Flatland Essay Assignment

Your First Literary Analysis for AP Lit!
Flatland Resource Page

Our summer essay is, of course, on Abbott’s Flatland!  It’s a brief paper, but this is a bigger challenge than it at first appears. A short paper gives you no room to breathe; everything should be pointed and relevant! And, counter to your intuition, you should write more specifically about one idea of the novel rather than talk in broad strokes about the whole thing!

Your complete draft is due to your Google Drive folder and to the Moodle Prologue Workshop by the first day of school!

Should you use the Chisnell.com forums to pose questions, parts of your drafts, etc.?  Of course!

Purpose:Follow one of the first prompts below.
Length:2-3 typed MLA-format pages
Audience:Someone who has read the novel.
Form:Literary Analysis Essay
Due:September 4 (midnight) to Google Drive folder and Moodle Prologue Workshop

The Prompts.

Choose one!


Prompt One:  Abbott uses allusion on his original title page, in his preface to the second edition, and on the title page for Parts I & II of the novel.  Discuss the meaning of one of Abbott’s references and its importance to establishing the theme of the novel.

Prompt Two: Abbott works to promote credibility over credulity.  Illustrate how Abbott’s descriptions of the two-dimensional universe in the novel work toward achieving this goal.  (CAUTION:  Note your definitions of the two contradictory philosophies carefully! This is a tough prompt!)

Prompt Three:  Describe the effectiveness of Abbott’s use of satire in the novel, noting in particular at least one of these elements:  tone, language choice, symbol, irony.


Prompt Four:   Abbott uses allegory to achieve a level of meaning more far-reaching than the prosaic romance he labels it.  Forward one potential allegorical interpretation of the novel and support its validity.

Prompt Five: Abbott calls Flatland “a romance of many dimensions.”  In one sense, the symbols in the novel have a multi-vocal aspect, speaking more than one meaning at a time.  Choose one symbol from the novel to explain its many-dimensional meanings.


The Steps!

  • Read and annotate the novel
  • Draft a thesis based on a prompt and get feedback
  • Attend the summer Flatland workshop, if you can!
  • Build middle sections based on interpretation and get feedback
  • Speculate further in a conclusion and format using MLA guidelines
  • Revise the draft for detail, textual evidence, and explanation
  • Revise the draft for clarity and coherence
  • Revise the draft for tightness of wording, cutting waste
  • Submit to Moodle and Google Drive by the first day of school

Thesis Sentences

Bad ones and better ones

Flatland is a novel which is a satire of Victorian England.  (yick)

Abbott’s satire of Victorian England in the novel is effective because of irony.  (vague, but approaching clarity)

Square’s ironic view of women in Flatland works to satirize Victorian attitudes even while perpetuating them.  (Better!)

Middle Paragraphs

Square really believes that women are inferior.  He says that they are prone to insane fits of violence and are not very smart.  This is a satire of Victorian England because they believed the same thing (well, not the violence part).  So it’s ironic that these comments are spoken by the hero of the story even though they are insults against Victorians.  What I mean is, readers think the idea of dumb women is an insult and therefore see that it’s what the Victorians believed, too. Therefore, it’s a satire of Victorians. Even so, would Victorians notice it? Does satire work if the readers don’t see it?  Did the Victorians accept the idea of dumb women because Square is the logical hero?

Perhaps some good ideas here, but no textual support.

* * * * *

Square thinks that women are inferior which is an insult to Victorians.

For as they have no pretensions to an angle, being inferior in this respect to the very lowest of the Isosceles, they are consequently wholly devoid of brain-power, and have neither reflection, judgment nor forethought, and hardly any memory (50).

Later, he says that “’Once a Woman, always a Woman’ is a Decree of Nature; and the very Laws of Evolution seem suspended in her disfavour” (53).  So basically this is a satire against Victorians who were into evolution and hated women.

Some textual support here, but no ideas!

* * * * *

Certainly, Square’s belief that the “Laws of Evolution” themselves are stacked against women (53) acts to echo those of the most conservative Victorians even as it builds the ironic ineffectiveness of his character.  The portrayal of women is so obscene (from “swaying their backsides” to the violent St. Vitus’s Dance (49)) that no reader, Victorian or contemporary, can take it seriously. Yet each of these descriptions is only an exaggeration of the Victorian manner, from padded skirts to admonitions to silence; Abbott points his finger clearly at this prejudice.  However, he does it through the heroic voice of Square, a character readers are also urged to be sympathetic to.  As Square becomes enlightened on many dimensions, we also learn what The Sphere tells him:  “How little your words have done” (150).  We readers may permit ourselves wonder at dimensions, but Abbott holds little hope that we will actually change our beliefs. They are, after all, “Natural” (53); and so we see the satire, but may be doomed to continue our ignorant behavior.

Phew!  So much better!

 *Page numbers cited refer to the Signet Classic edition.

A Model Essay with Annotations: