Flatland vs. Modern Culture

Have You Come a Long Way Baby?

The treatment of women and the handicapped in the modern world has changed
little, as illustrated by Edwin A. Abbott’s book Flatland, which was written as a social
satire over one hundred years ago. Physically life in Flatland differs greatly from our own,
but socially many similarities are evident between the two worlds.
According to the politics of Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland women are regarded as
“inferior” (12). In Despite of few distinguishing physical characteristics to discriminate
against, from a Flatlanders point of view, women are considered the frailer sex. Inferiority
is determined by the intellect of the female in relation to male. Since educational
opportunities for women do not exist in Flatland, it is not difficult to refuse rights to those
who are unaware that they have rights. The frailer sex must constantly make its
appearance known in public because of the lethal capabilities they possess. The capacity
to inflict such harm has prompted the powerful male upper classes to limit the
opportunities of the inferior gender. When opportunities arise that decrease the barrier
such as the passing of the Colour Bill, they are quickly stifled to maintain the balance of
power that has been established. Indicated here by the Chief Circle “... if the Colour Bill
passed, ... fraud, deception, and hypocrisy would pervade every household.... ‘Sooner than
this,’ He cried, ‘Come death.” (33). This Anti-suffrage speech indicates that the Chief
Circle would rather perish than share rights with a woman. It is incomprehensible to most
men in this society to believe an educated woman may be just as capable as they
themselves are.
The situation described in Flatland sounds very bleak, but until recently similar
conditions existed in the United States, and though progress has been made still do exist.
Very much like Flatland women were also kept from getting an education, and to some
extent are still expected to take on traditionally female roles such as nursing and child care
when entering into schools. It was very important to keep females out of the classroom
for the same reasons given in Flatland. Women were dangerous to men’s jobs and egos,
and also would harm the “domestic bliss” that women had to work so hard to maintain.
Today women are striving for equal rights but many have realized that they are still not
making the progress they should be, women are finding a glass ceiling in many corporate
work environments. The glass ceiling refers to the inability of women to find top positions
in corporations many are found in the upper level of a business but are very rarely in
control. American women were also not given the right to vote until the late twenty’s this
is relatively recent and were only given the right on the assumption that their husbands had
control over who they cast their vote for.
Similarities also occur in the treatment of the handicapped. In Flatland irregular
sides and angles are considered handicaps. The children born with these defects will be
unable to live a normal life, they will be less intelligent and looked down upon by society.
Children born with defects are immediately destroyed so that the community will not have
to deal with the problems of a handicapped child and to keep the risk of having more
handicapped children low. To some families in Flatland a child with an insufficient number
of sides may be considered handicapped, many of these children were sent to have their
sides broken in order to double the number of sides they have, although this process was
risky many Flatlanders felt it was the only acceptable option “... a glad procession bears
back the little one to his exultant parents, no longer a polygon ... at least by courtesy...”
(36). This statement shows that appearances are everything in this society though the
child may not have the development of a circle he will be perceived as one.
In modern society the handicapped are often thought of as a burden rather than a
needy human being. Tests now show if a child will be handicapped even before birth so
the decision to carry out the pregnancy may be made then, still handicapped children are
often abandoned or sent to institutions to be cared for. The termination of a pregnancy on
account of a handicapped child may be compared to the destruction of any irregular
children born to Flatland parents. Appearances of “irregular” human children are also very