Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: Summary and Meaning

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 6
Words: 1513
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College

Identify and describe the four main parts of Plato’s Cave. Show how each part has relevance to your life. Be very specific about places, dates, and people

Plato’s story is an allegory that is still relevant in the modern world. Moreover, it can successfully describe any individual’s life as people face similar challenges and opportunities throughout different periods of their existence. The story can be divided into four parts including imprisonment, the fire experience, freedom, and return. I will illustrate the relevance of Plato’s allegory to modernity by providing some examples from my life.

I was imprisoned for many years as I hardly ever tried to question my former best friend’s actions. I believed John, which is his name, was my best friend although we had spent quite a limited time together. When we did, I saw his true colors, which made me change my attitude and my trust vanished, and it was beneficial for me. I felt I was unchained the moment I learned about John’s actual character. I also understand the nature of my imprisonment as our relatives had always pushed us making us believe that we could be good friends. My relationships with this person are very similar to the fire game the prisoners in the cave had to observe.

I hardly ever saw the way John behaved with others, I only listened to millions of stories about his success and positive influence on the universe. I saw some shadows while the reality was absolutely different and sometimes quite the opposite.

My enlightenment or freedom from the power of John took place when we had a chance to spend several months together. We became roommates, and I could closely observe the way he behaved. Observation became the sun that made me see the reality and the highest standards of the good and the most notorious and pathetic illustrations of the bad. Interestingly, I am in a similar situation to the unchained resident of the cave.

I also see the true nature of certain things, but I am unable to inflict my knowledge of others due to various reasons. At that, in my case, the major reason is not other people’s inability to accept the truth although this would happen as well. In my situation, I cannot tell my relatives the whole truth as I do not want to hurt their feelings.

On balance, I would like to note that even such a trivial situation as the relationship with another person can reveal the relevance of Plato’s story to modern people’s lives. The allegory of the cave and its residence can illustrate people’s relationships, actions, and choices. I know that I am still imprisoned and have access to shadows, but I try to break the chains and see the sunlight.

What are the three most important themes in Plato’s account of the interior of the Cave? Please identify and describe with quotations from the text. Finally, show how each of these themes is relevant to life today

In his renowned story known as “The Allegory of the Cave,” Plato explores the nature of knowledge and the good, the relevance of knowing, and the concepts of truth and justice. When it comes to the description of the interior of the cave, the author recurrently addresses several themes. It is possible to identify three major themes related to the cave and the imprisonment experience.

One of the themes is imprisonment as people are chained and forced to see certain things. People are not free to make judgments as they are based on false conclusions. The prisoners are not even “allowed to move their heads,” which leaves them almost completely blind (Plato, 2016, p. 158). They are only free to see some shadows on the wall instead of real objects or meanings behind them. The theme is still relevant in the modern world as people are also chained now. People are the prisoners of certain biases and prejudice that shape the scope of their moves.

Seeing shadows rather than objects and people is another important theme in the story. The author stresses that the prisoners “see only their shadows, or the shadows of one another” (Plato, 2016, p. 158). Apart from looking at the shadows of some figures carried by puppeteers, the chained people do not even see themselves. They can see shadows that do not reflect their real selves. This theme is closely linked to the one mentioned above. Beliefs developed within certain cultural contexts create the shadows people perceive. In many cases, an individual cannot see their real selves as they see the reflection in the mirror as a total of the existing norms and expectations.

Finally, light is an important theme Plato refers to many times. When in the cave, people have only one source of light. Importantly, the fire cannot be regarded as the light sufficient to see all the details and make conclusions. People’s existence is “unenlightened,” and they seem to remain passive viewers of what they are shown (Plato, 2016, p. 158). Ironically, the deem light the fire produces (that is supposed to give knowledge) is an instrument of limiting people’s perspectives. This theme has acquired a specific form in the modern world as technology can be seen as Plato’s fire in the cave. People are bombarded with messages and stories, and the media have a considerable (and sometimes essential) influence on the way things and events are presented.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that three major themes of the story are imprisonment, shadows instead of real selves, and light as a source of unenlightenedness. Plato argues that people can hardly perceive their selves adequately due to their chains as well as the abundance of information. They see the shadows produced by major sources of information (the Internet, TV, major news agencies, and governments). People cannot be enlightened with the flames of fire even though it helps them see some aspects of their existence.

Find at least four drawings of the Cave—not counting the ones we did in class which are masterpieces and have few faults. Identify three aspects of Plato’s Cave as described in Republic VII that are seldom if ever included in the drawings that one sees. Why do you think these aspects are omitted?

Plato’s cave story has attracted the attention of numerous artists who tried to convey the allegory in their artworks. It can be interesting to trace the way people see Plato’s message as these presentations unveil the beliefs and values that reign in society. This paper includes an analysis of three aspects that are rarely included in visual arts. The works by Markus Maurer, Pieter Jansz, Michiel Coxcie, and Lalita Hamill are considered.

One of the aspects that are hardly ever depicted is the enlightened person’s emotions when looking at the sun. Out of the three works under consideration only one of them, Antrum Platonicum by Pieter Jansz, depicts people outside the cave. Importantly, their emotions and even faces are not shown. It is possible to assume that artists are not interested in the exploration of the process of people’s enlightenment. It seems that the central point is the fact that people gained the sacred knowledge while their feelings of disbelief, fear, or awe are irrelevant.

Another aspect that is conveyed differently or ignored completely is related to the enlightened people. In two works out of four, these people are not displayed at all. Pieter Jansz shows a crowd of people who, presumably, returned to the cave. However, Plato mentions one returner only, so the artist seems to go beyond the original work and reveals his belief that many people can be liberated. In Lalita Hamill’s Plato’s Cave, one returner is depicted, which is consistent with the original story. Therefore, the figure of the returner seems rather obscure as the chained people are central to the delivery of the main idea. Michiel Coxcie’s De Grot von Plato is an illustration of an extreme focus on the prisoners.

Finally, the sun itself is rarely displayed in the works of visual art. Markus Maurer’s Allegory of the Cave is the only artwork that has the sun. The rest of the pieces have the fire, which is often made vivid or even placed as the primary element. The reluctance to show the sun may be the artists’ focus on the issues and problems of the majority of people rather than those who acknowledged the truth. Another reason for this kind of omission is the artists’ inability to depict the sun due to the complexity of the concept.

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the three works in question were created at different times and places, emphasizing on different concepts and ideas. The three themes that are often omitted or depicted in different ways are the sun, the enlightened people’s emotions, and the ones who returned. The difference and the lack of attention to these details can be associated with artists’ focus on the wrongs of the society rather than the acquisition of the highest wisdom.


Plato. (2016). The republic. Los Angeles, CA: