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Published: 2021-06-23 05:00:04
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Will Durant, a U. S author and historian, writes, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. ” This means that all the knowledge people once had is misleading to what the truth really is. Similarly, in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and Frederick Douglass’s “Learning to Read and Write” a painful process of gaining knowledge through all the ignorance is described. Plato describes a prisoner going on a journey to gain knowledge that is behind him, after he was stuck staring at a wall of shadows his whole life.
He goes back to tell the other prisoners of his discoveries and they want to kill him. Douglass is a slave who learns to read and write, going through stages to achieve each step. As he begins gaining knowledge he finds the truth about slavery which startles him. Socrates’ idea that gaining knowledge is a difficult journey to undertake because by doing so it changes the way people see the world, as proven by Douglass’ experiences. In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, Socrates illustrates a metaphorical story about attaining knowledge. He describes a cave with men who are chained, prisoners of the cave.
They face a wall; that is all they can see because they cannot move their heads. They cannot even look behind them to see a walkway and a fire. As a person passes on the walkway, a shadow is projected onto the wall in front of the prisoners; this is all they know. Only the shadows are what is real to them because it’s all they have ever known. Socrates says, “How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads? ” (Plato 479). The main point is that people cannot understand anything except what is being projected right in front of them.
Socrates’ point is that society has a limited understanding of knowledge, and is ignorant about what is beyond the surroundings. To acquire knowledge of the truth beyond the cave, one prisoner is freed. As his eyes adjust to the light, he starts to see the real objects from the images that are projected onto the wall. He understands how the shadows were a false truth and just an illusion and he feels bad for the other prisoners still stuck in the cave. He understands that they are not seeing the truth. Socrates states, “What he saw before was an illusion”.
So the prisoner returns to tell the others about his knew knowledge, but they couldn’t understand what they were being told. The other prisoners will not accept the knowledge the escapee has learned and my even put him to death. But the chained prisoners don’t understand that the whole world outside the cave is more real than the false illusions, or the shadows being projected onto the walls. Society doesn’t want to accept knew knowledge; people often resist changing what they know. Socrates’ prisoner goes through stages or the process of knowledge, which is also shown in Douglass.
In the allegory, when the prisoner first leaves the cave he stares at the sun and cannot see; it takes time to get accustomed to the brightness. Socrates describes, “And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves” (Plato 480). In time the prisoner will begin to understand the “realities” (Plato 480) that he is facing by going through the stages. This is shown in Douglass as well. Douglass is first taught to read by Mistress Hugh, but then she refuses to teach him. So Douglass turns to kids that he makes friends with to finish teaching him to read.
Douglass Sates, “The light broke in upon me by degrees” (Douglass 73); in other words, education is being achieved in stages. This is like the prisoner going through a process of gaining knowledge. Once Douglass is introduced to reading, he teaches himself to write by tricking the white boys into helping him learn. The process endured outside the cave by the prisoner- or the process endured by Douglass- will be “tedious” (Douglass 74), and take time, but steps must be taken to gain any knowledge. The process of gaining knowledge can be painful; Socrates idea of pain by being enlightened is played out in Douglass.
When the prisoner is in a cave he is comfortable with the shadows on the wall and his surroundings, but if the prisoner is freed he will feel pain: “And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of visions which he can see” (Plato 480). The new knowledge that he will gain is so different than what he is used to. This can be seen likewise in Douglass as well. When Douglass learns to read he learns the truth of slavery which “tormented” (Douglass 71) him. He writes, “It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but no ladder upon which to get out”
This is similar to the prisoner leaving the cave. He understands slavery and his rights are taken away, they ways that they are taken from their homes and made into nothing is so cruelly wrong. This causes him great pain; the only thing he has to look forward to is the hope of being freed. Because becoming enlightened is a painful process, many will resist or challenge what they believe, as illustrated by Socrates and Douglass. After the prisoner goes on his journey of being enlightened, he goes back to the cave to tell his friends what he has learned, but they reject him.
Socrates says, “If any one tried to lose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch he offender, and they would put him to death” (Plato 482). The other prisoners think he is being “ridiculous” (Plato 481) and want to put him to death for his story about life outside the cave. They don’t understand that they are the ones trapped in ignorance and the freed prisoner is telling them the truth. This also plays out in Douglass. Mistress Hugh began by being a caring lady and teaching Douglass how to read, but slavery soon made a big impact on her.
“I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension” ( Douglass 70). The violence she projected toward Douglass when snatching the paper from him shows the resistance she now has toward him being educated. Many will resist being enlightened because society doesn’t like to change what they already know. While society tends to resist enlightenment, those who are enlightened cannot return to their former ignorance, and pities others who are stuck there; which is shown in Plato and Douglass.
When the prisoner went on his journey after being freed from the cave he learned all about the false notions he was living in the cave. Socrates says, “And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them? ” (Plato 481). The prisoner feels bad for the others because they are trapped in ignorance and cannot see the truth like he has. This is also shown in Douglass.

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