March 6, 2019
Different Perceptions of Reality
People are much like sponges as society only absorbs the information that they are given. Plato uses the Allegory of the Cave as a way to compare a lack of education and its effects by presenting the prisoners as sponges in society. The Allegory of the Cave is comparable in a similar yet different manner to Weir's The Truman Show, which can be seen as more of a modern version. In both works, similarities can be found in the way both the prisoners and Truman are placed in a false reality and are both are being controlled. The prisoners and Truman both have been introduced in a false reality and unable to know of the truth due to the guards and producer that control them. However, both of these works deal with different ways of finding the truth where one is a forced discovery and one is made by curiosity. Through the use of setting, plot and conflict, both Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Weir's The Truman Show showcase that a person's perception of reality limits one from the truth.
To begin, the setting plays a critical role in both works. The prisoners and Truman have both grown up in one world which to them is the “real” world. What they see around them is all they know of, therefore, is reality. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the setting is a dark cave that shines no light of the outside world, forcing the prisoners to see their cave as reality. They have been kept chained up in the cave, not being able to leave their entire life, therefore, have not seen anything other than the shadows in the cave. The prisoners are in an underground cave where they “see nothing of themselves or each other except for the shadows each one’s body casts on the back wall of the cave” (Plato). The prisoners would not know that there is anything other than the cave because their entire life has been in one setting which has become their reality. Knowledge is not given to the human mind. One must learn and develop an understanding of the world through education and experiences. Without being able to leave the cave, the prisoners were deprived of the real world which shows that people see reality only as the visible world around them. Similarly, the idea that people only know what they see is presented in Weir’s The Truman Show where Truman is showcased as a prisoner in the cave. The Truman Show takes place as a television program which stars Truman himself. Truman’s life is a show for others but because he has grown up with it his entire life, to Truman, his surroundings are reality. What Truman does not know is that his reality is actually a television set with actors which play a role in his life. One of the characters in Truman's life, Sylvia, confesses that Truman is “not a performer, he’s a prisoner”(Weir 1998), comparing his life to ones who are locked up and cannot see the real world. Truman's reality has always been fictional which was created as entertainment for others. Although many enjoy watching this show, it is not fair to him to be deprived of knowledge of the real world. Just as a prisoner would be kept locked in and not know of what is happening outside in society, Truman is trapped in the set and does not know what the real world is.
In addition to their similar settings, both these works can be seen in a like manner where the prisoners and Truman are both controlled by characters that are “playing god”. Throughout Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners were controlled by guards of the prison. The prisoners entire life revolved around what the guards intended for them as due to the chains, the prisoners could not move for themselves. The guards are “playing god” in a sense here because they have been controlling the prisoners and making all decisions for the prisoners. They control what the prisoners can or cannot do, what they see, and if they live or not. By taking on this role, the guards decide to have the prisoners “heads held by the chains so that they must sit facing the back wall of the cave and cannot turn their heads to look up through the entrance behind them” (Plato), keeping them from the seeing the real world. Along with not letting them see the real world, the guards parade objects which are projected onto the back wall for the prisoners to see, making them believe that reality is only a puppet show on the back wall. Plato uses this as a metaphor for society’s understanding and the ability to acknowledge the truth. Similar to how the prisoners only know of their reality because of the guards that control them, society only knows what they have been taught and grown up with because of impactful models such as teachers, parents and friends. Identically, in The Truman Show, Truman’s life had been controlled since he was born which is why he did not know of the real world. As mentioned earlier, Truman’s entire life had been on a set which Truman believed was reality. Truman understood the world around him as the real world which in truth was a television show for others to watch, created by the producer, Christof. In this case, Christof is the one playing god and controlling Truman’s life. Not only did him and his team manufacture an explanation for every event that happens in Truman's life, they also managed to program Truman to be afraid of anything that will allow him to explore when he is curious and find out the truth. Eventually, Truman did start wanting to explore so “as he got older, [the producers] were forced to manufacture ways to keep him on the island”(Weir 1998), in order for the show to continue. Christof does whatever he is able to for the assurance of Truman on the island because of the great income that the show makes. For Christof to do this, Truman is not only stopped physically from leaving the island but is also psychologically not able to due to what Christof intended. The actress that plays Truman’s mother, Angelea, continuously reminds Truman of the pain and guilt he associates with travelling on or over water because Truman has always believed that he is responsible for his father's death. For Truman, the real world to him is what he is living in but in reality, Christof chooses the life that Truman is forced to live by controlling every aspect of his for profits. Truman is treated more of an object than a human because instead of having the freedom to do what he wants, he is trapped in a false reality.
Lastly, although the truth is discovered in both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Weir's The Truman Show, the way they each discover the truth varies. In Allegory of the Cave, the discovery of the truth is a forced one. The guards had kept the prisoners in the cave their entire life but eventually, the guard takes a prisoner and “drags him up the steep and rugged ascent from the cave and forces him out into the full light of the sun” (Plato), showing him the real world. The prisoner that is freed is now finally shown the truth and is able to perceive a sense of reality but because he had already come to terms thinking that the cave was reality, it will be hard for the prisoner to adapt to the real world. Plato uses this to showcase that reality can often be hard to come to terms with for those who have lived in an ignorant state their entire life. He relates it to coming out of a dark cave and into bright light because just as the prisoner was unable to see in the light, one would have trouble processing a new truth. Furthermore, The Truman Show shares a similar idea but takes on a different approach to discover the truth. Truman would not have been able to come to terms with reality if he had not shown interest in his doubts about the world he lives in. Although Christof has created a false reality for him and does whatever he can to keep Truman from discovering the truth, he states that “if [Truman] was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we can prevent him”(Weir 1998), which is what ended up happening. Truman starts to notice strange things that were happening to only him. Through a series of events including Truman’s dead father reappearing and his wife acting as though she is in an infomercial, Truman becomes more aware of his surroundings and is determined to know the truth. Truman finally is set on finding the truth after Sylvia says to him “everybody knows about you. Everybody knows everything you do. They’re pretending, Truman, do you understand? Everybody’s pretending!”(Weir 1998). After Truman is told this, he starts remembering past events that occured and after having accepted reality for all of his life, he starts to eventually question it everything around him. Truman finally ends up discovering the truth by facing his great fear and venturing into the water where he realizes that his whole life had been manipulated.
All in all, both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Weir’s The Truman Show have demonstrated an interesting idea about perception and reality. They both recognize that society accepts reality of the world with which is presented and showcase it through the use of setting, plot and conflict, with similarities and differences of both. Through the use of a similar setting and plot, both Plato and Weir were able to show how it impacted both the prisoners and Truman’s perception of the truth. This goes to show that although society is knowledgeable in many aspects, the way it is perceived varies so in order to understand the differences, we must ask ourselves, what are the hidden sources to this knowledge?
Stickney, Jeff. Philosophy: Thinkers, Theories and Questions. McGraw Hill Ryerson, 2011.
Weir, Peter, director. The Truman Show. Paramount Pictures, 1998.