Monday, October 24, 2005

The Allegory of Truman

The Allegory of the Cave
Travis Larkin

Book VII outlines the most famous metaphor in the novel and philosophical writings in our human history. The allegory of the cave is this metaphor, it tells of a dark scene in which a group of people has been living since birth. They live in this dark cave bound so they cannot look side-to-side or even behind but are forced to stare straight ahead constantly. Behind these people there is a fire and many statues. The fire manipulates the statues and cast shadows for the bound people to watch. These shadows represent the most reality the people have ever seen and they dare not think there is more to the outside world. At a certain point a prisoner is freed from his bonds and forced to gaze directly into the flames. The initial exposure to the bright light blinds and brings pain to the eyes, but afterwards the once prisoner has become accustomed he realizes that the shadows were only “copies” of the statues created by the flames on the wall. Now the prisoner is taken from his sanctuary in the cave and thrust into the real world outside. The sunlight, like the flames, burns his eyes and he sees little but eventually his eyes become accustomed and he begins to see real objects in the world and he understands the reality of his situation and what has happened to him. This is an allegory for understanding and ultimately the effects of education. Education is represented through the flames of the fire and the sunlight. Education in this allegory is empowering and ultimately leads to the ultimate reality of understanding.
A modern example of the allegory of the cave is set in the film The Truman Show. Truman has been living in a made up world. Ed Harris is the creator/director of The Truman Show which is a television show dedicated to the life of Truman Burbank. Ed Harris has created a world for Truman to live in so he never knows that his entire life is dedicated to the production of a television show. Truman lives his life in the darkness of the cave if you will. He has never done anything real and only lived the life that has been laid out for him. The difference with the Truman show is that he has no one to free him from his bonds and show him the light. He must do this for himself, although he does have several hints along the way to his situation. Ed Harris plays the facilitator of the Truman Show, similar to the ones who fed the fire in the allegory of the cave. He built the superdome in which Truman lives and is responsible for keeping Truman from finding the truth of the situation.
Truman eventually begins to find flaws in the virtual reality that Ed Harris has created for him. He begins to question the environment around him and wonders if there is really something else out there. He begins to try to escape the cave but is very unsuccessful in his attempts. Eventually he commandeers a ship and runs it into the edge of his world. He steps out of the cave, for that is basically what it is. He has never scene true sunlight only manmade skies and sunlight. When he steps out into the real world it is identical to the first experience of man stepping from the cave. It is blindingly bright and a painful and shocking experience to understand that everything he has ever known has been a lie and a falsehood. He steps outside and experiences the ultimate reality of understanding.
The allegory of the cave relates to modern life and human experience in every facet of our world. What makes the allegory of the cave such a beautiful and famous metaphor is its ability to truly apply to every person’s life in so many ways.

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