"The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato

"If they could lay hands on the man who was trying to set them free and lead them up, they would kill him."   

Lesson Overview (see also lesson notes)

 As nearly always - we begin with a quiz.  In this case the quiz is just a two questions (it's a short reading and on quizzes you ALWAYS want to ask important content questions - not thinking questions and in a philosophical dialogue, that becomes a bit tricky).  After the quiz - before we being talking about the essay - I throw some images up on the screen.  In the "olden days" this was done with an overhead projector and some transparencies.  I also have up, hanging in the classroom - starting with this lesson - a three dimensional cube made of (at first straws) wooden sticks.  It is the outline of a cube.  I point to it - and ask the students what it is.  Next we go through the images (see the Power Point below).  But in essence - they begin with shadows of things (ahhhh - yes - I often set the lesson up before we get to the actual lesson - planting things in the students head to process along with the reading and with what is to follow).  I ask the students what they are - they will invariably (except in few very rare cases) say: "It's a pencil"; "It's a motorcycle" etc - but I ask them "Is it?" 

They will then respond with "It is the shadow of a pencil".  I ask - "Is it?"  Finally, they will tell me "It's the projection of the image of a shadow of pencil".   I show them a series of shadows - including images that evoke the two stories ("Goodman Brown", "The Night Face Up").  It is always important to bring these connections in - and of course students love them and they make their earlier readings even more relevant and help them build on what we've done.

 Next, I show them a picture of Margritte's famous painting - "This is not a pipe" (see below).  I ask them to explain (someone or me as a last resort will need to translate the French).   Because they have been put in this frame of mind - it is not a huge leap to a student answering: "It's not a pipe - because it is a picture of a pipe".  This is a good place to bring them to in order to begin talking about "The Allegory of the Cave".

I ask for a volunteer to give us a summary of the Allegory.  I then ask that volunteer to come up to the front and with the help of the class make a diagram of what the cave looks like.  This is key. Many of the students may have trouble visualizing the story - and this gets them all working together.  After that's done and we have a diagram, we talk about the deeper meaning of the Allegory (see my notes - for most of the instructions for this lesson - my notes cover the material I ask (and how I do it).  Essentially - after getting the students (rather then telling them) to see Plato's thesis - we connect it to 1) our own lives (this became SO huge during the Pandemic) 2) the specific stories we've read  3) the idea of "Truth"  4) those people who have died trying to tell the truth but were rejected (see The Wayfarer).

Finally, I ask them to take another look at the cube hanging from the ceiling.  If they cover one eye (and I may show them a 2d image) they see one corner as being closest to them - BUT if they stare in just the right way, they can shift their perspective - making the other corner closest to them.  In my experience, about 1/5 of the class will be able to do this.  I reassure them not to worry - they have the rest of the year to see it.  Next I slowly spin the cube - and ask the students to once again make the shift in perspective.  There is an audible gasp as many of them see the cube suddenly start to spin in the opposite direction.  I do not belabor the point - they are left to put all of the pieces together.

At the end we go over what is due at the next class - what is coming up in the long run.

My Lesson Notes (2012-2020) - Hand written notes - I often use numbers and letters to help me keep things organized.

The Story

The Text by itself and with notes

The Story: Docx  PDF - For "The Allegory of the Cave

The Text with my Notes: PDF

Handout A    (most recent)

Reading Quiz:  Docx PDF - For "The Allegory of the Cave" (notice the fewer questions - it is a short reading - I might even count this for 1/2 credit (50 points))

Audio Visual Content

A Power Point Presentation of shadows, illusions, and the Margitte painting.


Remote Enhancements

                          The above presentation would also be useful in a remote setting.



The students did their end of the year project on this short story one year - when I find it , I will put it here.

Class Recordings (for registered members)



What's Next & Unit Homepage

"The Metamorphosis" Group Work: An excerpt from Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" - giving them the weekend (often a long one) to do a reading which is a bit longer (and perhaps a bit more challenging).


  "Young Goodman Brown"

Thoughts on the Lesson 

We begin the lesson with the 3-D cube above the students - and they are asked to try and shift their minds to see it from a completely different perspective.  At the end of the year - in June - there will still be students trying to see that different view.   And that goes for the class as well.