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The allegory contains many forms of symbolism used to instruct the reader in the nature of perception. It also represents ignorance, as those in the cave live accepting what they see at face value.Ignorance is further represented by the darkness that engulfs them because they cannot know the true objects that form the shadows, leading them to believe the shadows are the true forms of the objects.
Socrates suggests that the shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real things outside the cave which they do not see (514b-515a).
The fire, or human made light, and the puppets, used to make shadows, are done by the artists.
The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
The prisoners manage to break their bonds one day, and discover that their reality was not what they thought it was.
The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them.
The sounds of the people talking echo off the walls, and the prisoners believe these sounds come from the shadows (514c).
Socrates informs Glaucon that the most excellent people must follow the highest of all studies, which is to behold the Good.
Those who have ascended to this highest level, however, must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the prisoners, sharing in their labors and honors.
The freed prisoner represents those who understand that the physical world is only a shadow of the truth, and the sun that is glaring the eyes of the prisoners represents the higher truth of ideas.
The light further represents wisdom, as even the paltry light that makes it into the cave allows the prisoners to know shapes.