A Message to the Reader

Posted on April 28, 2011

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Dear Reader,

Welcome to Shadows on the Wall, a collection of essays from an English 101 course inspired by Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.”  In the allegory, Plato likens human ignorance to a situation where prisoners are chained in a dark cave facing a wall upon which are cast shadows from a large fire burning behind their heads.  Between the fire and the prisoners is a roadway, and as people and things pass before the fire, shadows are cast on the wall in front of the prisoners.  Plato concludes, “…What people in this situation would take for truth would be nothing more than the shadows of the manufactured objects.”  In other words, not knowing any better, the prisoners mistake the shadows of things for an accurate depiction of the real world, and thus live and act in ignorance.

Similarly, there are many “shadows on the wall” that fool people today into thinking and acting in ways that are ineffective or even harmful to themselves or others.  Whether we’re talking about affordable healthcare, skin color and beauty, or the right audience for cartoons, each of the thoughtful essays collected here attempts to raise awareness about topics that are poorly understood or misunderstood, and thus help to set us free from the metaphorical prison-cave of ignorance.  In so doing, they aim to lead us into the light of “truth and reason,” a crucial first step that Plato explains is necessary for “anyone who is going to act wisely either in private life or in public life.”

After reading each essay, I hope that you will stop to reflect and comment on them.  Plato explains that education is not “like putting sight into eyes which were blind,” a process that resembles the passive learning process where the teacher lectures and the students memorize.  Rather, like the prisoners in the cave, we already possess the power of sight, and require only to “be turned away from the darkness and towards the light.”  This process means we must be active agents in our own education.  Likewise, the essays collected here are not intended to end the conversation by offering a final answer, but to point the reader “towards the light” by stimulating further thoughts and discussion.  Therefore, I hope that you will take a moment to engage with each essay you read by leaving behind a thoughtful comment for the writer. In this way, you will help to do your part to dispel the many shadows on the wall that distract us from the truth.  Thanks in advance!

Best regards,

Dr. Francesco Crocco

English Department

Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

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