The Flatlanders stopped rebellion by promoting some of the rebels. This, in turn, created hope in those who were not promoted with the idea that maybe someday they would be. This is often the same thing that keeps people playing the lottery in many states. Why play when the real chance of winning is 5,000,000 or more to 1? Part of the argument is that someone has to win and it just might be me. It was that kind of irrational hope that kept the poorer classes in Flatland down where they had always been.
In Flatland sight recognition not only had to be studied by the upper classes to get good at it, but they also needed a lot of experience. When is experience necessary and when is it not? When should you listen to someone else's experience so that you have no need to experience it yourself and when should you only trust your own experience? There is a passage from Ralph Ellison's excellent novel Invisible Man (I'll be adding this novel to site sometime in the future) that relates here:
“How long you been doing this?”
“Long enough to know what I’m doin’,” he said. “And I learned it without all that education that them what’s been sent down here is supposed to have. I learned it by doin’ it. Them personnel fellows don’t want to face the facts, but Liberty Paints wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel if they didn’t have me here to see that it got a good, strong base.”
“It’s just that I been ‘round here so long. I been studying this machinery for over twenty-five years. Sure! And that fellow thinkin’ ‘cause he been to some school and learned how to read a blueprint and how to fire a boiler he knows more about this plant than Lucius Brockway. That fool couldn’t make no engineer ‘cause he can’t see what’s starin’ him straight in the face.”
Lucius Brockway has a very high opinion of experience!
In the passage (page 131) where A. Square finally goes to Spaceland he is horrified at first. He says, "This is either madness or Hell." The Sphere says it is "Knowledge, it is Three Dimensions: open your eye once again and try to look steadily." Knowledge can bring a "loss of innocence" a phrase often associated with passing from childhood to adulthood. Knowledge of war, the holocaust, American slavery and evil in general can be a depressing revelation. In the movie, The Matrix, when Neo is extracted from his cell into the real world that knowledge was difficult for him to handle. He also realizes that he can't go back. In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve it is interesting to note the name of the tree they were not supposed to eat from: "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The knowledge forbidden was not just that of evil, but of good too. Why not just evil? Is knowledge a dangerous thing? Does one have to be careful with knowledge?
The Sphere's admonition to A. Square when considering the point in Pointland is to
mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy.
What does it mean to be "impotently happy?" Ignorance may be bliss as the saying goes, but it is better to aspire for something beyond ourselves than to be so completely self-absorbed that own ignorance is unknown to us. In conjunction with this the Sphere also tells A. Square that omnividence is important only as it makes you "more just, more merciful, less selfish, more loving." He likens those qualities to divinity (God).
A key passage in the book is in the preface that A. Square writes. At the end of page 29 he
begs his readers not to suppose that every minute detail in the daily life of Flatland must needs correspond to some other detail in Spaceland . . .
Abbott had a degree in divinity and one of the reasons why Abbott was writing this book was as a criticism of analogy and the analogous argument for God. That argument, briefly stated, is that since it appears that someone designed the world it must therefore have a designer and that designer is God. Abbott believed this argument was weak and that it would not help the theists, in fact he believed it would be detrimental. Undertand, Abbott believed in God, but he thought that this argument was so weak that it would help atheists more than theists. He tries to show the weakness of analogy when A. Square proposes that since there is a third dimension there must also be a fourth and since a fourth, a fifth and so on. He is arguing that this is not necessarily so and that to make those assumptions is illogical.
In that same passage he writes of those things that lie "beyond experience" that it is better to decline to say "on the one hand, 'This can never be,' and on the the other hand, "It must needs be precisely thus, and we know all about it.'" It is the difference between dogmatism and skepticism. In those things that cannot be scientifically proven Abbott appears to be saying that a middle ground between these two is the place one should be. That is, it is better to be somewhere between, "This is exactly the way it is and I know it" and "There is just no way to know anything." Abbott proposes balance and moderation.
Too, one could say that Flatland is about the inability to get beyond our "respective Dimensional prejudices." That is, we have all been raised in certain ways, we all have different experiences and it is, in a sense, a prejudice to suppose that our own experience of life is more authentic than someone else's whose might be different. On page 100 A. Square talks about the difficulty of speaking to the king because the "Monarch [in Lineland] could not refrain from constantly assuming that whatever was familiar to him must also be known to me . . ."
Was Abbott a sexist? I don't think so. He used satire to criticize his own time (i.e. the Victorian age).
What does "Upward, not Northward" mean? It has been suggested by critics of Flatland that what Abbott is really saying here is "Inward," which is why A. Square upon seeing that "Upward, not Northward" does not convince other Flatlanders of the existence of the 3rd dimension names his treatise, "Through Flatland to Thoughtland."
Why does A. Square end up in prison and why does Abbott end the book that way? On one level this is Flatland society's inability to tolerate another viewpoint. On another level, that suggested by three critics(Jonathan Smith, Lawrence I. Berkove and Gerald A. Baker), this is what A. Square deserves for his "imaginative excesses," for carrying out analogy too far.