Concerning The Inhabitants Of Flatland
: THIS WORLD
The greatest length or breadth of a full grown inhabitant of Flatland
may be estimated at about eleven of your inches. Twelve inches may be
regarded as a maximum.
Our Women are Straight Lines.
Our Soldiers and Lowest Class of Workmen are Triangles with two equal
sides, each about eleven inches long, and a base or third side so short
(often not exceeding half an inch) that they form at their
very sharp and formidable angle. Indeed when their bases are of the
most degraded type (not more than the eighth part of an inch in size),
they can hardly be distinguished from Straight lines or Women; so
extremely pointed are their vertices. With us, as with you, these
Triangles are distinguished from others by being called Isosceles; and
by this name I shall refer to them in the following pages.
Our Middle Class consists of Equilateral or Equal-Sided Triangles.
Our Professional Men and Gentlemen are Squares (to which class I myself
belong) and Five-Sided Figures or Pentagons.
Next above these come the Nobility, of whom there are several degrees,
beginning at Six-Sided Figures, or Hexagons, and from thence rising in
the number of their sides till they receive the honourable title of
Polygonal, or many-Sided. Finally when the number of the sides becomes
so numerous, and the sides themselves so small, that the figure cannot
be distinguished from a circle, he is included in the Circular or
Priestly order; and this is the highest class of all.
It is a Law of Nature with us that a male child shall have one more
side than his father, so that each generation shall rise (as a rule)
one step in the scale of development and nobility. Thus the son of a
Square is a Pentagon; the son of a Pentagon, a Hexagon; and so on.
But this rule applies not always to the Tradesman, and still less often
to the Soldiers, and to the Workmen; who indeed can hardly be said to
deserve the name of human Figures, since they have not all their sides
equal. With them therefore the Law of Nature does not hold; and the
son of an Isosceles (i.e. a Triangle with two sides equal) remains
Isosceles still. Nevertheless, all hope is not such out, even from the
Isosceles, that his posterity may ultimately rise above his degraded
condition. For, after a long series of military successes, or diligent
and skillful labours, it is generally found that the more intelligent
among the Artisan and Soldier classes manifest a slight increase of
their third side or base, and a shrinkage of the two other sides.
Intermarriages (arranged by the Priests) between the sons and daughters
of these more intellectual members of the lower classes generally
result in an offspring approximating still more to the type of the
Rarely--in proportion to the vast numbers of Isosceles births--is a
genuine and certifiable Equal-Sided Triangle produced from Isosceles
parents (footnote 1). Such a birth requires, as its antecedents, not
only a series of carefully arranged intermarriages, but also a
long-continued exercise of frugality and self-control on the part of
the would-be ancestors of the coming Equilateral, and a patient,
systematic, and continuous development of the Isosceles intellect
through many generations.
The birth of a True Equilateral Triangle from Isosceles parents is the
subject of rejoicing in our country for many furlongs round. After a
strict examination conducted by the Sanitary and Social Board, the
infant, if certified as Regular, is with solemn ceremonial admitted
into the class of Equilaterals. He is then immediately taken from his
proud yet sorrowing parents and adopted by some childless Equilateral,
who is bound by oath never to permit the child henceforth to enter his
former home or so much as to look upon his relations again, for fear
lest the freshly developed organism may, by force of unconscious
imitation, fall back again into his hereditary level.
The occasional emergence of an Equilateral from the ranks of his
serf-born ancestors is welcomed, not only by the poor serfs themselves,
as a gleam of light and hope shed upon the monotonous squalor of their
existence, but also by the Aristocracy at large; for all the higher
classes are well aware that these rare phenomena, while they do little
or nothing to vulgarize their own privileges, serve as almost useful
barrier against revolution from below.
Had the acute-angled rabble been all, without exception, absolutely
destitute of hope and of ambition, they might have found leaders in
some of their many seditious outbreaks, so able as to render their
superior numbers and strength too much even for the wisdom of the
Circles. But a wise ordinance of Nature has decreed that in proportion
as the working-classes increase in intelligence, knowledge, and all
virtue, in that same proportion their acute angle (which makes them
physically terrible) shall increase also and approximate to their
comparatively harmless angle of the Equilateral Triangle. Thus, in the
most brutal and formidable off the soldier class--creatures almost on a
level with women in their lack of intelligence--it is found that, as
they wax in the mental ability necessary to employ their tremendous
penetrating power to advantage, so do they wane in the power of
How admirable is the Law of Compensation! And how perfect a proof of
the natural fitness and, I may almost say, the divine origin of the
aristocratic constitution of the States of Flatland! By a judicious
use of this Law of Nature, the Polygons and Circles are almost always
able to stifle sedition in its very cradle, taking advantage of the
irrepressible and boundless hopefulness of the human mind. Art also
comes to the aid of Law and Order. It is generally found possible--by
a little artificial compression or expansion on the part of the State
physicians--to make some of the more intelligent leaders of a rebellion
perfectly Regular, and to admit them at once into the privileged
classes; a much larger number, who are still below the standard,
allured by the prospect of being ultimately ennobled, are induced to
enter the State Hospitals, where they are kept in honourable
confinement for life; one or two alone of the most obstinate, foolish,
and hopelessly irregular are led to execution.
Then the wretched rabble of the Isosceles, planless and leaderless, are
either transfixed without resistance by the small body of their
brethren whom the Chief Circle keeps in pay for emergencies of this
kind; or else more often, by means of jealousies and suspicious
skillfully fomented among them by the Circular party, they are stirred
to mutual warfare, and perish by one another's angles. No less than
one hundred and twenty rebellions are recorded in our annals, besides
minor outbreaks numbered at two hundred and thirty-five; and they have
all ended thus.
Footnote 1. "What need of a certificate?" a Spaceland critic may ask:
"Is not the procreation of a Square Son a certificate from Nature
herself, proving the Equal-sidedness of the Father?" I reply that no
Lady of any position will mary an uncertified Triangle. Square
offspring has sometimes resulted from a slightly Irregular Triangle;
but in almost every such case the Irregularity of the first generation
is visited on the third; which either fails to attain the Pentagonal
rank, or relapses to the Triangular.