Monday, October 24, 2005

The Allegory of the Cave

Book 7 of The Republic of Plato is called the allegory of the cave and is about believing in a truth for your entire life and then “having your world rocked” and realizing that what you have accepted as the truth is not the truth and that everything you know is actually different.
A great example of this is the movie Pleasantville. In this movie the characters are living in black and white in a “perfect” middle class neighborhood. Everything is happy all the time and we would consider the emotions that they feel to be very “numb” but to them it is simply normal, and anything else would be completely out of the ordinary. Throughout the movie different people in Pleasantville being to experience different “truths” as they experience these truths (in this case really emotions) their world begins to burst into color, symbolizing their freedom and their “enlightenment” because they now know the real truth.
Specifically is the example of the mother in Pleasantville. She is a stereotypical 50’s housewife. She cooks for her children every morning, welcomes her husband home from work every evening and cooks and cleans all day long. She experiences her “enlightenment” when he daughter who is already enlightened suggests that she take a bath in the bathtub. This mother, who has never experienced true comfort and relaxation, finally decides to take the bath and after experiences these true feelings burst into color.
Another example is people who are educated by one person their entire life. For example, I recently saw an episode of Primetime where there were two 12 year old White Nationalist girls who sing rocks songs in order to recruit people for their cause. These girls are home schooled and all of their education comes from their White Nationalist mother who is incredibly racist. She teaches her daughters only one side of a truth and because they are only educated through their mother they know no other ideas of truth. Their ignorance keeps them devoted to the White Nationalist cause but if they had a traditional education and were shown both sides to every story then they may reconsider their beliefs.
In the allegory of the cave the prisoners are taken out of their cave and made to experience real truths. They have been accepting shadows of images on the wall as truths for their entire life and they know nothing else. As they are shown (the first prisoner the actual objects that were casting the shadow and the second prisoner the actual world) these real truths they are forced to leave behind their acceptance of a particular truth and have to broaden their view in order to believe and accept the new truths.
The allegory is all about educating ignorance that people have and showing them that there is “more out there” than they know and that they have been brought up on. It shows that when people limit themselves to one truth, or one belief their entire lives and refuse to explore other ideas (or are forced not to) they are just like the prisoners in the cave. The truth they believe is only a fraction of the truth and because they haven’t been able to see the entire picture from all sides and angles they are stuck in their ignorance accepting something to be true that is not necessarily true at all.


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