The Sweetest Fig
By Chris van Allsburg
Monsieur Bibot, a Parisian dentist, is given two magical figs as payment from one of his patients. The figs, when eaten, make Bibot's dreams become reality. When Bibot realises this he attempts to control the content of his dreams by hypnotizing himself before eating the second fig in order to become the richest man in the world. His dog, Marcel, devours the fig before Bibot gets to it, thus extinguishing his plans to become the richest man in the world. Bibot angrily chases Marcel around his apartment and then under the bed. Annoyed, Bibot goes to sleep. The next morning Bibot wakes to find he has become the dog and Marcel the new master.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
The Sweetest Fig is a book that introduces many philosophical ideas without a clear definition at first. Upon deeper investigation, many notions of issues such as empathy, cruelty, respect, greed, and control arise. What is respect and kindness and why are they important? Is it healthy to try and control everything around you? What are the dangers of greed?
Societies are complicated structures and quite often people forget to ask themselves basic questions about what is truly important to them and why. Talking about concepts of right and wrong can be valuable in developing critical thinking skills. What constitutes "respect" and why is it important to treat others a certain way? Respecting other people fosters mutual respect and creates a beneficial relationship for everyone involved.
When Bibot and Marcel trade places as dog and master the issue of empathy comes into play. Do you think Bibot regrets the way he has treated Marcel in the past? Why is it important to look at someone else's point of view or "put yourself in their shoes"? Many people will agree that it is of good practice to envision how your actions will affect someone else. Asking the students if they have ever felt victimized by a person who didn't think they were being disrespectful is a way to further this idea. Also, asking what they would have done if roles were reversed could help them understand others' actions. This part of the discussion can easily be led towards issues of social equality and fairness. Some philosophers believe that all individuals should be treated equally in certain aspects such as race, relgion, gender. Equality ties well into the issue of why respecting people is important.
Once Bibot figures out that the figs are indeed magical, he focuses on how to control his dreams to become rich. People often mistake or misplace what truly makes them happy. The question "Does money guarantee happiness?" leads to asking what type of things do people value and why they value them. Should Bibot spend so much effort worrying about getting what he doesn't have? Is it possible to have lofty goals yet still be satisfied with what you already have? Suggesting the importance of evaluating one's goals to conform with their own values could help to provide a greater motivation to achieve those goals by remaining "true to yourself".
By examining how Bibot might view himself in regards to the outside world, such as when he appears naked in the streets of Paris and the great desire to be wealthy, The Sweetest Fig presents some more abstract issues such as Self-worth. Self-worth is another issue that can be brought up by asking a question such as, "What do you admire about other people?", "What do you like about yourself?" and "Why do you think Bibot is so concerned with becoming rich?". Suggesting to tweak one's goals to align with what they regard as admirable, could be said to make them happier and more fulfilled with their lives.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Section 1: Monsieur Bibot, the old lady, and the magical figs.
Section 2: Monsieur Bibot, the delicious figs, and his dreams.
Section 3: A reversal of fortune as Marcel eats the last fig.