Since the beginning of literature and intellectual society, philosophers and writers have composed works which have an underlying theme of censorship. One of the earliest of these works is The Allegory of the Cave, which is contained within Book Five of The Republic of Plato. Countless authors throughout time have made references to Plato’s work in both fictional and non-fictional pieces, Ray Bradbury being one of them. Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s “classic novel of censorship and defiance,” (Bradbury Rear Cover) contains several references to The Allegory of the Cave.
In The Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a scene in which prisoners inside a cave who have been restrained since birth in such a way which only allows them to face forward, away from the entrance of the cave. There is a fire in the cave, and it is behind them, so they cannot see it either. Their captors stand behind a wall near the entrance of the cave, and hold up various real-world objects that reflect in large shadows of the wall in front of the captives. Since this has gone on since birth and the captives know nothing different, they consider it normal to only be able to look in one direction and that they will view the shapes on the wall to be real, normal figures in their actual state of being. Such is the way of a censored society. Those who have had their access to information censored are the captives in the cave, only seeing what their captors will show them and, if such censorship has gone on long enough, they will not even realize that they are in a controlled environment.
Take internet censorship, for example. The internet is a wonderful resource for people of all ages and backgrounds to become familiar with a wide variety of controversial issues. However, some of the content of the internet is not appropriate for certain environments, such as schools or public libraries. Thus a wide variety of software packages have been developed to assist such public institutions in filtering inappropriate material. The problem with this software is that it not only filters out offensive content, but material from hundreds of legal, appropriate alternative viewpoints, such as free speech advocates and homosexual rights organizations (2600).
By using such software, a student who was writing a report on internet censorship would be unable to visit 2600.com, a major source of information, and an intriguing alternative viewpoint on the world of “hacking” and online censorship. This is effectively chaining students within the cave, forcing them to only look at what another party deems “acceptable.” If that party decides that a certain viewpoint is unethical, “harmful” or for whatever reason “should not be seen” he is playing the role of the captors behind the wall – showing those who use his software only what he wants them to see.
However, the captives of Plato’s cave can also be liberated, and given their freedom. This freedom comes only through education, which will allow them to possess the knowledge of their situation, unlock their bonds, and escape the cave into the “real” world. This is the same concept Bradbury uses in his novel, and is thus the reason why he uses cave imagery. “Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave (Bradbury 74),” Montag says in Fahrenheit 451. He wants to use the knowledge contained in the books to escape from Plato’s cave, to make himself and his society more aware of the conditions in which they live and the world around them. Both Bradbury and Plato conclude the same thing: in a society where censorship is dominant, only knowledge and education will allow the captives to overpower their oppressors and escape from the cave.
While Fahrenheit 451, and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave appear to have to be drastically different texts without examining them, they both relate to the topic of censorship. Plato and Bradbury believe that in such a situation the only solution is the education of those who are oppressed and censored so that they can come to the realization of their situation and overcome it. With such knowledge and a realization of the current situation, the oppressed can overcome the oppressors and gain free and uncensored content for all.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1953.
2600, The Hacker Quarterly. ACLU Challenges Censorware, DMCA. 28 Sept. 2002