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Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Lemire's Sweet Tooth


SWEET TOOTH: BOOK ONE 

Writer: Jeff Lemire 

Artist: Jeff Lemire 

Colorist: Jose Villarrubia 

Letterer: Pat Brosseau 

Publisher : DC/Vertigo 

Jeff Lemire's SWEET TOOTH is a Vertigo comic that came out in 2009. Upon reading it, I was constantly thinking of a piece written roughly around 380 BC, Plato's Republic. The specific part of the Republic I want to focus on is Plato's Allegory of the Cave. To explain the sheer brilliance of the philosophy behind SWEET TOOTH, we must first examine Plato's work.

The Allegory of the Cave, is, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces of philosophy. In the most basic of ways, it's the idea that what people think is real is not the reality of the world. That's still a giant oversimplification of what Plato truly meant. Plato had set up the allegory as a conversation being had between his brother Glaucon and Plato's mentor Socrates. Socrates goes on to discuss how there are people who live in a cave. While living there, they have been chained up to the walls of it with shackles. The only information they receive about the outside world is via shadow figures made from objects that sit in front of the fire in the cave. As the chained people witness these figures, they name them and use them as their set reality. 

They know of nothing else. One day, a "prisoner" (what else would we call a person who is shackled to a wall) breaks free and leaves this cave. They go outside and witness the sun for the first time. They begin to realize that the life that they've known has been fraudulent. The sun is similar to the fire they've always known. Right here is where Plato discerns that the human experience of perceiving the world through the senses is a bondage to the true form of reality. The discussion that Socrates is giving further describes how the newly "enlightened" prisoner realizes that the world outside of the cave is what is real and better than the bondage they've always known. Plato theorizes that if the prisoner goes back into the cave to tell the other, they would reject them. The prisoner now knowing what sunlight is, would describe how they could not see well in the dark lit cave. Instead of believing the "enlightened" prisoner, the rest of the cave prisoners would deduce, out of fear, that the one who returned had been injured by the outside world. They would decide to never leave the cave. Plato further illustrates that he believed that if someone were to come and drag those prisoners out into the "real" world, they would try to kill that person. 

That was… a lot to take in. It's a very complex idea about a multitude of different things. Being blind to a certain aspect of the world and fearing that change. 2,000 years ago the example Plato came up with was people living in caves and not wanting to come out. Today, we can apply the same type of logic to people who are afraid of growth, knowledge, and technology that pushes the set ideas (reality if you will) that they know. Religion, in particular, is the perfect modern example of this. 

In Jeff Lemire's SWEET TOOTH, we are first shown a nine-year-old boy waking up from a nightmare. His nightmare consisted of him running away from a big man. This boy is named Gus. He informs the reader that while he is running, behind him is, "...fire and hell and bad stuff." When he fully wakes, h