A Square discusses the doctrine of the Circles, which is concisely expressed by the axiom “Attend to your Configuration.” Their teaching strives for individual and collective improvement towards the most desired configuration, that is, of the Circles. They reject the values of will, effort, and praise, and contend that configuration dictates how a figure behaves. Thus, irregularity is considered a disease that must be cured lest one be imprisoned or executed.
The way the Circles preach against personal improvement and hard work allegorizes the Anglican Church’s teachings of respecting ecclesiastical authority over individual spirituality. Thus, they limit the self-expression and exploration that is potentially threatening to their hold on power.
Pantocyclus attributed any faults or deviations from normal social conduct to irregularity. Thus, he concluded that praise and blame are meaningless gestures. However, A Square points out the downsides to the indisputable doctrine. In the case of an Isosceles triangle guilty of stealing, the penalty of death is easily sentenced, since he could not help but steal because of his natural lowliness. On the other hand, in minor domestic cases where execution is unnecessary, such as with the disobedience of A Square’s grandsons, blame is evaded and instead put on configuration.
Abbott illustrates that there are unexpected consequences that arise when those in power try to enforce absurd rules in order to preserve their authority. Because irregularity was dictated as a natural product, it allowed blame to be put on Nature, instead of the criminals and their own lack of a moral conscience. This is the beauty of a satire, which strives to point out the horrifying effects of whatever it chooses to criticize. For Abbott, this is the Victorian social hierarchy and the often absurd ideas underpinning it.
Despite the doctrine’s teaching, A Square confesses that he sees the value of scolding and disciplining on his Grandson’s configuration, although he cannot explain why he thinks that it is so. A Square mentions that he is not the only one who believes in discipline, and says that even Circles use praise and blame towards other figures and even their own children.
Despite the Circles’ insistence on irregularity as being an inevitable determinant on behavior, they still use praise and blame, highlighting how arbitrary and absurd their teachings are. This shows that one must question why certain social mores and values are established, since some are clearly in place simply in the interests of the ruling class.
A Square describes how the Circles’ emphasis on configuration has reversed the relational arrangement between parents and children. In contrast to Spaceland, where children are taught to respect their parents, Flatland parents must honor their sons and grandsons. Therefore, a man must prioritize the interests of posterity above his own.
Notice the humorously ridiculous effect the Circles’ emphasis on configuration has on the relations between parents and children. Clearly, this doctrine has been established solely to conserve the power of the Circles.
After humbling himself and his square status, A Square indicates what he believes is the weak point of the Circles’ system: their relations with women. Following the doctrine of regular configuration, irregular births are highly discouraged. In a similar manner, women who have any ancestral history of irregularity are unfit for marriage.
The way in which women in Flatland are treated is appalling. They have little to no social agency and are considered the most irrational beings. And in the scheme of marriage, they must be carefully checked for irregularities in their ancestry.
Since women are only straight lines, their irregularities are instead documented by detailed pedigrees that are recorded by the State. Only women with certified pedigrees are allowed to marry. Thus, A Square entertains the fact that it might be supposed that Circles would be careful in choosing a wife. On the contrary, the Circles do not stress the regularity of their wives. Instead, those of the lower classes who are desperate to climb the social ladder through their sons take more care into taking Regular wives.
The fact that the Circles do not put much care in choosing wives shows how much they enjoy the fruits of being associated with the highest class of Flatland society. On the other hand, figures from the lower classes can only rise in social status through their children, so they cannot afford to ignore the ancestral histories of their potential wives.
Despite the fact that such careless marriages of Circles can result in a decrease in the number of sides or even be simply barren, the Circles do not give much thought to this, since the loss of a few sides is not very noticeable and can be compensated at the Neo-Therapeutic Gymnasium. Yet A Square warns that if this does not stop, the circular race may cease, and Flatland will no longer exist.
Note the sarcastic tone of A Square when he expresses concern for the future of the Priest class. While the lower classes stick strictly to system’s rules, the Circles are free to marry women with a history of irregularity, since they already possess so much power.
A Square offers an additional warning, one relating to the relations between men and women. Three hundred years ago, the Chief Circle declared that women should not be treated as rational, since they lack Reason and are more emotional. From then on, women were no longer provided education.
It is obvious to see what Flatland esteems between reason and emotion. Women are considered to lean 100% towards emotion, entirely gendering this crucial aspect of human experience. However, Abbott suggests that the blind valuing of reason over emotion is also dangerous.
A Square fears that this program of educational negligence of females is harmful to the Male Sex, since men must live bi-lingual lives and use a different vocabulary in the presence of women. He thus makes an appeal to the statesmen of Flatland to reconsider female education in order to lessen the burden on the young, who have to unlearn the language of their mothers and learn the male language of science.
Again, Abbott’s biting humor is evident. A Square is not concerned about the well being of women, but instead argues for their education in the interests of the male sex. The regulation of knowledge is intricately manipulated here in order to keep the women ignorant and submissive to men.