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Literature / The Dot and the Line

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Once upon a time, there was a sensible straight line who was hopelessly in love... with a dot.

The Dot and the Line: a Romance in Lower Mathematics is a short book written and illustrated in 1963 by Norton Juster (of The Phantom Tollbooth fame). Inspired by Flatland, It follows the story of a straight line who is pining for a dot. The dot, however, is in love with a squiggle. The line learns how to manipulate himself and wins the heart of the dot.

The book became the subject of a 1965 animated short by Chuck Jones, his first after leaving Warner Bros., with a screenplay by Juster himself (which is mostly Juster's original story read verbatim). It won an Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

You can watch the cartoon in its entirety on You Tube here. (Ten minutes long.)

Tropes in this story:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The Dot to the Squiggle, who is "wild and unkempt." However, she eventually realizes just how unappealing (not to mention unorganized) he is and ends up with the Line.
  • All Work vs. All Play: The serious logic of the Line versus the looseness of the Squiggle.
  • Animated Adaptation: The 1965 short.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Once the Line discovers his hidden ability to alter his shape, he gets all impulsive with it, creating a mess of jagged edges and angles, no different than the Squiggle. This is what prompts him to handle the ability more responsibly and practices making more eloquent shapes.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: In the cartoon, raindrops are falling as the Line wanders across the frame after being rejected by the dot, ending in one drop falling on the Line and rolling down like a tear.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: The Line goes on a frenzy of making angles for half the night that is symbolic of a drinking binge. He gets up bent out of shape the next morning, as the narration says, "Oh, what a head!"
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The Dot describes the Squiggle as "gay and free".
  • Hurricane of Puns: There's a host of shape puns, including the lovelorn Line being described as "thin and badly-drawn", and "But even allowing for his feelings, this was probably stretching a point," and of course the moral (see Spoof Aesop).
  • Limited Animation: The Chuck Jones short is a masterwork of minimalism.
  • Narrator: Robert Morley reads the story in the cartoon.
  • Racial Face Blindness: One of the many jokes. The Line's friends, urging him to forget about the Dot, say "They all look alike!" Well, circles do all look alike.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Dot tells the Line off for being dull and stiff near the beginning of the story. After she sees the Line's Hidden Depths and realizes how superficial her attraction to the Squiggle was, she tells off the Squiggle for being sloppy and irresponsible.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Following a montage of stills where The Line imagines himself interposed in a multitude of situations, he realizes that he can't just imagine himself in such positions. Hence his little, ahem, bender.
  • Spoof Aesop: "To the Vector Belong the Spoils"
  • Visual Pun: In the cartoon, as the narration goes on about how besotted the Line is with the Dot and how "perfect" he thinks the Dot is, a compass appears and measures the Dot in three directions as having a diameter of 36". This 36-36-36 measurement is a joke alluding to 36-24-36 (or thereabouts) female measurements that are supposed by some to be a good figure.