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“Describe the meaning of the shadows in the analogy of the cave.”
The analogy of the cave is what Plato used to portray his idea of the World of Forms more clearly.
In it, he tells us to imagine that there are a group of prisoners who have been held in a cave all their lives, and have never left it or had any experience of the outside world. They are all chained facing a wall, so that they can never see the cave’s entrance. At the entrance of the cave, there is a fire, and whenever someone or something passes that fire, it casts a shadow onto the wall the prisoners are facing. The prisoners think that the shadows are reality.
But one day, a prisoner breaks free and rushes outside the cave. He sees the fire, and people, animals and other things. Here, he has discovered the real world and for the first time realizes that it is so much more than the cave, the shadows and everything else seen previously.
This man is so overwhelmed by this new reality that he has found that he goes back into the cave, to tell the other prisoners what they are missing out on. However, the rest of the prisoners do not believe him, and in fact become angry at the man, because they believe that the shadows are reality.

The outside world is a depiction of Plato’s world of forms. He believed that the World of Forms was the true reality that we will never accept until we see it for ourselves. The cave represents the physical world in which we live. This “cave” that we live in makes us somewhat ignorant to change, and until we become more accepting of the world of forms, we are not fully able to reason.
The shadows represent objects in the physical world we live in. These objects are a mere illusion of reality, because they are ever-changing, unlike the constant world of forms. Society, i.e.- the prisoners, try to understand these objects, the shadows, as the true reality, because we have not even tried to find the truth, and refuse to reason and even think that there is a reality past the physical world we are in. The freed man illustrates a philosopher, who is the only one willing to look past this so-called reality and realize that there is a world of forms, which is the only real truth there is. Plato is basically trying to say that the ones with true knowledge are the only ones who see past the mundane “shadows”.
Plato believed that our world was only based on a world of forms, and most people were reluctant to believe that because they refused to reason and consider that there was something higher than what they saw every day. Those who were exposed to the World of Forms, i.e. - the prisoners after they were told by the free man what was out there, would become very angry and rather than accept it, they would conform to the physical world. The shadows in the cave are the things that disillusion us, and so we would much rather stay imprisoned than to have something change our lifelong beliefs.

Sources http://www.theologicalstudies.org/resource-library/philosophy-dictionary/157-platos-cave-analogy http://aquileana.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/platos-republic-the-allegory-of-the-cave-and-the-analogy-of-the-divided-line/ OCR A Level philosophy textbook
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