Most literary works rely on layered interpretation of plot, character, or setting to develop the story line. In the realm of science fiction, the matter can conceivably take on a more pronounced and intricate structure of reasoning, due in part, to the underpinning of science or merely by the creative stream of the author.
Select a screenplay and explore the underlying literary context implied within the character interlude. The link to a complete script is provided for reference.
By far, the most prevalent allusion in the Star Trek episode “All Our Yesterdays” is with the Allegory Of The Cave in Book VII of The Republic by Plato. The cave is a metaphor for man’s ignorance and hence his condition of being a prisoner to that ignorance, being unaware of a world of possibilities beyond the confines of the cave walls. Zarabeth and Spock both allude to Plato’s notion of imprisonment by revealing the event leading to their presence in the cave and their destiny, were they to remain. In this prehistoric setting, love is the only escape from the bitterness of isolation and desperation. Spock’s regression from highly civilized is proof to this dilemma. As an aside, the cave takes on further symbolism as the Garden of Eden, where Eve (Zarabeth) is tempered by Satan (Spock) as Adam (McCoy) stands witness.
SPOCK: It is agreeably warm here.
ZARABETH: What are you called?
SPOCK: I’m called Spock.
ZARABETH: Even your name is strange. Forgive me. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like you. Why are you here? Are you prisoners too?
ZARABETH: This is one of the places Zor Kahn sends people when he wants them to disappear. Didn’t you come in through the time portal?
SPOCK: Yes, we came through the time portal, but not as prisoners. We were sent here by mistake.
ZARABETH: The Atavachron is far away, but I think you come from someplace farther than that.
SPOCK: That is true. I am not from the world you know at all. My home is a planet millions of light years away.
ZARABETH: Oh, how wonderful! I’ve always loved books about such possibilities. But they are only stories. This isn’t real. I must be imagining all this. I’m going mad!
SPOCK: Listen. I am firmly convinced that I do exist. I am substantial. You are not imagining this.
ZARABETH: Oh, I’ve been here for so long, alone. When I saw you out there, I couldn’t believe it.
[ … ]
CONSTABLE: Where are you from?
KIRK: An island.
CONSTABLE: What is this island?
KIRK: It’s called Earth.
CONSTABLE: I know no island Earth.
In the medieval portion of the episode, Kirk’s incarceration for witchery is another allusion to Plato’s cave analogy. Once again, it is by man’s unsound perception of evil that lands Kirk in a jail cell. It is only through Kirk’s innate reasoning (and brawn) that he is able to convince the Inquisitor to release him and facilitate his return to the future, in Kirk’s case; a stark contrast to the dungeon abscess presumably replete with spirits in hiding.
In the futuristic setting of the library, the perception of reality reaches full circle. The library holds the sum total of existence and is maneuvered by none other than three versions of the same man, Atoz, a probable reference to the Holy Trinity. In Plato, there is the notion of a puppet-master pulling the strings of reality. In essence, an omniscient (albeit compassionate) force that can only expect so much in return from a cowering, underling that can’t see past the lines of the shadows on the cave wall.
In the end, the overwhelming plea is to confront your cavernous plight and transcend it through spiritual or intellectual alternatives–within the eternal struggle, enlightenment prevails. As a final note, some ploys can be interpreted as foreshadowing moral decay. For one, the meat offering between Zarabeth and Spock. Another, the reference to ‘spirits’ as a connotation to the perils of imbibing. Not in the least, the nihilistic effect of technology upon the delicate fabric of humanity.
Lastly, in the scene between Kirk to Atoz (below) an inference can be made as to the glacial pace of progress by mankind in relation to the imminence of the universe, as it were, a star’s impending evolution into a state of supernova.
ATOZ: May I help you? You may select from more than twenty thousand verism tapes, several hundred of which have only recently been added to the collection. I’m sure you’ll find something here that pleases you. You, sir, what is your particular field of interest?
KIRK: What about recent history?
ATOZ: Really? Oh, that’s too bad. We have so little on recent history. There was no demand for it.
Equally significant, the title of the episode is derived from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” during a soliloquy in Act V Scene V that remarks:
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Here, the underlying implication perhaps being that from dust he emerges and to dust shall he return; man’s only elixir in light of his predicament is the aberration flowing from dreams or memories of the past notwithstanding future deferments, fleeting as they may be. On an even more superficial level, the episode lends itself to commentary on the human psyche in terms of personality disorder. Spock begins to transform to a more primal version of the Vulcan identity as the plot develops. There are three impersonations of Atoz which confound the story in a manner not too far removed from a multiple personality complex. As well, the medieval spectacle encountered by Kirk is littered with delusions that, spirits abound.
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