Flatland

Flatland Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The terrified A Square first perceives darkness and is initially confused at seeing everything in three dimensions. The Sphere calms him by telling him that what he sees is “knowledge.” A Square then realizes that he is in a new world (called Spaceland), and begins to comprehend its beauty. He starts to worship the Sphere as his divine teacher.
Light commonly represents knowledge and darkness ignorance, but in this case, A Square’s ascent into Spaceland begins with a veil of darkness. Here, darkness represents the mysteries of higher dimensions, which are at first inscrutable. Note how A Square immediately conflates new knowledge with the divine.
Themes
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
The Sphere shows A Square the whole layout of Flatland and the inside of his house, where his grandsons are sleeping and his Wife is pacing the room in worry (illustration included). After they explore Flatland some more, A Square then expresses that he feels like he has “become as a God” because omnividence (the ability to see all things) is an attribute of God alone.
Recall that in Flatland, no one can “see” anything except lines, but the higher classes infer shape through sight recognition. Thus, sight and, by extensive, omnividence are faculties exclusive to god-like figures. This is how the Circles/Priests claim power, by restricting education and knowledge.
Themes
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
The Sphere scorns A Square for his shortsightedness, and argues that if omnividence is really a quality of the divine, then the pick-pockets and murderers of his country should be worshipped as gods by Flatlanders since they see everything, too. He asserts that omnividence does not make one more just, merciful, selfless, or loving. Thus, it does not make one divine.
The Sphere claims that the attributes of God include justice, mercy, and love—attributes that seem more “emotional” than “rational.” In fact, the reason-obsessed Flatlanders would be more likely to worship the criminals of Spaceland. Thus, Abbott critiques the sexism of Flatland (and England) while also asserting that knowledge alone does not bring true enlightenment—that requires wisdom and virtue as well.
Themes
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
A Square is confused by his teacher’s words, because he believes that being more merciful and more loving are the qualities of women. On the contrary, the wise men of Flatland regard knowledge and reason with more esteem than affection. The Sphere retorts by saying that the wisest in Spaceland are more in touch with emotion than reason, unlike the Flatlanders. But he cuts off this discussion, and points to the General Assembly Hall of the States of Flatland.
Although Abbott speaks through A Square throughout Flatland, in this case, he also speaks through the Sphere, who values emotions as much as reason, if not more. Not only does he claim that some of the wiser men in Spaceland are very much emotional beings, but he also points out the importance of emotion in religion.
Themes
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
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A Square and the Sphere descend into the building. It is the first hour of the first day of the year 2000, and the Circles are gathered for a meeting. A Square recognizes his Brother at the meeting, which is held every millennium to conduct trials on misguided persons who claim to have received revelations of other worlds. Any figure found guilty is to be arrested for eternity or put to death.
The Circles are afraid of any figures who claim to enlighten other Flatlanders with revelations from other worlds, particularly because this would threaten their hold on power by presenting a force (higher dimensions, for example) that is greater than they are.
Themes
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
A Square declares that he is confident that he can enlighten the Circles. However, the Sphere stops him and descends himself into the meeting room, proclaiming the existence of a land of Three Dimensions. The Sphere leaves the room before he is arrested, and instead A Square’s Brother is condemned to eternal imprisonment for having witnessed the Sphere’s revelation.
While A Square’s enthusiasm is commendable, Abbott warns against rash action. The Circles’ stronghold on power should not be taken lightly. Their crackdown on anything that threatens their authority is evident from the imprisonment of A Square’s brother, who only witnessed the Sphere’s revelation.
Themes
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon