Edwin A. Abbott

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Flatland: Frame Story 1 key example

Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Framing Flatland:

In Flatland the author constructs the narrative of A Square’s journey within a frame story, with the protagonist, A Square recounting his experiences in “the World of Space” from a miserable existence in prison:

It is high time that I should pass from these brief and discursive notes about things in Flatland to the central event of this book, my initiation into the mysteries of Space. That is my subject; all that has gone before is merely preface.

The reader is unaware of A Square’s unhappy present position in the beginning of the story. However, they do know that the events they are reading about have already happened to him, as they are written in the first person and in past tense. In this passage, A Square is moving the reader on from his initial explanations about the rules and quirks of Flatland itself, and into the section where he discusses his time with The Sphere. When he describes the earlier parts of the book as "merely preface," A Square focuses the reader’s attention on the events to come. This narrative approach creates a sense of intimacy. The reader is assumed to understand everything A Square has explained, and to be ready to hear the rest of his tale armed with this new knowledge.

The use of the frame story also lends a sense of foreshadowing to the novel. Although A Square is narrating a huge amount of exciting and revolutionary discoveries to the reader, it’s also clear from the “preface” of “all that has gone before” that Flatland actually hasn’t changed at all as a result of his adventure. A Square’s position as a narrator recounting events from an unknown future tinges the story with a sense of the inevitable. This foreshadowing comes to full fruition when the reader learns the dire consequences faced by the “heretical” Square when he tries to tell the other Shapes about what he has learned. Because of this, Flatland’s frame story isn’t just a narrative device: it’s also a commentary on the challenges of introducing new ideas to resistant people.