Flatland

Words Symbol Icon

Also mentioned as language. Throughout the book, the characters who are teaching their respective pupils, such as the Sphere with A Square and A Square with the Monarch of Lineland, find it difficult to convey the concept of a higher dimension using only words. In that sense, words symbolize the limits of understanding abstract knowledge, like that of extra dimensions or of divinity itself. Therefore, eventually, these “teachers” resort to using deeds and action in order to persuade their students. A Square physically moves in and out of the line that the Monarch believes is his entire world. The Sphere also moves in and out of Flatland. He even physically pulls A Square out into Spaceland.

What should be made clear is Abbott’s intention in pointing out the insufficiency of words. After all, his own work predominately relies on words—literally—and it depends on the function of language and rhetoric to convey his satire of Victorian Britain. Thus, it must seem almost contradictory and self-defeating to suggest the deficiency of words. But, consider the purpose of both Abbott and A Square in writing Flatland, which is to incite their readers to adopt a spirit of rebellion against oppression and to seek higher knowledge. Both are specifically interested in inspiring action, and not simply educating their readers. Therefore, it may be more helpful to view the limitation of words not as a way of undervaluing their function, but highlighting that they may not be enough to effect change. In the same way that Flatland and A Square’s own treatise include diagrams and illustrations to communicate their message, the authors and readers alike must take an active role beyond writing in noticing and resisting oppression.

Words Quotes in Flatland

The Flatland quotes below all refer to the symbol of Words. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Flatland published in 1992.
Chapter 20 Quotes

It was not so clear as I could have wished; but I remembered that it must be “Upward, and yet not Northward,” and I determined steadfastly to retain these words as the clue which, if firmly grasped, could not fail to guide me to the solution.

Related Characters: A Square (speaker)
Related Symbols: Words
Page Number: Page 75
Explanation and Analysis:
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Words Symbol Timeline in Flatland

The timeline below shows where the symbol Words appears in Flatland. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 14
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...women on his right. Yet the Monarch does not understand A Square’s use of the words “left” and “right,” and confuses them for “northward” and “southward.” (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...and “right.” But A Square feels limited when he tries to explain them only with words, so he decides to literally move in and out of Lineland. A diagram illustrates his... (full context)
Chapter 16
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...dimensions. He speaks of height, breadth, and length, but A Square does not understand these words. The Stranger tries to prove the third dimension by stating that he has seen the... (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...A Square asks the Stranger to measure his “height.” The Stranger decides to use plain words and a visual example to convince his pupil. He argues that Flatland is a plane... (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
The Sphere makes an analogy between the way A Square appears as a line to the Monarch of Lineland and... (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...to be a mystical sorcerer. After a moment of silence, the Sphere decides to use analogy as the last resort before convincing A Square through action. (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...upward parallel to itself. A Square, frustrated, becomes impatient, because he does not understand the word “upward.” (full context)
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
The Sphere claims that he can describe the word “upward” with Flatland language, and proceeds to present another analogy. He begins with a single... (full context)
Chapter 17
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...spread the Gospel of the Three Dimensions, the Sphere decides to use deeds instead of words to make his point. He tells A Square that he will descend into a cupboard... (full context)
Chapter 18
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.... (full context)
Chapter 19
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...and perspective, so he introduces A Square to the cube, a living being. After detailed explanation and tactile demonstrations, the concept is clear to A Square. (full context)
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...considered a fourth dimension, but have not adopted an official theory. Therefore, he ends the discussion. But A Square continues to theorize higher worlds, even those of five, six, seven, and... (full context)
Chapter 20
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Religion, Divinity, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...to make him realize his insignificance in the world. But the Point takes A Square’s words to be his own, and is awed at his “own” thinking. (full context)
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
Analogy as Satire Theme Icon
...mysteries, and then teaches A Square how to construct extra-solids and double extra-solids, according to analogy. (full context)
Chapter 21
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
...A Square’s pentagonal sons are already too loyal to the Circles to take A Square’s words seriously without handing him over to the Circles. (full context)
Social Hierarchy and Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge and Truth vs. Dogma Theme Icon
...had been thinking the other day concerning three-to-the-third. The Grandson does not take A Square’s words seriously, assumes A Square is joking, and runs out of the room. (full context)