PLATO’S CAVE

Look carefully at the above image ( with thanks for this to WikkiMedia) which presents a picture illustrating Plato’s allegory of the cave. Note the hunched figures bound so they look in one direction. They see, point to and talk about reflections on the back wall of a cave. The light reflected is caused by a fire behind a wall. Actors bearing images of, say, animals, a soldier pass in front of the fire but behind the wall so that only the artefacts they are holding are seen. Nearer the front of the cave a prisoner who has escaped from the back of the cave has difficulty adjusting his eyesight to the brighter light of the sun and to the outside world. However, an escaped prisoner further advance into the sunlight is taking in the reality of the world unfolded to him.

In the allegory the prisoners are presented with shadowy pictures they assume must represent reality. It is of course a false impression of reality. But even if one escapes it is difficult for him to adjust his seeing to the new reality. However, if he is able to advance beyond this stage the possibility of full awareness of reality is open to him. The light of the fire has been replaced by the sun. The surrounding world is seen in its animated fullness of reality.

Were the two escapees to return to the cave to their former colleagues, they would have difficulty with the lack of light and appear to the prisoners confused. Therefore should they claim a superior reality lies beyond if only the prisoners could escape their word might well be doubted.

What do you make of this story? Does it accord with anything in your life or in our world that makes it an allegory of continuing significance for our time?

Note. Allegory: “A story or visual image with a distinct second meaning behind its literal or visible meaning. An allegory may be conceived of as a metaphor that is extended into a structure system. In written narrative, allegory involves a continuous parallel between two (or more) levels of meaning in a story, so that its persons or events correspond to their equivalents in a system of ideas or a chain of events external to the tale.” (From The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms Chris Baldick. OUP 1990)

Published by alan

As a retired lecturer in English Literature with the Open University I continue to run reading groups on our literary heritage. This blog seeks to interest readers in enjoying and thinking about a wide range of classic novels, plays and poems

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