The Search for Truth in Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio
The novel Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson has many themes that present themselves throughout the book. One such recurring theme is a search for truth. The characters in the book do not fully realize that they are searching for truth, but they do feel a vague, "indescribable thing" that pushes and prods their minds to actualize a higher plane of thought. This search for a higher plane by the characters of Winesburg nearly parallels another literary work of ancient Greek origin- Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," which is a portion of his famous writing "The Republic." I contend that the town of Winesburg is the equivalent of the Cave in Plato's writing.
The "Allegory of the Cave" is an attempt by Plato to relate his thoughts and philosophy on human civilization into common terms. He believed that there are two planes of existence: the material world of the senses, and a higher world of thoughts and ideals. Plato's "Allegory" made it possible for people to more firmly grasp a somewhat abstract concept.
The "Allegory" depicts a number of people who are imprisoned in a cave, chained by the legs and neck so that they cannot move, nor can they turn their heads; they see only towards the back wall opposite the cave opening. These people have been chained in this manner their entire lives. Sometimes objects and people pass in front of the cave opening, and shadows play upon the back wall. Since the people have only seen the shadows, they assume that the shadows are the real objects and beings of the world. They watch the shadows, measuring them, trying to understand them, and soon honors are bestowed upon those persons who can see the passing shadows the most quickly and accurately, and those who can best predict what shadows they will see in the future. Life for the prisoners goes on this way without occurrence until one of them is freed, led up outside the cave, and shown the real world. The freed person will realize that the truth of the shadowed reality is actually a falsehood. After this realization the person who visited the upper world is returned to imprisonment in the cave. Her eyes have to adjust to the darkness of the cave once again. However, this adjustment naturally takes a long time. As a result, the once free person can no longer see the shadows as well as she did before her release into the upper world. To the people who have remained in the cave, it seems as though going into the upper world has destroyed her faculty for seeing "reality." Some of the captives then say that trying to reach the outer world is harmful, and that anyone caught trying to loose themselves or another person for the purpose of reaching the outside will be punished. Plato says that the cave symbolizes the world of sight and the outside represents the world of knowledge. Plato also instructs people to "interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul...