Rhetorical Analysis of Plato’s the Allegory of the Cave

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Imagine yourself sitting inside a dark, damp, cave where the only thing you can see are moving shadows on the cave wall in front of you. You can’t move anywhere or see anything besides the shadows, and these are the only things you’ve seen for your entire life, so these moving dark images are the most real things you’ve ever known. At some point in our childhood we were mentally in this state of darkness, we didn’t know anything about the world or have any complex thoughts. How then, were we brought out of our caves of darkness and misunderstanding?

The Allegory of the Cave is a well known section of Plato’s The Republic. Plato tells a story of prisoners in a cave with no mobility and the only thing they can see are shadows cast by figures behind them. One day one of the prisoners is shown around the cave and has the shadows explained to him, he is then taken out in to the world above to be shown real figures and objects in the world. These three stages were written to represent three different stages in our mental development.

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Plato believed that the highest level of education is when you have fully experienced good, beauty, and truth. There are some people in the world have never experienced it because they have only seem it acted out by other people, or had it defined but never gone far enough out of their caves to feel it for themselves, and Plato wrote this story to try and tell people that they are living in a cave and could be experiencing a whole different world they don’t even know about yet.

This story was written to criticize the education system because many people who have problems analogous with the problems of the prisoners do not think in that simplistic way on their own, but have their views of the world because of their education. Plato shows how the obligation of educators is to bring people out of their caves and help them to truly experience good, beauty, and truth for themselves, not just tell them about it. Plato was expressing what he was trying to accomplish in his own academy which he started after much studying and traveling of his own.

Plato writes to have the reader realize he is in darkness and give the reader a hope and a reason to go out and find his light which Plato does through creating vivid imagery to draw in the reader to interest them, his language creates an analogy between the prisoners and the education system, and he creates an intriguing dialogue through syntactical structure. In the first 14 paragraphs, Plato only describes the prisoner’s as they are when the prisoners are chained to the wall. The important words used in this section of the story are the words that portray power and help to tell the story in a way that’s believable.

Enlightened in the first sentence lays the foundation for the rest of the story, because it becomes all about enlightenment and understanding the unseen things of this world. Other powerful words used to create the story include childhood because it shows that they have never known anything else, chained because it shows the level to which they are trapped, and fire to represent desire. These words also help to develop the analogy created in the entire passage. The chains which hold the prisoners in their places represent all the things that hold people back from furthering their understanding.

The fire represents the first flicker of realization which people feel to go out into the world and learn about the things which they don’t currently understand. The shadows that are created by the fire are moving on the wall in front of the prisoners creating a false idea that are real objects and they represent lies and things that people are told when being educated that aren’t true but because they are still in their darkness, they believe the lies they were told because they don’t know any better.

Imagery is used in this piece to create an effective. The scene described using these words creates a vivid image of a dark, cold, damp cave where the only thing visible is a flickering light which creates shadows on the cave wall. “…human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads.

Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. ” (Plato) This entire passage is a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. Glaucon was the older brother of Plato, and Socrates was the teacher of Plato and Glaucon at his academy.

This is a conversation that is fictional but the fact that it is a conversation between a teacher and his student shows that the teacher is trying to tell his student an analogous tale to teach him a lesson and that is the purpose behind the way the paragraph is written, but the exact lesson being taught by Socrates isn’t revealed until later in the passage. This is also the reason the diction in these paragraphs is so formal, because the teacher is giving a formal lesson and at the same time trying to speak in terms his student will understand, and to engage thought in the mind of his student because he is teaching philosophy.

It reinforces purpose because as Socrates is attempting to inspire action in the minds of his students, so also is Plato trying to inspire action in the minds of his readers. The next section of the story is when one prisoner is released from the chains by which he is bound, and his first reaction is to look behind him to find out what was creating the shadows no matter how much it hurts his eyes and neck to stare at it. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows. ”(Plato) He sees that there are just small models of animals and trees that when moved in front of the fire create the shadows, now the prisoner thinks he has surely discovered all the secrets of the world and he believes that the wooden and stone objects are the realest things in the world, which is still not true. …that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision. ” (Plato)

This stage is meant to represent when people have seen other people do things that are good, beautiful, and true and so they think they understand what they are but they have never felt these things for themselves. Next the prisoner is taken outside into the real world above and shown the real animals and trees that the stone and wooden figures are modeled after. “… he s reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. “ The former prisoner now is sure that he has seen the realest thing in the world. This represents when a person who was in the darkness of being unenlightened reads an explanation or description of what good, beauty, and truth are and so they now think they understand it fully, and they have started to comprehend it in some way.

The tone has shifted in the section from the first section. In the first section Plato was beginning with imagery and telling a dramatic tale, which has now switched to Socrates rapidly asking his student questions about what the next logical part of the story would be, and Glaucon is answering with a true, certainly, or clearly. Plato wants the reader to think about the implications of why the story is written as a lesson from a teacher to a student and to realize that there is something to be learned and a deeper meaning from the passage.

This reinforces the purpose because if the reader searches for a deeper meaning within the piece they will realize that they are supposed to be inspired to get out of the darkness they are in. Finally the prisoner looks into the sun and although it hurts him the worst, he feels like this provides the fullest understanding of the world he can comprehend. The sun is a analogy to knowledge or the good, beautiful, and true things of this earth which cannot be held or sold but only experienced and comprehended.

Plato suggests that we are all in the cave at some point in our lives and the purpose of education is to get as far from the cave and to understand as much as possible, even though many do not step foot out of their caves and never gained the understanding of their world. At the end he suggests that the natural desire of the prisoner who had gained understanding of his world would be to return to the cave and show the other prisoner’s who had originally been there with him all that he has seen so that they can understand what he has understood.

Some say this seems unfair for the freed prisoner to have to return to his cave for the others but most, including Plato, see it as his duty to pass along his knowledge to the other people who were once in his state of mind. This is where another purpose of the story is finally revealed. Socrates is telling his student that it is his duty to take all the knowledge he has learned and pass it along someday to others in the darkness of misunderstanding and incomprehension.

Plato wrote this story to tell all his future students that their duty was to pass on his knowledge as he passed it on from Socrates to his current students. In The Republic, Plato describes three different types of people in this world. He says that directors are people with souls that are dominated by the desire to fulfill the urges of their hearts such as luxury or pleasure. Plato says that the souls of warriors are dominated by their spirits which make them courageous and make them want to explore and dominate.

Lastly Plato says that some people are Rulers and their souls are dominated by the reasonable controllers and they strive for wisdom. The allegory of the cave wasn’t simply thrown into the middle of a highly philosophical novel for no reason. These three types of people are represented by these three stages of knowledge. The producer is when the prisoner is first released and his soul longs to fulfill his urges and he immediately turns his head towards the light. The warrior is represented by the prisoner going out into the world courageously and discovering the real objects and the sun.

Finally, the Ruler is portrayed by the prisoner who returns back to the cave from which he emerged to strive for even more wisdom and to pass along the knowledge he has already gained with those he left behind. Plato understood the importance of not only going out and having experiences which give you comprehension of what is good, beautiful, and true in this world but realizing that what the meaning of all those things are is to spread your comprehension of them with other people so that the cycle can never end.

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Rhetorical Analysis of Plato’s the Allegory of the Cave. (2017, Mar 01). Retrieved from


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