In Shusterman’s novel Unwind, as well as in Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, readers are confronted with the presence of power structures, and, more particularly, the deceptive effects of these power structures. Namely, institutions of power, in both of these stories, can be said to exist and furthermore retain power by distorting reality: institutions of power maintain themselves by proposing to those people who it controls lies which it attempts to pass off to be an ultimate truth. Shusterman and Plato’s stories thus share the same theme of a deception inherent to forms of power.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the Cave itself can be understood as an oppressive form of power. This oppression is not only found in the fact that the characters of Plato’s allegory are strapped in place in the cave: but it seems that they do not even know they are prisoners. This is because at the same time they are bombarded with images, images which are in reality entirely controlled by the institution that has trapped them in the cave. “Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.” (253) The imagery of the cave is made more complex with this description of the marionettes: Plato does not only want to talk about being bound. He wants to talk about the deceptions and ways of control institutions of power utilize to perpetuate their power. Accordingly, Plato identifies the deceptive and lying nature of power: how manipulation of truths, of limiting the perspective of those “prisoners” ultimately contributes to their binding to the power and control of the institutions that hold this same power.
Shusterman’s Unwind gives us a similar picture of of power and control. In the context of dystopian fiction, Shusterman presents a world where the question of life is crucial: a compromise between pro-life and pro-choice positions as to what human life means is reached in the story with what Shusterman calls in his story “unwinding” – an absurd and almost satirical principle in which a child during his teenage years can find their life suspended or “unwound” at the choice of their parents. The key connection between power institutions and Shusterman’s science fiction is found at the very outset of the story, when Shusterman writes “unwinding is now a common and accepted practice of society.” (1) The absurd conclusion to this issue is accepted as a truth: it is a social convention that has been accepted to be the truth. Much like Plato’s cave, power maintains itself by having the images it produces being accepted and taken as truth by a brainwashed citizens. Shusterman uses the absurd example of teenage “unwinding” to show how any social rule, however clearly wrong, can be take to be true and legitimate on an institutional and then greater social level.
In conclusion, both stories, although written literally thousands of years apart, tell a similar point about power. Institutional power is maintained by deception and lies, by the perpetuation of social rules that they want people to think are absolute truth. What is disturbing in this case, in my view, is that when considering the thousands of years between Plato and Shusterman, the fact that their basic message of the deception of power remains the same shows which power and brainwashing penetrate the very core of our lives.