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The Allegory of the Cave by Plato and the Rhetorical Strategy of Symbolism

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The Allegory of the Cave

If considered, one will realize that it has widely become accepted that positive things or places in life are difficult to attain or reach. “Change is hard”, “the cold hard truth”, “the truth isn’t pretty”, and other sayings are examples of how the difficulty of the task of becoming better and more enlightened with truth has been acknowledged by people time and time again. In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, he sets up the extended metaphor where the cave represents shadows of the truth, trapping people so they cannot become enlightened with what is real. When describing the situation, Plato manages to convey the message that ascent to truth and enlightenment is made practically impossible when one is forced to turn away from the things they have always known as genuine. This is so true that even when faced with the truth, it still requires time for people to accept that it is reality as opposed to what they had grown accustomed to. In his allegory of the cave, Plato utilizes rhetorical strategies such as symbolism, imagery, and diction to effectively convey his message to the audience. As titled, the entire writing is an allegory with a figurative meaning concealed behind its literal aspects. Plato uses the rhetorical strategy of symbolism to effectively create a bridge between this literal story and its hidden meaning. In the allegory, Plato uses the darkness of the cave and the light of the outside world as symbols for lies and truth. Literally he describes the light of the world outside of the cave, the sun and all its brightness as well as the darkness of the cave and the shadows on the wall, which are all the people can see. Figuratively, the light represents truth and enlightenment, while the darkness and shadows are equivalent to the lies and illusions of life. In Plato’s continued narration of a person’s journey out of the cave and into the light, the readers understanding of the symbols within the description allow Plato to portray his message. In order to effectively convey the cave and all its aspects, Plato uses extensive imagery throughout his description. In order to understand the figurative representations and the overall message of the allegory, the reader must be able to comprehend the literal situation that Plato is presenting; imagery helps him accomplish this. “Human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light… legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them… fire blazing in the distance… men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels… they only see their own shadows…” Plato’s description of this situation allows the audience to understand the image he is presenting. Without this comprehension, the reader would be incapable of grasping any further implicit meanings within the writing; therefore this imagery is critical in successfully conveying Plato’s message. A final critical rhetorical strategy within this allegory is diction. Plato’s word choice has meanings embedded in it, helping to offer further clarity to the audience in understanding the hidden meaning behind the allegory. Plato says “And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent…” The connotation of the words Plato used to describe this journey upwards conveys the difficulty involved in the process. This process is a representation of the rise to enlightenment. Once outside the cave, Plato writes, “When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled…” The connotation of the word dazzled is in complete contrast with the previous sentence; it has a much more positive implication. The diction throughout this story continues to enable Plato to express the figurative meaning of the allegory. In writing this allegory, Plato was trying to convey the difficulty in reaching enlightenment and accepting truth as well the severe importance of it. He wanted to show how it is possible for people to remain deceived for so long, when this is their reality. He also wanted to convey how difficult it can be to accept a reality other than that which one has accepted for so long. In communicating all of this information, Plato uses symbolism, imagery, and diction to ensure the reader could comprehend the broad implications of this story.

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