Taking the High Road
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” In The Apology, Socrates relates that the most important goal in life is the improvement of the soul. We should search others, our environment, and ourselves so that we may come to a better understanding of the world. The Parable of the Cave tells of the journey that Socrates was trying to relate, in that each person is faced with different realities as we travel to try and reach “the intellectual world.” This journey of enlightenment draws close parallels to another piece of literature by Robert Frost. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” he describes how he felt as he came upon the fork in the road and chose to take the road less traveled “and that has made all the difference.” The use of life as a journey is nothing new to literature, but with Plato and Frost both show that this journey is not easy and there are many choices along the way that we must make that will determine the quality of the life we will lead.
The main factor that drew me to the Parable of the Cave was the way it described our journey through life. It begins by telling us that the reality we initially see when we are chained down in the cave is nothing more than an illusion. This is true in my own life in that I was told by my parents what was right and what was wrong without questioning the reason behind it. They kept a chain of sorts around me so that I was not harmed by all of the realities of the world at once, but rather gradually introduced to them as I grew up.
As we are released from bondage, our reality is immediately changed. When we first look toward the light we “will suffer sharp pains;” as we try to adjust to this new reality that is suddenly thrown upon us. The bondage that we experienced in the beginning is no longer there and the full weight of the world is pressed down on us without the help of others and now responsibility for our own actions becomes the controlling factor in our life.
The light that first shocked us into reality now causes you to come to a crossroads in life. Looking directly at the light will cause some pain and suffering, but offers a “clearer vision” or “turn away and take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see” and return to the reality of which he was accustomed, but is only an illusion. Many people are scared to face reality and would rather turn back to the shelter that they are comfortable with. Independence and freedom are things these people could live without, so long as they had someone to lead them. Unfortunately, the majority of people fall into this category. They become sheep and require a shepherd to guide them through their lives. The others who can overcome the blinding light are able to ask of themselves what they are trying to accomplish in their lifetime. They may make mistakes along the way, but because they had the strength to try, are able to learn from those mistakes and become more intelligent as they age.
Those that never leave the depths of the cave remain in an illusion. “Ignorance is bliss,” and these people never want to have to struggle with their lives, but would rather remain without the responsibility the new knowledge would bring them if they were to walk towards the light.
The light allows us to see things more clearly and this is the goal that we are trying to reach in our lifetime, but are almost assured of failing. Why then should you constantly fight toward this goal over adversity and hardship only to fail in the end? The journey is the most important part of the trip, not the destination. The things learned along the way will make your life more fulfilling and enjoyable. The Parable of the Cave shows how this journey can be related to our own lives and the struggles we face throughout our lifetime.
The journey talked of in The Parable of the Cave has many parallels with the poem by Robert Frost entitled “The Road Not Taken.” The last line of the poem reads, “I took the road not taken and that has made all the difference.” The road usually taken is the easy road, the road that is the most comfortable to us. This road keeps us ignorant because we never seek to gain more knowledge by searching and asking questions.
I chose to represent the Parable of the Cave by visually showing the poem by Frost. It begins on a road that is surrounded by foliage. This acts to shelter you from the harmful world. The foliage shelters you until you come to a fork in the road. The road ahead of you is clear of any obstacles for as far as you can see. The other road to your right begins with a hill and you can not see what lies ahead. At this fork you must make a decision to continue straight ahead on the clear path, or take a chance and climb that hill to see what is on the other side.
The clear path is representative of the path that most people will take, the easy road. This road continues with no obstacles because that is what you have seen all of your life and are comfortable with this arrangement. Taking this road would be the same as returning to the depths of the cave once you were blinded by the light. The road to the right represents the continuance toward the light at the cave mouth discussed by Plato. This road had obstacles that will impede your path and slow you down, but do not stop you from continuing on to the end. The hills are the trials we must face in life if we are trying to obtain knowledge. The knowledge does not come without consequences, however, and you must go through trying times (whether it be self-examination, examination of others, or examination of the environment around you) before you can move ahead.
Whichever road we decide to take, the end result is the same, death. The roads lead to the same destination, but the paths to that destination are very different. This is representative of the course of life that each of us must take, some paths are easier than others, but the more difficult path leads to a more fulfilling life.
The Parable of the Cave shows the major steps in life that we are all faced with. Those who choose to turn away from the light would not lead a fulfilling life in the eyes of Plato or Socrates. Those that choose to continue toward the light take all the responsibility that comes with that choice. By continuing toward the light they continue to enlightenment. In order to reach enlightenment, we must question ourselves and our motives and in doing so will face more trying and pressing times than those who choose to return to a place that they are comfortable with. Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” very much parallels the thoughts expressed by Plato. We are faced with many choices in life. The fork in the road represents those choices we are faced with and once they are made, there is no turning back. The mistakes made along the way may cause use to stumble or slow down, but the journey to the end is much more fulfilling if we are willing to take the road less traveled, for it too could “make all the difference.”