While describing the story, Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by people. These men are prisoners, and their hands and legs are shackled by chains. Moreover, the movement of their face is also restricted, so that they can see nothing but the wall in front of them. This restricted movement limits their visibility to the wall, thus circumscribing the scope of any encounter beyond it. There is an enormous fire on the ground, and between the wall and the fire is a walkway meant for objects to pass. The shadows of these objects fall directly on the wall providing the sole view for the prisoners. Hence, the only way for the prisoners to get acquainted with their surroundings is to decipher the shadows and consider them to be a part of the real world. They start naming each and every object, and amongst all the prisoners, the intellect of an individual is governed by his ability to judge those objects.
According to Socrates, the idea of the world for prisoners is limited within the boundaries of the cave. The shadows are treated as real objects and there are pseudo intellectuals who claim to understand the world based on these shadows. The prisoners are not able to perceive the truth of nature because of their limited view.
Escape of a Prisoner from the Cave
Moving on with the description, Socrates says that if somehow a prisoner manages to break the shackles and escapes from the cave, the world he gets to see outside goes beyond his comprehension. He, like all the prisoners, is accustomed to dim light, and the light of the sun makes him turn his gaze away from it. Slowly he gets accustomed to the existence of the new world, which delineates the fallacy of that inside the cave. On his intellectual journey, he discovers the true reality, the beauty of mother nature and an almost divine experience of the newly found mystical world.
Interpretation of Plato's Allegory of the Cave
Now as the prisoner returns back to the cave, he feels his moral duty to make others aware of the truth he has just discovered. He tries to persuade his companions that outside there is a more real world, and what all has been seen by them are mere shadows of the real objects. He tries to point out the deep-rooted ignorance of the fellow prisoners who are trapped within their own confinement of pseudo intellectualism. But the prisoners try to resist enlightenment and condemn him for the moral misconduct and loss of ethical values. These values, which are not governed by the tautologies of nature but the fallacy of shadows cast on the wall, are considered to be the truth by the prisoners of the cave. Everything that goes beyond these values, tends to lie in the domain of unconventional thoughts, which are always resisted by human beings. This cave metaphor can be replaced by a movie theater, where the screen serves as wall of the cave and the projector as the fire. In this case also, the objects seen are not real ones, but a reflection on the movie screen.
The creativity of Plato, along with his deep understanding of human nature, makes him to create a scenario which shows the mankind a true picture of an imaginary world. We all may acquire and comprehend the world around us as our experience of physical objects, but it would be a mistake to limit ourselves to the conventional thoughts indentured by our stubbornness towards change.