the author to describe this environment w/o purposely reflecting those descriptions into the world we know aka our women? Perhaps it’s a topic for further reflection and/or discussion…What do you think?
rm2885's picture

A Reading for a Higher* Dimension...

The world of flatland created is a Victorian society. In the two dimensional world, the different people, whom are polygons with different number of sides, were born into their classes. The social classes are based on how many sides they born with.

They are powerless to change the class statuses for the rest of their life. The higher power controls everything, and the sons of higher power, many-sides polygons, are the only ones that can evolve as many as fifty or more sides each generation. The sons of the lower class, triangles (represent workers), are at the bottom of the hierarchy. And they are only capable of evolving one and a half of a degree more each generation. Since circles are perceived as the perfect shape in the two-dimensional world. The goal is to get as many sides as possible, to get as close to a circle as possible. Thus the society is built to oppress the lower class, and serve the best interests of the higher class, by making it impossible for lower class to move up the social ladder forever. Women are of a separated category. They are only lines from the one dimensional world, therefore, they are incapable of any activity of the two dimensional world, therefore, they have no right in the two dimensional world, a world of men. They are also perceived as harmful.

The society of the two dimensional world also takes comfort in being the highest dimension, looking down on the lower dimension. They are unable to see the higher dimensions. If they are sighs said other wise, they oppress it to ensure the security and comfort of being the highest. This is also true for the lower dimensions and the higher dimensions as well. The sphere in the three dimensional world are incapable of accepting the fact that there may be a fourth dimensions.

Flatland used the mathematical idea of different dimensions to describe a world of narrowed view of human, and the social problem of classes. The author has brought the readers into a different dimension, a dimension of the math/science approach to view the social problem of the world. It’s fresh and captivating, and the message seems even clearer then the normal approach. This is an example of it’s really hard to see the truth when you are directly in it. All the ideas about truth that we have are only ideas that build upon our own understanding, understanding that build on own perception of world, not the understanding of truth itself. It just a lot easier to see what the mountain really looks like when you are not on it.

anonstudent01's picture

A. Square and A. Kauth

I think that flatland reinfornces the idea that the success of a story becoming fact is based on how many people believe your story. Galileo's was gradually accepted and now is recognized the world over as truth. A. Square's story of a 4th dimension was not accepted and threw off his life completely. His story remained only a story while Galileo's brought everyone along with it. 
The entire time I spend reading Flatland I kept thinking about how long one should hold onto their story if no one else accepts it. When A. Square went looking for converts it reminded me of the many wacky prophets of our time who have accepted a story as their own reality and want other people to accept it as well. In they succeed then the prophet's/ story teller's existence is validated, if not then they are just a lunatic living out a lie. 
How many times should you revise and re-revise your story? If your revised story is accepted by many does it still reflect your original idea or is it separate from your personal reality? 
This book was very interesting and made me consider the different levels in the universe and the possibility therefore of varying levels of truth and understanding.  
redmink's picture

Three things to point out


 Galileo and Square are comparable.  They have the icky outcome in common.  Both Square and Galileo are challenged and are forced to give up their views.  The consequences of telling their new discoveries are bizarre.  However, the motives of telling people their views are a bit different from each other.  Square is a humble professional, and is driven by his own curiosity, whereas Galileo is a selfish scientist who wants to be famous and to be remembered. 

In Flatland, I found interesting that social structures are applied to the shape (angle, length of sides, and number of sides).  The author didn't change the cliche:  the higher class it is, the more of whatever they have than others. 

As far as the illustrations here and there in the book, I would like to say they pleased me so much.  Psychologically, they comforted me who was frequently baffled at too abstract explanations about different dimensions.  I realized how visual person I was.  I desperately wished this book had been a comic book until I went through the first chapter.  However, I became grateful for the fact that I was granted an opportunity to struggle. 

Christa's picture

Flatland is story food

There are so many stories that Abbot invites when he tells his own. Once upon a time in Flatland a woman suffered from St. Vitus's dance; her parents hid her disorder for fear that the Sanitary and Social Board would have their precious daughter exterminated. They prayed to St. Vitus and the Thirteen other Holy Helpers to cure their daughter's rheumatic fits.( I had looked up St. Vitus's Dance once before as it was in the lyrics of a David Gray song and I wanted to know what it meant. It sounded mystical to me. I looked it up again when it appeared on page 11 of Flatland. For anyone who is curious and didn't get a chance to look it up, St. Vitus's Dance refers to Sydenham's Chorea, a neurobioligal disorder caused by a bacterial infection, the auto-immune response to which interferes with the part of the brain (basal ganglia) which regulates motor movements. St. Vitus was a 4th century Sicilian martyr who is the patron saint of dancers, as well as those suffering from epilepsy and nervous disorders. It is said that he is one of "Fourteen Holy Helpers," prayed to in order to cure disease. A place, like Flatland, with so many Laws is bound to produce tales of defiance. In Flatland, Priests are the arrangers of marriage; as we have learned in Spaceland, marriage is best when freely entered into. Let us see what happens in the story of an equilateral that refuses to marry the female chosen for him in pursuit of another "less respectable" female. Is he then condemned to Isoselization or can his woman be doctored into nobility in one of the questionable State hospitals of Flatland. What happens when someone discovers or authors the book entitled, "The Deisoscelization of the Self?" Is this book a hoax or does it hold the secrets to free the lowest in the caste system from their deplorable existence? Will Isoceles' gather like Christains in the catacombs gather around the word of God? Will women be at these gatherings? When will a heroine emerge from Flatland to break the spell that has convinced women they have no brains or memory? Flatland has taken me to very real places as well as it has taken me to the world of fictional tales... I had this idea...maybe, I'm not the first...probably not...I had this thought that movement is a burqua. The women of Flatland are sentenced to constant motion so they may not be invisible and thus likely fatally pierce their neighbors. Also, the women are only permitted to leave the house to attend religious festivals. They cannot hold jobs. Are they only good for procreation?
Women under Taliban Afghanistan were forced to wear burqas and faced a punishment and likely execution if they did not. I read the play "Homebody Kabul" in a college literary analysis course once. Flatland recalled this play for me and thus Abbott called to my attention the very true story of the persecution of women around the world. This led me to look up what a burqua was again...why was it again women had to wear what one woman called a "moving prison?" I was led to Wikipedia where you had the option of viewing some video footage of a woman concealed in a burqua being publicly executed in an Afghan stadium...she was a mother of five children accused of murdering her abusive husband in a sneak attack as he slept. I watched this was a terrible, gritty, and real story. I guess I am trying to answer A's question about storytelling...that yes Flatland fits into storytelling, that one story breeds another, that truth breeds fiction as well as fiction breeds truth.

BriBell's picture

  This book was a bit


This book was a bit difficult for me to get into, but once I did I found it to be extremely facinating. Truely, I am still absorbing all it had to say, but I have a few things I find to be very noteworthy.

The similarities between Flatland and Galileo are undeniable, almost to the point where I would say that this is simply Abbott's revision, rather than Brecht's, of the story of Galileo. Though obviously a much more abstract interpretation, Flatland portrays many of the same ideas.

I think that a lot of my fellow collegues have already noted the depressingly vivid degradation of women in Flatland, and I would just like to point out that Virginia in Brecht's Galileo is also portrayed as dull, unintelligent, and over emotional. Also, the whole premise of one scientific thinger seeking truth against the beliefs of the whole society he lives in is a quality that A.Square and Galileo share, except that A.Square is shown the way by the outside force which is the Sphere and is, at first, reluctant to believe these changes in perception himself, where as Galileo discovers the discrepency between common belief and the true orbit of the planets on his own, and immediately attmepts to spread the word.

In both accounts, the people of power are convinced that if such knowledge were to made known and accepted as true, the whole structure of their current society would crumble and perhaps break in to chaos - a chaos in which the individuals once held to their pre-destined social status would possibly be able to think for themselves and break out of there lowly conditions.

On of the most interesting sections of Flatland for me, I think, was the part about the Point which had no demention, no concept of anything other than himself. He is "One and All, being Nothing really" (75) I am still trying to figure out what exactly I make of this, but in some ways I see it as a statement against religion...though I'm not sure. Where he then goes on to say, "Yet make mark of his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lessonm that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotantly happy and ignorant." (75) Well, I suppose it is to do with more than religion, but any blind following, whether that be religion or government or anything else. It is interesting that when A. Square speaks to Point, Point simply believes that it is was his own thoughts that he heard, and accepts them as his own...

Anyway, this is getting a bit long winded, this was a very interesting book and I am curious to see what others have to say about it in class, as I myself am still contemplating the many levels explored.

akeefe's picture


I would like to discuss the plight of the irregulars. I could not help, but connect the rigid social structure to the church of Galileo. In both cases, those with different ideas and angles were sacrificed that the world should not “fall into barbarism”. I have recently been reading quite a bit on the science of evolution. In flatland it seems that evolution is apparent and expected within generations. The structure they have instituted, seems to stifle the group as a species. There is no hope for variation that may lead to any break into the world of Spaceland. For this, I would say that the circles are nothing more than large points, centered entirely upon their own being.

Allison Fink's picture

A Negative Story of the Universe Through a Social Lense

The social structure within Flatland seems to present a very constricting and pessimistic look at an individual’s ability to become something greater than what he or she was born into. The common masses’ hope that they could rise above their circumstances, like those few common people who eventually got accepted into a higher rank, was needed to keep them content so that those in power would not have to fear an uprising. But of course such a thing is a very rare occurrence, so most people, the author seemed to be suggesting, were sustained by nothing more than a delusion. Also, a person’s class was determined by their physical characteristics at birth, which inherently made one more intelligent the more angles one had. It was only through successive generations that isosceles triangles could gradually grow into equilateral and reach a higher social status. I wonder what the meaning of this is, since it seems to have nothing to do with our picture of how an entire species evolves at once, not parts of it evolving while there were already parts in that more highly evolved state. Also, the strange thing is that evolution in Flatland seems to be an inevitable thing that just happens in an automatic, already determined pattern, and one does not seem to control one’s own evolution.  Flatland presents a picture in which nature allows people to be happy within their own minds, but it does so by designing them so that their brains are not capable of comprehending the world. So basically, it sees society members as biological machines whose limitations are innately set- and that they may be happy but their happiness is the fulfillment of automatic processes that keeps them in their place; they cannot hope to comprehend the universe or master it, as we human beings like to believe we can.

      The view of women here is very strange. Women have power, but their power comes from their ability to hide, and they are straight lines, utterly dimensionless. They have no intelligence, but they do have emotion, such as the hot fury that drives them to unwittingly kill their husbands and children. I guess it reminds me of how in some cultures today women are restricted from showing themselves and cannot go out without a male, etc, customs which are also based on fear of the woman, just as in Flatland they fear women just based on the fact that they are women and they fear that women will also be driven out of control.  

Allison Fink's picture



merry2e's picture


“Though the crowded years go by, this nigh on seventy-year-old-tale shows no sign of age. It remains as spry as ever, a timeless classic of perennial fascination that seems to have been written for today. Like all great art, it defies the tyrant Time.” (Abbott iv)


As I read Flatlands, I contemplated the meaning of this passage. Is it a positive or negative that it “seems to have been written for today?” And if this is the case, have we come very far over the last seventy years as a society? Did the students, the women of Bryn Mawr sit around the table discussing the consequences of the words put on paper in Flatlands seventy years ago? And if so, what conclusions did they arrive at? Are we, as women, suppose to be merely straight lines, moving in just the right way as to not upset or “instill” fear into the opposite sex? Does this fear not lie within them to begin with?


My brain has been swimming since last meeting….I keep thinking about the consequences of our words…something I heard in class on Tuesday…and while we are students we do not have consequences for our words/   Hmmmm…..I know for me, there are consequences for my thoughts, what I say, and my actions. And it is my responsibility as a woman who has many sisters in countries around the world who are killed, mutilated, raped, or tortured, only because they are a woman, to understand that it is my RESPONSIBILTY to take my education seriously. I do not only go to college for myself, but for my children and for the millions of women around the world who will never have the opportunity to do so.  I personally do not feel as though there is no responsibility being a student…quite the opposite. I could leave my work at work. I take my college career seriously and it is with me day and night. I do not just leave it the end of the work day. I, also, being a Bryn Mawr student, take the honor code very seriously….one other reason to think about the consequences of our words and actions.


I hope not to offend but needed to share my experience.

Madi's picture

There were many

There were many similarities to Brecht's Galileo that struck me while reading Flatland. One was the reliance on order. In Galileo, the church wants to maintain a very specific order. In Flatland, there is an extremely rigid order to life. Circles are better than hexagons which are better than squares which are better than triangles. Another thing was a theme of self-importance. In Galileo, the people want to believe that God's eye is on them, that they are the center of the universe. In Flatland, each dimension of existence cannot conceive of a higher dimension. Points, for instance, think that they are the universe. Lines think that length is the universe. Polygons only see in length and width. Even the endings of Galileo and Flatland are very similar. Galileo ends up imprisoned because he tried to tell people that the earth revolved around the sun. The square is imprisoned because he tried to tell people that there was another dimension, Spaceland. They're both locked up because they tried to undermine the set order and open people's minds.

calypsse's picture


first I have to say how surprised I am that I actually had fun reading this story, I even laughed with it. It's incredebly smart and full of irony. There is a connection to Galileo, we see someone who for the first time sees that the known world is kind of inacurate, and we have the contrast of what would have happened if Galileo would have gone against the Church's claims, his knowledge lost to us and his later proposals would have never taken place. At least Galileo had the help and complicity of his daughter, but the Square didn't have that luxury, even his brother could not believe his story. The Square is left alone and discouraged to prove his experience. 

I also noted a relation with a Brave New World in terms of the society in Flatland, even a bit of Gattaca, although deliciously misogynist. And the humbleness of the Square and how he addressed the reader reminded me a little to Alexander DeLarge, with the difference that the Square is not trying to manipulate but to ilustrate. Another thing that catched my attention was that just like in the fairytales, we see that physical imperfection is a synonym of evil.

jforde's picture

Flatland and Galileo

Flatland and Galileo both have common themes of a higher power having complete control and being ignorant. In Galileo, the church and the government were closely connected and so were the scholars. The church could prosecute anyone for blasphemy and controlled what the scholars researched through finance. Thus, new ideas that went against the norm were rejected.

Flatland shows a higher power through the monarchy and the social hierarchy. Similarly to Galileo, the priestly order is the highest social class in Flatland. The In the square's dream, he tries to convince the king of Lineland that other universes exist. However, the king is determined that only lineland exisits. When the square mentions the word "feeling," the king tells him that feeling is punishable by death. It's ironic that the square is able to think outside of his own box while the line that is not enclosed can't.

hannahpayne's picture

In "Flatland" the main

In "Flatland" the main purpose is to try to expand your thinking. We live in a world that we think is the only way we cannot imagine a world that has another dimension. It is always hard to imagine the world as something different from our perception of it, even if it isn't as drastic as a new dimension. Even if someone views a situation in a different way it is sometimes hard to accept because we are so set in our ways. It is difficult to abandon your ideas of the way of life and your surroundings and pick up something completely new. This makes people feel really uncomfortable because they like to think that they are right and the way they see the world is the way everyone sees the world. With "Flatland" Square is introduced to many different worlds that have no concept of the other worlds and no way to understand them. What I believe this book is saying is that you have to be patient when explaining a different view of the world but also be open to new ideas and theories because otherwise we will be stuck as a single point only listening to ourselves and not taking any input from anyone else, we will be living below our potential.
ErinDoppelheuer's picture

Who will you beleive?

Galileo revised his story for the purpose of people beleive him and following his ideas.  In Flatland, when A. Square has his dram about Lineland, he is constantly trying to convince the Master of the Kingdom that Lineland isnt the only place in the entire Space.  He also tell the Master of the Kingdom that point just a point or lines of different sizes is crazy and that not being able to move left and right is ridiculous.  A. Square is constantly trying ton convive the the Master of Lineland that he is a more upgraded form and that his world (Lineland) is basically useless.  The Master of Lineland gets upset and threatens A. Square.  When A. Square meets Sphere, Sphere takes him to Space and Sphere tries to constantly convice A. Square that Space is the better place and that Flatland is a dull and useless place in comparisson.  A. Square refuses to beleive everything that Sphere is saying up until the very end.  A .Square then goes back to Flatland and tries to convert everyone to the idea of what Sphere told him and his people refuse to beleive him.  This is very similar to the dream he had about Lineland.  In the end, it is all about the people who beleive you and will follow your ideas.

carterian's picture

The essay that I wrote

The essay that I wrote about Galileo basically stated that the motive behind all of revisions really has to do with how many people will believe you.

I think that Flatland goes along with this idea pretty well. Specifically, the ending, in which A.Sqaure continually tries to find converts. But what makes his story so interesting is that he himself was so disbelieving initially. So, what does that mean for everyone else? How is he expected to convert everyone else's idea of dimension when they don't have a sphere to show them.

I also noted a definite similarity between Galileo and A. Square. Both were imprisoned for the last seven years of their lives. Both were in the minority of their beliefs and fought the power. Now, who in their right mind would want to mess up their lives for what they believe to be a truth?

I think that it has to do with self-justification. It has to do with how many people can you get to believe you. With that you have a following, with that you have people in your grasp. This certainly, may not be, the conscious meaning, but buried within the mind. When A. Sqaure so clearly failed at converting anyone he still tried and tried, fruitlessly. He was trying to find meaning for himself by revision.