Flatland and Poe

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January 27, 2012 by Tiffany A. Robbins

I got a little tablet off of a coworker recently and I’ve been exploring the world of free downloadable books. I’ve always wanted to delve deeper into some of the “classics” and I’m using this as an opportunity to explore some of them. One of the books I’ve been most excited about cracking open was Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. I’m about a third of the way through the book now and I am blown away by the obvious civil rights undertones of the book. I’ve never spent any time researching the author or his motives in writing the book so I’m unaware of his intention. I mostly admire his ability to write something that is so applicable to generations 128 years into the future.

The social commentary is as true and precise as any I can imagine being written even by modern authors with full knowledge of our current and past civil rights battles. I firmly believe this book should be taught in schools right now as the potential for lively discussion amongst students makes me envious of every interesting literature teacher out there who would indulge their students in such a debate. If I were a teacher (which has often been my desire), this book would almost be enough to make me put aside my love for mathematics (which are also indulged in this book-obviously) and replace it with a study of literature.

I wanted to share an excerpt that I read last night, which made me want to share this masterpiece with you all:

“Doubtless, the life of an Irregular is hard; but the interests of the Greater Number require that it shall be hard. If a man with a triangular front and a polygonal back were allowed to exist and to propagate a still more Irregular posterity, what would become of the arts of life? Are the houses and doors and churches in Flatland to be altered in order to accommodate such monsters? Are our ticket-collectors to be required to measure every man’s perimeter before they allow him to enter a theatre, or to take his place in a lecture room? Is an Irregular to be exempted from the militia? And if not, how is he to be prevented from carrying desolation into the ranks of his comrades? Again, what irresistible temptations to fraudulent impostures must needs beset such a creature! How easy for him to enter a shop with his polygonal front foremost, and to order goods to any extent from a confiding tradesman! Let the advocates of a falsely called Philanthropy plead as they may for the abrogation of the Irregular Penal Laws, I for my part have never known an Irregular who was not also what Nature evidently intended him to be—a hypocrite, a misanthropist, and, up to the limits of his power, a perpetrator of all manner of mischief.”

In the chapter which this excerpt is take from, the author is writing about irregular shapes in his world and about how they are nearly outlawed. Often they are killed or imprisoned as a mercy because there is no place for them in such a world. Early in the book, I was floored by the world’s treatment of women (straight lines) as barbaric. Once I came to this chapter on the irregular shapes, I was overwhelmed by the commentary on the irregulars or those who don’t mesh with society’s norm. Of course, when look at on the surface (pun intended), the two-dimensional world’s treatment of their women, acute triangles, and irregular shapes is in actuality very wise as these ones possess a physical danger to others in their world; however, when these principles are applied to our own three-dimensional world, then the true morality of such treatment is manifest.

I’m sure as I read the rest of this wonderful book, I’ll have more insight or revelations to share with you. At the least, I’ll write my final review when I’m finished with it.

Also, after some recent Edgar Allan Poe talk with a friend, I had to go back and read The Masque of the Red Death last night. Such a beautiful work of art! Now, I just have to hunt down Annabel Lee and I’ll have my Poe satisfaction.


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