Comparing the Search in Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio

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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...

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...ld (the cave) leads to qualities which are the antithesis of goodness, namely hatred.

I believe that drawing parallels between Winesburg, Ohio and the "Allegory of the Cave" helps provide insight into how the human race has wrestled with the problem of finding ways to act upon the higher ideals that reside in the character of mankind. Perhaps realizing that Man has contemplated this problem for thousands upon thousands of years, from the time of the ancient Greeks through the early twentieth century to the present, can assist human civilization to see the higher plane of existence, which Plato says is the "author of all things beautiful and right."

Works Cited:

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York, NY: Penguin Books Ltd.,


Plato. Allegory of the Cave. in The Norton Reader. Linda H. Peterson et al., eds. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

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