Friday, April 14, 2017
An Analysis of The Truman Show Using Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Plato is widely considered as one of the most popular philosophers in the history of philosophy. This is not only because he was able to produce one of the best students of all time, Aristotle, but also because his thoughts and philosophies have influenced so many philosophers after him. His ideas were examined and served as the springboard for many philosophers decades after him. One of his main philosophical ideas can be found in The Republic where he explained the nature of two realities to one of his students named Glaucon. This explanation is embodied in the story of individuals trapped in a cave which has been called the Allegory of the Cave. This research paper seeks to analyze the works different authors and philosophers discussing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and its application to a contemporary film entitled The Truman Show.
Briefly, the Allegory of the Cave tells the story of a group of individuals whose legs and arms are chained inside a cave since they were born. They are so tied that they could not look around them or go outside the cave. Behind them is a fire which causes shadows to appear in front of them every time individuals from outside the cave walk past the cave. Because of the fire behind them, these cave dwellers have been seeing shadows all their lives. In fact, these are the only things that they see apart from the cave. They think that these shadows are the real things. Plato proceeds that if it so happened that one of the prisoners is able to escape from his chains, he will be able to go outside of the cave and discover so much more things aside from the shadow. The prisoner will realize that what they have been accustomed to seeing are mere reflections of the real thing. At first, understanding this can be difficult to accept for which he might even be confused and disoriented. Over time, however, the prisoner will be able to get accustomed to this new reality and finally see the world in a different view. With this discovery, he makes it his obligation to go back to the cave and tell about his discovery to his fellow cave dwellers who proceeds to kill him because they refuse to believe him.
Different philosophers and authors have attempted to explain the meaning behind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. One of the common interpretations is that Plato’s story which is full of symbolisms should not be taken literally. One of these authors is Haymond (2009) who states that Plato used the story of the cave to refer to the physical world we are living in and the people that inhabit the physical world. He states that “Plato interprets the physical world as only an illusion – an imperfect representation of a perfect Form.” (p. 8) Haymond (2009) explains that the cave represents the physical world that we are living in while the cave dwellers are the people who live on the physical world. The darkness in the cave and the shadows refer to the ignorance of the people who think that what they know is the complete reality. Ignorance prevents the people from reaching a higher level of understanding or from leaving the cave. On the other hand, the individual who was able to escape the cave represents the philosophers who were able to discover the higher world. Haymond states that “The freed prisoner represents anyone who sees this physical world for the illusion that it is and who transcends this fallacy with their mind, thereby reaching the World of the Forms where one can know truth. Plato referred to these people as the philosophers of the world. Once they escape the fake world and know the truth, it is hard to return to their original habitation, just as it is hard for the prisoner to return to the cave.” Upon understanding the true nature of reality, they seek to free the other individuals from their own chains only to be met with resistance and violence from the same people he tried to help liberate.
Plato’s ideas have influenced many philosophers after him. His thoughts have also been adapted in many works of literature until today. One of the famous contemporary works of art that utilized Plato’s philosophy is the Truman Show. The Truman show tells the story of Truman Burbank whose life from the moment of his birth was shown on reality TV for the audience to see. Just like the cave dwellers, Truman Burbank has lived his entire life thinking that it the only true reality. Unknown to him, he is the main star in a reality television who features the drama of his life. From his parents, his wife and friends to his communities, everything is staged. Despite the artificiality, for Truman Burbank, everything is all real. Just like the cave dwellers who thought that the cave they were living in was the only true reality.
In his work, Falzon (2014) found the plot of the Truman show intimately similar with the Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the sense that in both cases there is a deliberate and systematic deception done by an individual who controls the reality that the cave dwellers and Truman Burbank were experiencing (Falzon 41). In the case of Truman Burbank, his life is controlled by the director who controls everything on the set. For the cave dwellers, their life is controlled by an unknown puppeteer. Falzon added that for both Truman and the cave dwellers, there is no knowledge that they are being deceived because everything for them appears to be all real (Falzon 41). In fact, even when there were indications that there are strange things that are happening in the community, such as things falling from the sky or the daily events following a strict routine, Truman found it difficult to investigate further to find out what is wrong. In the same manner, the cave dwellers in Plato’s allegory resorted to killing the prisoner who was able to escape because his revelations contradicted what they have known since they were born.
Slatman (2014) reinforces the views of Falzon (2014) in the sense that the former likewise argues that the liberation from the cave is not easy and requires time to get used to. A close reading of the Republic will reveal that the cave dweller who happened to escape did not want to escape from his imprisonment. Slatman (2014) states, “The one imprisoned down there did not want to be unshackled and wanted even less to leave his dark spot. The cave is safe and pleasant place of our daily life where we are in fact quite satisfied.” (p. 32-33) Slatman emphasizes that the liberation from ignorance is not easy as well. In many situations, the liberation will be opposed by the individual out of fear. People fear venturing the unknown especially when staying in the darkness is the easier and more convenient alternative. This happened to the prisoners of the cave who did nothing to remove the chains that trapped them in the cave since their birth. It also happened to Truman who initially had a difficult time grappling with the idea that his life is not real. In fact, before his discovery, he was quite happy with his monotonous life where every event happened following a regular pattern. As Slatman (2014) explained, “As long as he does not know that his life is not ‘real’, he is actually quite happy (p. 33). However, once he discovered that his life was fake, he made it a point to want to literally get out and escape.
In support to the views of Falzon (2014) and Slatman (2014), Watkins (2016) examines Plato’s allegory of the cave and its relationship to true knowledge. Watkins emphasizes that had the prisoner stayed inside the cave, he would not have managed to achieve knowledge. He seeks to make a point that real knowledge can be found by going beyond our comfort zones and leaving the darkness of the cave that we have been accustomed to see.
Considering that Truman has lived a staged life all his life and that his life and everything around it is fake because it is controlled by an evil director, is it possible to say that Truman’s life is less authentic compared to the life of the people whose life is not staged? Though his life is not real, does it make his life not authentic as well? What is the relationship between authenticity and reality? Does Truman have free will? The concepts of authenticity, reality, and free will were discussed in Lone’s (2015) The Philosophical Child. Lone begins with an examination of the different levels of reality similar to Plato’s concept of the World of Forms and the Physical World. He examines whether it is possible to rank a person’s reality life based on hierarchy. Using Plato’s premise, it is possible for someone’s life to be more real than another person’s life? In the case of Truman’s life, his reality is artificially constructed for him for the company running the show to earn money. Lone (2015) states that, “…the creator of the television show The Truman Show asserts that we tend to “accept the reality of the world with which we’ve been presented” (p. 50). Lone encourages the readers to explore their life and entertain the idea that their life may have been constructed by their own parents, teachers and friends (Lone 50). Taking this into account, Lone wants us to examine whether we can reject their social constructions and make our own constructions of reality.
In the light of the discussion on authenticity and reality, Deuze explains that it is immaterial for an individual whether his life is staged or not real. For him, his own world is his reality. In essence, one reason why the show was able to convince Truman that he was living a real life was because it is man’s nature to accept that reality that is presented to him. In the words of the film’s director, he said, “we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. Deuze supports this view and states that, “The Truman Show is just another version of the real, one that is carefully staged and completely mediated, much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, as people in the cave watching the puppets, were unware of any other lifestyle, or world other than the one which they were shown.” (Deuze 141) This stresses that both Truman and the cave dwellers failed to discover the deception because they have fully embraced the idea that there was only one reality which is the reality that they were living in.
Through the various research papers consulted from different authors, it has been established that Plato’s Allegory of the Cave should not be taken literally but figuratively. The Allegory of the Cave refers to the physical world we are living in and the people who live in it. The darkness of the cave symbolizes the people’s ignorance as distinguished from the light outside the cave. The Truman Show is one of the many contemporary works that used Plato’s philosophy as springboard for its plot. The similarities between the two works are obvious in the sense that Truman Burbank’s life is artificially controlled by a puppeteer who controlled everything in his life. Similar to the cave dwellers, Truman Burbank was imprisoned. For both Truman Burbank and the cave dwellers, they have failed to discover the deception early on because they have accepted that the world they were living in as the reality. He also did not have any knowledge that his life was not real until he discovered clues that the life he was living might not be real. Once he discovered this fact, he initially had a difficult time accepting but when he found a way he took the step to escape from his imprisonment.
Deuze, Mark. “Media Life.” Media Perspectives for the 21st Century. Ed. Stylianos Papathanassopoulos. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Haymond, Bryce. A Modern Worldview from Plato’s Cave. 2009. Web. October 15, 2016.
Lone, Jana Mohr. The Philosophical Child. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015.
Slatman, Jenny. Our Strange Body: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Medical Interventions. Amsterdam University Press, 2014.
Falzon, Christopher. Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. Routledge University Press, 2014.
Watkins, Greg. Time the Redeemer: Time as an Object Cinema in a Post Metaphysical Age. Journal of Religion and Film. January 4, 2016. Web. October 16, 2016.
The Pitfalls and Strengths of Confessional Poetry
When we speak of poetry, we are reminded of a literary work that uses rhymes to convey the ideas of a poet. In many cases, these works are impersonal as they focus on subjects like heroism and love. Some poets like Robert Howell, however, opted to focus on subjects that reveal their own personal feelings, emotions and experiences. This started the confessional poetry movement which involves using a more personal style of storytelling by and expression by utilizing a first person perspective or using "I". This style is normally unacceptable for conventional poetry. This new style have influenced popular confessional poets such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who are both Lowell's students. It has also prompted changes in poetry as a whole.
Confessional poetry has allowed certain changes in poetry that have given writers more freedom to express themselves in a more personal style. The first person or "I" style of writing allowed poets to tell more personalized and introspective stories through their work by using the self as both the subject and the storyteller. By using "I" as the speaker in the poems, the reader could have a clearer and accurate perspective on what the speaker is feeling or thinking, as opposed to the purely descriptive third person perspective in most formal poems. The beginning of this movement left readers shocked due to its unconventionality, however, readers and poets have been learning to accept this style due to the freedom of expression that it allows.
This type of poetry, allowed writers, such as Lowell and Plath to express themselves in themes that are not normally used in poetry due to the very personal and emotional nature of such topics. These themes include introspective feelings such as melancholia, depression, trauma and other mental illnesses that could not be accurately described in poetry otherwise, without the use of a confessional style. Other themes that are explored in confessional poetry are psychological experiences, reflections about death or dying, as well as emotions and feelings about relationships. Confessional poetry also dealt with themes that used to be avoided by writers due to explicitness, shame and societal limitations. Topics such as suicide, drugs and alcohol dependency, sex and other themes that were once excluded in poetry because of the negative implications, and negative feelings that they elicit to the reader have now been considered poetic as initiated by the introduction of the confessional poetry that allows the writers to be more introspective in their writing. Having to use a first person perspective paved the way for poets to explore a wider range of subjects that they could not usually express accurately and effectively if they use a less personal style of writing. For instance, in Plath’s most popular confessional poem “Daddy”, she used art and poetry to describe her childhood trauma upon losing her father during the Holocaust. The poem, which was autobiographical, described Plath’s sentiments about her father’s death. The poem which has references to deep-seated emotions and trauma about young child losing her father, and Plath would not have been able to achieve this profound effect on the readers without using a personal style of writing. These darker and less conventional themes have emerged in poetry since the introduction of the use of a personal style of writing. It allows the poets to write about their own feelings and sentiments, thus allowing an outlet for them to become genuine and vulnerable by expressing who they are and how they feel. In Lowell’s work in Life Studies, he provided the readers a look at who he is by becoming the center of his own work, he recreated himself in his own work by creating a subject, genuine and true to himself who shows all the vulnerabilities of being human. By presenting a poem this way, the characters in the poem are being open to the reader’s judgment and prejudices; thus, making it more difficult for the poet to expose himself completely. However, it depends on the poet’s writing style to avoid being harshly judged by the reader. For Lowell, he created a character that is very self-aware of his own faults, thus, creating a self-deprecating character that the reader would not judge. In the case of Plath, she created characters that are mysterious, hidden and defensive, thus, making it difficult for the reader to truly discern the real feelings and intentions of the characters.
In any case, confessional poetry provides the artists a medium to express their feelings, experiences, thoughts and perception, no matter how deep, dark or unconventionally taboo the subject is. It provides freedom for the writers; it is also in a way, very therapeutic for the writers to be able to voice out their deep emotions, anxiety and depression, as in the case of Anne Sexton who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. She started writing about the psychology in her poems based on the advice of her therapist to help clear her mind. However, although it may seem very beneficial and encouraging for the poets, the reactions of readers to confessional poetry all differ. Some critics disagree with the artistic value of confessional poetry due to its lack of adherence to poetic structure and order. As most confessional poetry at the time have been written in free verse, many critics would prefer that poets stick to the conventional rhyme and meter of formal poems. The lack of structure and disregard to the accepted rules of poetry have left some readers uneasy and they find confessional poetry to be an inferior form of poetry. However, there are some readers who find the unconventionality of confessional poems liberating and refreshing. Many readers would also agree that the confessional poets such as Sexton, Plath, and Lowell have used careful attention to detail and structure to construct artistic poems that would be appreciated by both the writer and the reader.
Another issue that has emerged from confessional poetry is the lack of adherence to the conventional subjects of poetry. As mentioned earlier, the usual topics that have been written in the poems of the trio are considered taboo. Furthermore, Sexton, suffering from her mental disorders, has freely written about topics that may not suit the taste of formal poetry readers. Such topics include incestuous acts, self-gratification, fornication, adultery, menstruation, and drugs. Such changes in the direction of subjects in poetry have left critics to believe that confessional poetry is too self-indulgent for poetry. Since it uses a personal style, or "I" style or writing, it tends to focus mainly on the speaker in the poem, which basically is the reflection of the writer, and no one else. Although it may be novel and refreshing for the reader to read about the author’s genuine feelings and thoughts and provides them an introspective point of view of the speaker, the issue is that the works seem too self-centered and selfish. It looks at an individual’s psychological and emotional journey, but it excludes everyone else, as opposed to a more conventional poem that is aimed at including others and providing a perspective to the reader about the suffering of others. Thus, it is aesthetically and thematically disappointing for some readers as they deem it is too selfish for poetry.
Furthermore, confessional poetry has been criticized to lack the ability to gain the respect of readers because of the unconventionally self-centered and taboo topics, that may be distasteful for poetry readers. The lewd, embarrassing and shameful topics in these autobiographies have exposed all the flaws and intimate details about the writer or the writer’s mind, thus, by judging the poem’s speaker, readers are also judging the author according to the conventional standards of society. As a result, critics feel that confessional poetry lacks respect.
Overall, this style of writing may be embraced or even celebrated by many readers as it gives them a different point of view and it may also speak to them in a deeper level especially if they could relate to the emotions and themes that are expressed in the poem. It may also be therapeutic for both the writer and the reader in some cases; however, there are still some critics who find that this style lacks aesthetic and thematic value. In my opinion, poetry is heading in a good direction, it should not be stagnant and constantly adhering to convention, it should incorporate the themes and ideas of the current context, thus, having poetry diversify its scope and structure might be a good direction to make poetry more relevant to the society.
What You Don’t Know is The Most Important Part: Hemingway’s Use of The Iceberg Theory in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
The iceberg theory refers to a style that offers little context, where only the surface elements are evident. This is a style that is attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The effect of the style on the reader is that they begin to think about what they are reading. So the act of reading a Hemingway story, like “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, is not only an exercise in receiving information, but also a thinking exercise. This is not to say that it is a painful exercise, it is actually the opposite. It is a pleasurable experience, because when we begin to understand the story. Hemingway’s use of the iceberg theory only serves to heighten the beauty of his stories. This makes his stories beautiful, because they ask the reader to think. Hemingway’s style is deceptively simple, and yet there is a lot of information to process. Reading Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a joy for readers, because it not only tells a story, but also poses questions. Despite being a short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” presents us with a story that showcases Hemingway’s use of the Iceberg Theory. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, we find that what we do not read in the story are actually the most important parts, leading us to think about the story in the process. Essentially, it is what we do not know that is important to the story, and this is left for us to find out, which makes reading , “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” a pleasurable and fulfilling experience.
The Iceberg Theory is a style of writing that is attributed to Hemingway. Coupled with his minimalistic style of writing, this serves to distinguish Hemingway from other writers. It is called the iceberg theory or iceberg principle because it seeks to omit as much as possible from a story so that the reader will have to imply as much from what they read as possible. This results in a story that is deceptively simple, but has many layers that can be uncovered. As a writer, Hemingway assumed that the “author should write straight and individual, his descriptions must be rich and earthy, and his words simple and forceful” (Darzikola 8). Nevertheless, he was not one to spoon-feed his readers with all the details. This means that the reader should also do his part when reading a story. They should also be thinking in the process of reading. To do this, Hemingway employs the Iceberg Method to “to depict definition and complexity to a character without straight stating what the person who reads should be thinking” (Darzikola 8). In a sense, this is a very democratic style of writing, because the reader is also involved in the process of unfolding the story. Like an iceberg, only the tip is visible above the water, but we all know that there is more at the bottom. In fact, it is not the tip that will cause the problem, but what lies at the bottom. In Hemingway’s stories, like “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, it is not what we know and what we read about that is the most important aspect of the story. It is what we do not know, which surprisingly complex for such a short story that is important.
The essence of the Iceberg Theory is what is omitted, as opposed to what is presented. In this manner of writing, majority of the story must be inferred by the writer, just like an iceberg whose mass is hidden below the surface. This then leads to a style of writing that is more suggestive, and not too direct. This leads the reader to use their imagination so that the subtler parts of the story are not lost (Tyler 22). The reader in this case is an active participant in the storytelling process. They are not merely passive participants whose only job is to decipher the written words. A reader of Hemingway’s stories, such as “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, is presented as story that is deceptively simple, and yet after reading, there are a lot of questions that need answered. In reading a Hemingway story, the part that is written is actually the least important part (Strychacz 59). By doing this, Hemingway allows the reader to feel the whole story, as opposed to being a passive reader. This allows the story to shine, not only while it is being read, but even after the one is finished reading the story. The story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an example of the how Hemingway created a story that adheres to the Iceberg Theory. It is sparse, and yet offers the reader a lot to think about afterwards.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a story about an old deaf patron in a café and two waiters. As simple as it may sound, the story serves as a foundation for thinking about the details that Hemingway omitted, which have been discussed by many thinkers ever since it was published. An important issue to point out in the story is the dialogue between the younger and older waiter. It is here where Hemingway leaves out an important aspect of the story, and how the dialog unfolds. It is the fact that early on in the story, the reader does not know with absolute certainty which dialog is being said by the younger and the older waiter. In the story, the dialog starts with “Last week, he tried to commit suicide” (Hemingway, 5). In this dialog, we find that the banter of the waiters is about how the old deaf patron is initiated, but we do not really which is being said by the older waiter or the younger waiter, we can only assume. Hemingway makes this even more complicated because all that comes after the first utterance is “one waiter said” (5). It is at this point that the reader can only guess who said the first words. Kerner tells us that “no one, when first reading the story, can know which is saying” the first lines of dialogue (561). Indeed, in omitting the details about which waiter said what, Hemingway directs the reader to think and formulate the story in their heads as it unfolds. However, a peculiar aspect of the story is that the reader is led to believe that they know which part of the dialog is said by whom. This confusion has led many to try and decipher where the mystery of the dialog,
The dialog is another example of Hemingway making use of the Iceberg theory. It is difficult to attribute “by the omission of all identifying tags” (81). However, there is a way to attribute the dialog. The method that we can use is to look at the patterns by which they speak. It is also important to point out that it can also be used to decipher the attribution of the dialog in the first exchange. Hurley proposed that the younger waiter and the older waiter play a role in the dialogs, one asks the and the other provides “terse answers that are that, as we shall see momentarily, have meanings known only to himself” (83). Indeed, with this in mind, we find that finding out who is speaking is a little bit easier. For example, in the first exchange, we can say that the older waiter is the one who said, “Last week he tried to commit suicide”, when the younger waiter asks why, the older waiter answers “He was in despair”, and the older waiter says nothing (Hemingway). This idea that the older waiter is providing the answers is logical. One can even assume that the reason why the older waiter is giving out the brief answers that are a mystery in themselves is that he is trying to teach the younger waiter to think more profoundly, as opposed to being spoon-fed all the answers. We can even assume that this is exactly why Hemingway made the dialogs in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” this way is for the reader to think. Hemingway wanted the reader to make doubt himself, and try to discern patterns and unravel the web of his story. Aside from discerning patterns in the way each wait speaks, we can also make use of another type of analysis to make attribution easier.
The structure of the story holds the key to understanding which of the dialog each waiter said. Bennet argues that “the story is based on constant polarity” (71). The polarity is divided between despair, and confidence. In the story, there is an opposition between the two, with despair referring to the “depth of feeling and insight into the human experience,” and confidence “characterized by a lack of feeling and therefore, a lack of insight” (71). With this in mind, we can say that the older waiter is the one who displays despair in the dialog, while the younger waiter is the one who displays confidence. A way of applying this way of thinking is when one of the waiters takes the deaf old man’s order for brandy, where he says “I'm sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o’clock. He should have killed himself last week” (Hemingway 6). This shows that whoever was saying this did not display an understanding for the deaf man’s predicament. All he wanted was to get things done and go home. The older waiter on the other hand could not have said that dialog, because first is that he already knew that the old man tried to commit suicide, and that he had an understanding of the what the man was going through. So once we know that the older waiter is the one who know about the deaf man, then we can attribute the dialogs to the younger and the older waiter. Going through all of this unscrambling can take more time than reading the whole short story, but in many ways it gives the story a more profound depth than it already has. Indeed, going through the story without knowing who said what is a bit confusing. Some might even fault Hemingway for this, but it is what he meant it to be, as opposed to a problem on his part as a writer.
Aside from the dialog, there is another aspect of the story that the reader is given a minimum of information about, the deaf man’s suicide attempt. However, there is a way to find this out as well, because Hemingway does this through the old waiter. In the first dialog, when the younger waiter asks why the deaf man was in despair, the older man says “nothing” (Hemingway 5). The word nothing and “nada” is repeated all throughout the story. At first a reader might ignore this, but it really does help in understanding the story. For example, when the younger waiter says “What did he want to kill himself for?” we understand that the younger waiter does not know why the deaf man would kill himself if he had all the money a lot of money (Hemingway 7). However, it is the older waiter who understands that money is not everything. The older waiter muses the deaf man “had a wife once too” (Hemingway 7). So this means that the wife is already dead or gone. The concept of nothing is evident here because in reality, even though the old man had money, he had nothing to live for anymore. So the older waiter understands this. The deaf man’s suicide attempt then is caused by the feeling of nothingness, or emptiness that he is feeling. There is even more proof of this, because the deaf man spends most of his time getting drunk. In picking up clues from the story, we can find answers to things we do not know. The process itself is as fulfilling as finding out the answer.
The Iceberg Theory is based on Hemingway’s penchant for omitting what many believe are the most important details of a story. For some, this can be a frustrating experience, because instead of being absolutely sure of what is happening in the story, the reader is left with a feeling that they did not fully understand the story. In reality, this is a misnomer, because one reading Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, and understands that they did not fully comprehend that whole story is a reader who is thinking. This facet of Hemingway’s style is what makes it pleasurable to read his stories. This means that they did merely comprehend the story at face value, but also understood that Hemingway wanted the reader to take part in the process of telling the story. In many ways, this turns the reader into thinking individual who seeks out clues and details to satisfy the questions that inevitably pop up in reading Hemingway’s stories. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is deceptively simple, in fact, one can read it in a few minutes, but afterwards many questions appear. The words that we read in the story are merely the tip of the iceberg so to speak, it answers to questions like who is saying what and why the old deaf man attempted suicide that are important. Once we find out the answers, the story becomes even better. The joy of fully understanding the story is what makes Hemingway’s style enjoyable, because it is only then that we fully appreciate the story being told.