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The Allegory of the Cave, and The Myth of Sisyphus, are both attempts at explaining some aspect of the way people think or why humans do as observed. Both stories illustrate the same idea: without necessary and proper exposure to change, thinking is limited and ignorance is the direct product.
The Allegory of the Cave is a parable that demonstrates how humans are afraid of change and what they do not know. In this work, Plato suggests a situation in which men are living in an underground cave. The one entrance is located near the top and there, a burning fire casts shadow. The men of the cave are chained so that they can only see the wall and cannot turn around. When objects pass by it creates a shadow on the wall. The shadows are the only thing they can see and therefore is the only thing they know to exist (747). Somehow one of them gets loose and wanders outside the cave (748). When he gets out, he is astonished at what he finds. He comes back in to tell the others about what he saw. The other men think he is mad and plot to kill him (749). This illustrates how fear, inherent in the primitive nature of man, only serves to promote his ignorance.
Today a leading cause of stress is change; a change in your job, lifestyle, or significant others can cause stress. Many Americans are living longer and discovering, as a result, that the learning process can never really be allowed to stop. To be successful or sometimes even just to maintain a comfortable existence, one must adapt to the rapidly changing order. Acknowledging that there is more that needs knowing and embarking on new educational journeys requires courage and fortitude, due to man’s inherent nature of fear. Persons of the best natures must be compelled to attain a more complete knowledge, and those of this more complete education must expose the others to the realities of “ the beautiful, the just, and the good” (752). Often the path of explanation and clarification is unsure, but confining thought to merely the realms of the known can only prove fatal.
Individuals who currently oppose technological advances and also oppose the furthering of research mirror the cave dwellers who, out of fear, ridicule the newly enlightened wanderer.
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Albert Camus, famed author of The Myth of Sisyphus, relates yet another parable. The man in the story, Sisyphus, has been condemned by the gods to roll a rock to the top of a mountain every day of his life. Every day he would roll it up the mountain and then the rock would roll back down to the bottom. “As much through his passions as through his torture,” Sisyphus embodies the characterization of an absurd hero (89). He is called this because he knows what will happen after the rock is rolled to the top, yet he remains content in doing so. “Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory” (90).
What the gods intended as punishment, Sisyphus does not see as such. Camus writes, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” This story, like Plato’s allegory, both illustrates humanity’s inherent fear of change and continues to mirror the current social system- especially in Camus’ address to the bourgeois. “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd” (90). This statement is true in that men are content to rise each morning and proceed along performing the same or similar duties each day. Each day complete, the next day will follow and man will continue along in the same vein.
The Allegory of the Cave, and The Myth of Sisyphus, are both attempts at explaining some aspect of the way people think or why humans do as observed. Perhaps, The Myth of Sisyphus is the more realistic of the two. Yes man exhibits an inherent sense of fear for the unknown, but in the humdrum of today’s society, often it requires so much of one to simply fulfill primary obligations that little time is left to anticipate change. Everyday, however, every man strives to finish whatever is necessary to be done, knowing the next day circumstance will order that the same be done again. Whatever the case, both stories illustrate the same idea: without necessary and proper exposure to change, thinking is limited and ignorance is the direct product.
Camus, Albert. “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. New York: Random House Inc., 1955. 88-91.
Plato. “Republic VII.” Collected Dialogues of Plato. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Publishers 1982. 747-772.