What does flattened out mean here?

Without warning, coming as complete and unexpected shock, she felt a pressure she had never imagined, as though she were being completely flattened out by an enormous steam roller. This was far worse than the nothingness had been; while she was nothing there was no need to breathe, but now her lungs were squeezed together so that although she was dying for want of air there was no way for her lungs to expand and contract, to take in the air that she must have to stay alive. . . She tried to gasp, but a paper doll can't grasp. She thought she was trying to think, but her flattened-out mind was as unable to function as her lungs; her thoughts were squashed along with the rest of her. Her heart tried to beat; it gave a knivelike, sidewise movement, but it could not expand.

But then she seemed to hear a voice, or if not a voice, at least words, words flattened out like printed words on paper, "Oh, no! We can't stop here! This is a two-dimensional planet and the children can't manage here!"

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Chapter 5)

  • Please do not vote to close this question. This use of "flattened out" is unique to the context and would not be accurately conveyed through a dictionary entry. I have added more surrounding text from the book that should help.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


It is a poetic usage, indicating that the voice has been reduced in some unspecified way. But somehow like the way that spoken words are reduced when they are turned into writing.

It is a very imaginative usage, with the author expressing the feeling of entering a two-dimensional world as being analogous to the way spoken words are "flattened" into printed words. Printed words are of course flat in the most literal way while being also linear in their order and unlimited in their meanings. Given what it's describing, take it as poetic meaning and read it in whatever way you find makes most sense for the book.

  • Please see my edits to the question. The group has traveled to a two-dimensional world, which is why everything seems "flattened out".
    – Andrew
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 16:45
  • I agree. I just thought you might want to add more to your answer.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 17:39
  • @Andrew thanks, moved my comments to my answer
    – jonathanjo
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 17:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .