Pre-Flight (Before You Read) for
by Glen Draeger
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My Dearest Inhabitants of the Supposed 3rd Dimension,
Greetings from Flatland. I hope your visit to my country will be most enjoyable. I must, of course, tell you that I don’t really believe in the existence of the 3rd dimension. I’ve never seen it or met anyone who could prove they were from the 3rd dimension and hence, I don’t believe that any of you exist, at least not as three dimensional beings. I’ve never seen any of you. Have any of you ever talked to me or even sent me an email? Would the latter prove anything? So, until I actually see you before me in all your 3 dimensional glory I will consider this an exercise to humor your 2 dimensional creators who think that they can fool an old and wise polygon like myself.
So, now that you know where I stand (not literally, of course, since no one can “stand” in Flatland) I have a few things to tell you that will help you appreciate your visit to my wonderful country.
Flatland Facts and Points of Interest
Edwin A. Abbott(1838-1926) was an English writer, scholar, educator and theologian. He wrote Flatland in 1884. He received a degree in divinity from St. John's College, Cambridge and wrote many other books. Flatland is his most famous work.
Flatland was written during the Victorian era (Queen Victoria reigned in England from 1837 to 1901). Victorian literature was written during this period and includes writers such as Browning, Tennyson, George Eliot, Dickens and Hardy.
Flatland is considered a satire. What is satire? The dictionary defines it as: “A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.” What does that mean?
In “The Nature and Value of Satire” by Edgar Johnson (This is the introductory essay in his book A Treasury of Satire) he writes that the first ingredient in satire is criticism, but not just criticism. It must be, he says, “criticism with a difference.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. What is the difference that makes criticism satire? There are two things that Johnson asserts.
The first is what he calls “unmasking.” Satire takes the mask off something and exposes it for what it really is—but it does it with style. For instance, soldiers once wrote a little ditty about their love of Army coffee:
The coffee in the Army
Is very, very fine:
It’s good for cuts and bruises
And it tastes like iodine.
Or how about Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, when he wrote, “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you would hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.” Here are two criticisms, both funny, the former directly criticizes bad tasting coffee and the latter indirectly criticizes human cruelty.
The second ingredient is the ability to “overcome the Censor.” The Censor is any number of things. It may be the government in a repressive country or the culture in a free one. It may be political parties or the ideals of the business world. It may be fashions of dress or predominant tastes in movies or television. It is that thing that says you must think this way, you must act this way, you must like this, you must accept this. It’s The Matrix. Satire evaluates the world we live in and criticizes those aspects that need to be changed often without the Censor even knowing that it is being criticized. A lady once complained to Samuel Johnson that she could not explain how her fingernails got dirty to which he replied, “Perhaps, Madam, you scratch yourself.” He was using satire to tell this woman that though her body was physically clean her character was not.
The most important ingredients of satire, says Edgar Johnson, are truth and sanity. “The great satirist,” he writes, “sees straight, he sees far, and he sees deep. That is what makes him great.”
As you are reading Flatland, “What is it that Abbott is criticizing?” Don’t simply look at the lines, triangles, squares and polygons—look behind them or, as A. Square said, “Upward, not Northward.”
A book like Flatland can and should be enjoyed as a story about lines, triangles, squares and polygons, but it can also be enjoyed for its satire, for its deeper meanings beyond the literal aspects of the story.
See you (if you truly exist) in Flatland,
The Mighty Polygon(a.k.a. Mr. Draeger)
©2005-2013 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit