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Analysis of the Plato’s Cave

Semiotics studies the signs, symbols and icons that are presented in an image. In the image, different characters and objects are illustrated. Some of the visible characters include humans, cat and numerous objects. The objects and the characters aim to present ideas and certain information, which can be retrieved through analysing the image and relationship among the different characters and objects on the image. It is important to note that “questions about what an author “really means” are inherently unanswerable …” (Huard, 2007, p. 1). This applies to the current image because the original aims of the author are unknown but through induction, association and relevance, some ideas and perspective can be appreciated. The aim of the essay is to analyse signs, symbols, icons, ideology, and information associated with the image.

Numerous characters appear in the image. The image is in a form of a cave in which light is used to project objects shadows on the wall. Some of the characters include shadows cast on wall, prisoners, roadway where puppeteers perform and the fire. These different characters play an integral role in advancing the significance of ignorance and enlightenment (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). The image including the related information presents the experiences the characters undergoes in elaborating on forms and availability of knowledge. The characters holding the power are the puppeteers before the puppeteers determine the object to be projected and can manipulate the thinking and perception of the prisoners (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). The prisoners are chained and are unable to turn or check the source of the light including other objects. The prisoners are only forced to view the projections, without gathering further information on colour and other physical components of the objects.

The signs in the image include the cave, shadows, escape, the objects, the return, chains, puppet masters, the fire and prisoners. These numerous symbols are utilised to inform on the nature of the image and the meaning of the symbols. The prisons are individuals trapped in the sensory world: the sensory world is made of sight, hearing, smelling and feeling among others. The prisoners cannot move because of the chains, and the chains represent factors that inhibit freedom to learn. The information is presented by the puppet masters who can manipulate the information easily (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). The cave represents a sensory world that individuals believe or react to the information that is available or presented (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). The cave is sometimes referred to as the internal world whole the outside world represents provision and seeking of additional information to understand an issue. It is attributed to gaining enlightenment and appreciation of the dynamics of the world. The fire in the image represents the manufactured beliefs and information (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). Such information may be untrue or true, but the information is passed from on individual to the next. The untrue or true information is presented through the shadows, which represents the beliefs and knowledge acquired from others.

The shadows on the wall are examples of information include the theory of forms. The ideology of forms in the image is the explanation that the world is made of reflections that may result from ideal and perfect forms. The material world that individuals can smell, hear, touch and see is only half of what the image presents (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). For example, the fire and the prisoners are what individuals can see, and sometimes limits the ability of the prisoners to make informed decisions making the individuals utilising such an approach to be blind (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). In the image, the cat, table, chair, prisoners, fire and the shadows are some of the forms and understanding the form can contribute to true knowledge (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). However, the limitation on information presented in the image may result in false knowledge because of skewed and biassed nature of the information.

In the wider context of the image, a prisoner escapes and is dazzled by the light. The dazzling and escaping experience provides the individual with additional information regarding environment, which may be construed as acquiring more knowledge (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). The ‘dazzling’ are the challenges an individual may experience in accessing knowledge and persevering through these challenges enables an individual to be informed. It may mean seeking further information is a challenge, and it is important to counter the challenges (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). Some of the prisoners refused to escape because they view belief the outside world is untrue and what is true is what is presented in the cave. Such challenges and misconceptions are common, and the solution is continuously seeking further information and ideas on a topic or ideology. Nevertheless, Plato’s cave story has one of the major limitation or shortcomings in which Spentzou (2002, p. 62) presents “… that Plato characteristically describes the inhabitants of the cave as though they too were only interested in seeing.” Even though the purpose of images is to analyse what is visible, it is sometimes impact to speculate on other signs such as sound, especially from the cat. Hence, such limitations are important to highlight as examples in which individuals can claim ignorance.

Ignorance and enlightenment have been presented extensively in the image relating to the relationship between the numerous characters. Weiss (2001, p. 6) states “The best human life, thus conceived, will is no appeal for the wicked, the stupid, the intellectually lazy or the arrogant.” It means that seeking knowledge is important in advancing the requirements of humans since ignorance and lack of knowledge limits capacities of individuals resulting in enslavement (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). The aspect of ignorance is common in the current society whereby people operate without considering the impact of their decisions such as driving while drunk.

The images cast on the wall can be used to understand cultural variables and ideologies. Culture can be seen as subjective in nature and includes languages, norms, values and beliefs among others. The prisoners in the cave share the same culture since they were in the cave since birth meaning they cannot present an objective view (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). It is similar across cultures in which people have certain traditions and values, which are different from others and frequently causes conflicts and misunderstandings (Cruz-Neira et al. 1992). Aiming to change culture and related connotations raise more concerns since each culture tend to hold their respective views. For example, one of the prisoners asking the others to leave the cave creates differences, which are directly linked to culture (Hunt & Jacobsen, 2008). A culture may have negatives and trying to elaborate such shortcomings worsens the situation. It is attributed to lack of information and awareness on the subject matter. It is the lack of knowledge and awareness, which can be avoided through enlightenment.

In conclusion, the image presents numerous characters and objects. The characters include the puppeteers and the prisoners while the objects include the tables and chains. The use of signs and symbols are common throughout the image because it aims to send messages. The messages include ignorance and enlightenment, knowledge, challenges and obstructions to knowledge, and perception of individuals involved. The culture is also affected because culture is viewed from a subjective perspective which creates conflicts and misunderstandings. The solution to these misunderstandings and shortcomings is acquiring more knowledge on a subject matter through embracing constructive criticism and seeking information from different stakeholders.


Cruz-Neira, C., Sandin, D. J., DeFanti, T. A., Kenyon, R. V., & Hart, J. C. (1992). The CAVE: audio visual experience automatic virtual environment. Communications of the ACM, 35(6), 64-73.

Huard, R. L. (2007). Plato’s political philosophy: the cave. Algora Publishing.

Hunt, A., & Jacobsen, M. M. (2008). Cormac McCarthy’s the road and Plato’s simile of the sun. The Explicator, 66(3), 155-158.

Spentzou, E. (2002). Cultivating the muse: Struggles for power and inspiration in classical literature. Oxford University Press, USA.

Weiss, R. (2001). Virtue in the Cave: Moral Inquiry in Plato’s Meno. Oxford University Press on Demand.