The absence of enlightenment is a very dark place; there is not much to life if we do not have some sort of enlightenment or knowledge. In Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave”, the prisoners are in darkness, because their perception of reality is twisted. This darkness is both literal and metaphorical in “The Allegory of the Cave”. In Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s Sister”, Judith Shakespeare experiences a very emotional type of darkness that ultimately leads to her killing herself. The darkness experienced by Judith can be linked back to the absence of enlightenment in her life, because she was not given the same opportunities as her brother. In the word enlightenment, there is literally the opposite of darkness, which is light. Without enlightenment, we have darkness. Enlightenment means going beyond a life of darkness and doing so much more.
When looking at “The Allegory of the Cave”, there are key examples of the effects of ignorance. In Plato’s allegory, when the prisoner returned to the cave after enlightenment and attempted to share what he knew, Plato wrote “if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death” (Plato 24). The prisoners who were still in the cave viewed the enlightened prisoner as “without his eyes”, meaning he was ridiculous and was crazy. The perception of those in the cave was delusional. Their knowledge of the world was only the shadows they saw before them, which were simply illusions caused by objects and fire. The prisoners knew nothing beyond these shadows. They were so immersed in darkness that they were willing to put the enlightened prisoner to death for his attempt to enlighten the rest of the prisoners. All day the prisoners would look at shadows and give names to the shadows, because this was all they knew. The prisoners could not grasp the concept that there was more to the world than what they knew, because they were ignorant and did not know any better. The absence of enlightenment made them unwilling to “see the sun” and learn from the enlightened prisoner, which limited them to further life spent staring at shadows and giving names to that which they did not fully even understand. The prisoners did not try to go beyond a life of darkness; instead they formed a barely thriving life in the darkness.
Along with the presence of darkness in “The Allegory of the Cave”, there is apparent darkness in “Shakespeare’s Sister”. The darkness in “Shakespeare’s Sister” is an emotional darkness that can be linked back to the lack of enlightenment, because Judith Shakespeare did not receive the same opportunities as her brother. Instead of going to grammar school, Judith learned how to cook, sew, and be a housewife and mother. The absence of light in Judith’s life is both different and similar to the absence in the cave. The darkness experienced by the prisoners is not an emotional one like the darkness experienced by Judith; the prisoners experienced darkness as a result of ignorance. The darkness felt by Judith was a sort of depression, because she had such immense desire to do the same things as her brother, William, but was never given the same opportunities. Judith was discriminated for her gender, and this limited what she was allowed to do during the time period she lived in. Any woman during this time period was forced into a pre-designated life, despite any talent or passions they had. Woolf explains, “any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked” (Woolf 770). During this time, women did not really have the ability to become enlightened, because there were no opportunities for them. There were no schools for them to attend; there were no apprenticeships. There was nothing for them to learn from. If a woman were to try to pursue her passions, she would probably fail from lack of knowledge unfortunately. Since Judith was unable to explore her passions for reading, writing, and theatre, Judith did ultimately lose her sanity and ended her own life. Without an outlet for her to pursue her passions, she fell into a deep depression. Judith believed death was better than a limited life, which she was not really living in to begin with. Despite how physically alive she was, she felt dead inside, because she was only existing and surviving.
Throughout both of these texts, you see these examples of the darkness that is felt by both the prisoners and Judith Shakespeare. However, this does not entirely answer the question of how this relates to enlightenment. Enlightenment in “The Allegory of the Cave” allowed the prisoners to see “the good” in the world and discover a true reality instead of their false perceptions. However, the prisoners continued to spend their days in darkness as a result of the ignorance and stubborn attitudes. If the prisoners had been willing to learn and become enlightened, they would have been able to leave the darkness that was surrounding them and progress into a better reality. Since the prisoners did not know any better, though, they viewed the enlightened prisoner as crazy and delusional. Enlightenment in “Shakespeare’s Sister” would have let Judith pursue her passions, but she was never given the opportunity to attend grammar school or work in theatres like William did. Judith was forced into a life that did not allow her to find happiness, or her version of “the good” from “The Allegory of the Cave”. Judith was not able to receive enlightenment because of how women were viewed during the sixteenth century. The darkness caused by the lack of enlightenment pushed her to a point low enough that she found more solace in death rather than just accepting her fate.
Obviously, a life without enlightenment is often a life that can be seen as false or a life not even worth living. In order to understand the importance of knowledge, it is important to realize that enlightenment is not restricted to academic knowledge. Enlightenment is about more than just having knowledge; it is about bettering yourself and bettering your life. Through enlightenment, someone can find a way to leave a dark situation and improve his/her life. Enlightenment needs to be something readily available for everyone, as shown in “Shakespeare’s Sister”. Also, enlightenment needs to be shared as much as possible, as shown in “The Allegory of the Cave”. If enlightenment is reserved for only a set group or class, or if enlightenment is never shared, people will be forced to live in unfulfilling and ignorant lives, which is not what living is.
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