Meanings in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The Parable of the Cave, which is also known as the Allegory of the Cave, is an allegory used by a Greek philosopher Plato in his work, the Republic. In his work, he illustrates our nature in education where he uses fiction and dialogue of his teacher Socrates and his brother Glaucon. To answer the question on what the puppets and fire signify, what he means by less real than shadows and what the fire is frightening just because it is so intense signifies it is of great importance to focus and understand what was happening before these phrases.

In this dialogue, Socrates describes a group of people living in an underground den since their childhood saying that the den had mouth open towards the light that reached the entire den. Socrates describes the people who lived in the den as prisoners with chains such that they could not move or turn back, and they could only see what was before them.

These prisoners signify people who despite being born in the light they have lived in ignorance or else they have no ideas of what is happening around them because of the things that are holding them to see the realities before them. The wall between the prisoner and the fire are the things that obstruct the people from seeing the reality and instead they see other things. Socrates compares this wall with screen used by the marionette players over which they show the puppets. This brings us to the question, what do puppets and fire signifies?

The puppets represent an in-animated representation of the real world or the reality. These prisoners have being brought up in the world with reality but to them what they see is different from what is in the real world because what they see are mere representations of the reality. This is due to the manipulation of the reality by the chains holding them, which could be ignorance, beliefs, views from other people or completely lack of knowledge.

The author describes the wall between to be like one used by the marionette players since it blocks these people from realising the truth. During the time the marionette players are playing, their puppets what people see are only the puppets, which many tend to thinking they are playing on their own. The players hide themselves completely. This is what the prisoners thought or believed in, that what they viewed the reality was the real truth even though there were other factors that made them have those perspectives.

The most interesting thing of these prisoners is, though there were men who passed along the wall between them and the fire carrying all sort of vessels and the statues, the author states “what they see is only their shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.” This gives weight to the level of ignorance and blindness of the prisoners to what was happening around them. This same thing happens in the real world where we do not want to focus on what makes us view or have certain perspectives in our ways.

The fire represents the light that was illuminating and focusing the prisoners to the reality. The author points that what the prisoners saw were just their shadows or the shadows of the prisoners. This is the evidence that the fire was the light that was meant to help the prisoners see the reality but they could not. Instead of seeing the shadows of the men who passed over the wall between them and the fire they just saw their shadows. The blindness and failure to see the shadows of the men and the objects was an effect of the chains that held them. This is reality of what is happening. We have the power and the ability to see the reality but some hindrances are stopping us.

The other question to focus on is what Socrates means when he says that they seem less real than shadows. Socrates used this statement, as a metaphor referring to the way people live is less real than shadows. People live with ignorance of the reality. What they see, dream of and what they do, do not align with what is expected of them.

We therefore live, lives that are not real but the imitation of how we need to live. In the parable instead of the prisoners seeing each other, which was more real than their shadows they gave much attention to the shadows. This implies how we have the ability to see the reality in us but most of the time we focus on other things that are far away from reality than even the shadows of this realities.

Finally, fire is frightening just because it is so intense. This signifies the way the power or source of the illumination to reality is with great force. The rate at which the people are getting enlightened to the reality is very high. Socrates questions himself severally on what would happen if one of the prisoners would be given a chance to see the real things that were happening. At one point, he says that if he is brought to the light and sees what was going on behind them, he would see as if it was just visions of what he saw before. Then he adds that after passing through various stages to show him the real things that were happening he would pity himself and the other prisoners.

Intense of the fire is a clear indication of how the focus to bring people to the reality was magnificent. The nature at which the reality comes is very intense. Therefore, the lesson learnt from Plato’s parable of the cave, is that there are several factors pushing us to the reality and the real world but the things that are holding us from seeing this realities drag behind us. Coming out to the light is the only way to face the reality.