April 15, 2013
One man breaks free of the binding chains of society while the rest of the population draws contentment from the many adventures of select shadow puppets. Government in general is a powerful entity that relentlessly grasps the masses and subjects them to their every whim. Society is often unaware of these chains and is blindly forced into this manner of living. Henry David Thoreau’s “A Civil Disobedience” illustrates how most men have rendered their conscious useless by continuing to adhere to every aspect of their ruling entity. Paralleling Thoreau’s idea of a binding government we have Plato’s “An Allegory of the Cave” describing how men simply accept one reality, illustrated by their governors, and never seek out any other meaning. Henry David Thoreau and Plato fundamentally agree that people must live according to the scrutiny of their conscious. In order to live in this manner people must be willing to break their chains and disobey authority when they realize that it is wrong. There are three specific aspects these two individual’s focus on in their literary works: the problems with the level of control the government has of the governed, the necessity to break free of such control, and how only the individual has the power to break away.
Throughout history the government has been the Supreme Being regarding the control of the people. They implement laws, control the media and determine where and how their people will live. Henry David Thoreau recognizes that the government has an overly substantial amount of control over the population and maintains that such control should be undesirable. He brings light to the fact that very few people are resisting such control and that “a minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority” (Thoreau 1056). Plato illustrates this control in “An Allegory of the Cave” by using his innate ability to construct vivid imagery. Representing the government, the puppet masters play countless stories along the cave wall and “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images,” but the viewers would fully believe that these images were the truth (Plato 1235). This not only represents the ability of the government to distort the truth through mass media control, but more importantly the ability to control the masses in general. In light of these circumstances, Plato believes that the people would be better off without the puppet masters while Thoreau maintains the same idea regarding the machine.
Understanding the control in which the government has over the people brings both authors to the conclusion that the people must break free of these chains. Thoreau often provokes action in “A Civil Disobedience” believing that “unjust laws exist” and asks of the public, “shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once” (Thoreau 1055)? He urges the men to break free of the chains placed upon them and to take part in any form of a “peaceable revolution” (1056). Plato conveys a similar yearning for the men to break free by revealing his desire for them to see the true reality. He believes that once they have been exposed to the vivid reality that they “would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner” (Plato 1237). In conclusion, both Thoreau and Plato believe that men need to know the truth and experience reality.
It is desirable to leave the dreary caves of lost consciousness and to attain a new life in the realms of reality. This can easily be done, however the ability to accomplish such a thing solely lies within each individual. They must dedicate themselves to the cause and realize that “action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations” and that their acts must be “essentially revolutionary” (Thoreau 1055). Plato compliments this sentiment in his belief “that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already” (Plato 1239). This particular statement is interpreted to mean that only a sole individual has the “power and capacity” to change their reality (1239). Thoreau and Plato share the same philosophy all people possess the ability to change the circumstances in their life.
Everyone deserves to progress through life by use of their conscious and ability to manipulate their own perception. It is the lone individual whom possesses the ability to change the countless details that govern their life. In light of the previously stated facts, it can be determined that no set government can force anyone to fully live in the way that such a government wishes. Thoreau and Plato believe that all individuals should be able to think freely and live life the way they think is right, without the blinding veil of a higher power to distort their perception. So, both parties urge the people to push past the veils and destroy the chains that bind them. They urge the people to live well by blossoming in a reality of their making and to gladly embrace the freedom which was innately theirs to begin with.