Here Plato’s The Allegory Of The Cave is analyzed using the translation by Thomas Sheehan. The Allegory of Cave is not a narrative, fiction, or a story. It is a dialogue in which Socrates tells Glaucon about the perceptions of the people and how these perceptions change with the changing scenario of knowledge and belief. The conversation presents some prisoners chained in a cave where they see shadows of the puppets on the wall and think that this is the real scenario that develops into their belief.
SOCRATES: Imagine this: People live under the earth in a cave like dwelling. Stretching a long way up toward the daylight is its entrance, toward which the entire cave is gathered. The people have been in this dwelling since childhood, shackled by the legs and neck. Thus they stay in the same place so that there is only one thing for them to look that: whatever they encounter in front of their faces. But because they are shackled, they are unable to turn their heads around.
Socrates presented the above scenario to prisoners who are shackled and chained since their childhood. They are stuck in the same place and they see the same thing daily. Also, they do not turn their heads around. This shows the allegorical meanings of the people who are unable to see other things during their lifetime and believe in the same belief system that their forefathers have believed in.
SOCRATES: And if someone were [then] to show him any of the things that were passing by and forced him to answer the question about what it was, don’t you think that he would be a wit’s end and in addition would consider that what he previously saw [with his own eyes] was more unhidden than what was now being shown [to him by someone else].
The above dialogue is one of the responses by Socrates to Glaucon. He states that if a person is asked about the things that he has not seen during his lifetime, he will face difficulty in deciphering the nature and being of objects. It is because he has only seen with one eye and after somebody else shows him another side of the same thing or another thing, he will neither accept the new reality so easily, nor he would be able to understand it.
SOCRATES: Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there, the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows — while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, an adjustment that would require quite a bit of time — would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined — and thus it certainly does not pay to go up.
Socrates explains to Glaucon that one of the prisoners is freed. He goes out, sees things, and comes again to form an opinion about the shadows that is different from the opinion he has already formed and the opinions of the other prisoners. However, they ridicule him, as he says that the prisoners would think that he has ruined his eyes due to having been exposed to the outside world.
Major Allegorical Meanings
The conversation between Socrates and Glaucon involves a cave where Socrates states the prisoners have been imprisoned since their childhood. They are tied in such a way that they can only see in front of them and cannot move their necks. As they have not been exposed to the outside world, they know nothing about it. They only have a walkway with fire between them and things on their heads to see the puppets dancing on the opposite wall of the cave. This cave is the situation in which a person lives in their own bubble and cannot see the other’s point of view or truth. It is the symbol of one’s personal world.
Socrates questions Glaucon saying he could imagine himself a prisoner. He tries to explain things to him saying that he could imagine seeing things in front of him and that he is unable to see behind. Therefore, the shadows in front of him would be on the front wall and the back will have nothing for him. Socrates is telling him that he would start believing that the shadows are things and that other things that are real in the outside world are unreal. The shadows are the reality that a person lives in. Shadows are also allegory for influences.
Plato suggests that the game that the prisoners would play with the shadows is about guessing what it is and what is not. This game would continue with the proper feedback about appreciation and depreciation of the prisoners likewise. The game is the symbol of reality around the people and how they measure people according to their work and actions.
Socrates states that one of the prisoner’s escapes from the cave. He is shocked to see the outside world where the sun is shining and the world is going around. He sees that his former life is useless and he has been forced to believe in something that has not been a reality. The escape alludes to a self-realization or finally seeing the world in its entirety after the prisoner escapes.
Socrates presents the return of the prisoner. He states that when that person turns back, he sees the shadows and tells other prisoners that the world of shadows is unreal and the reality lies outside of the cave. However, instead of believing his side of the truth, they mock him. The return is the symbol of reversion to the former state to understand it after comparing it with the outside world. This also means that many people who cannot blend in with the new people, habit or place even though they show truth and freedom, return to the captivity, thus sticking with the cave mentality.