Plato’s Cave

From the beginning of the process, Jill has been interested in the notions of Plato’s Cave within Mr. Burns. Watch this video for a precise explanation and then scroll down for an interpretation of how this connects to the world of the play:

As we take on this play, remember that we are prisoners in the cave (the world of the play). We are limited to the words that Anne Washburn has given us (the shadows). What we can interpret from the script must become our reality. Different productions of this play will have interpreted their own shadows. Though Washburn knows what the real reality is outside of the cave, she trapped up inside of it very intentionally- let’s embrace that.


In Act 1, all of the characters are like the prisoners within the allegory. With no means of communication, the lack of knowledge about nuclear meltdowns, and the physical inability to see radiation, our survivors are trying to make sense of their world with very limited information. They pick up pieces of information, which may or may not be real, but must trust in what limited information they are given as a means to understand their new world and develop a survival strategy. For instance, they have heard many different things about the effects of radiation and the distance they must be from the plant explosions to remain safe. This information that they’ve gathered becomes the shadows on the wall- the only reality they can accept. In Act 2, they have learned of the effects of radiation in areas nowhere near power plants, but still cling to the basic idea that the farther from the power plants, the more likely you are safe. The troupe took the rumors about distance and moved from near New Jersey to Kansas and Oklahoma.

platonic_cave.jpgUnlike the allegory, no one is released from the cave. Instead, these characters learn to live with the discomfort of not understanding their reality, and embracing what they do know. By Act 3, the characters have created their own origin story, throwing away any remnants of the world that came before the nuclear melt down. This world is built upon the discoveries, observations, and memories that the core characters of Act 1 collected. This image on the right is completed: our survivors hold the puppets (and the value of The Simpsons) for the members of Act 3. Their perception of the world is, thus, based on what those before them offered.


This concept can also be applied to the way that media makes us understand reality. This is more commonly known as the cultivation analysis theory. What this means is that when we watch television and movies, but especially the news, we begin to integrate these realities into our own. For instance, people who watch the news a lot, tend to think the world is more violent than it really is because the news reports crime at a much higher rate. Cultivation analysis and Plato’s Cave suggest that an outsider controls our understanding of the world around us. In Mr. Burns, The Simpsons was hand picked because it reflects aspects of American culture. The characters of Act 1 and 2 have learned about the world they live in from watching The Simpsons during their formative years.  The new generation in Act 3 has had their perception of history changed dramatically because of theatre. Because the Simpson stories took prominence around them, they have accepted them as truth.


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