plato, one of socrates' disciples, espouses in "the republic" one of his views in an image of ignorant humanity, trapped in the depths of a cave, mesmerized by shadows dancing on the cave walls and not even aware of its own limited perspective.
the rare individual escapes the limitations of that cave and, through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovers a higher realm, a true reality, with a final and almost mystical awareness of goodness as the origin of everything that exists.
such a person is then the best equipped to govern in society, having a knowledge of what is ultimately most worthwhile in life and not just a knowledge of techniques. that person, however, will frequently be misunderstood by those ordinary people back in the cave who haven't shared in the intellectual insight.
plato's cave can be compared to a movie theater, with the projector replacing the fire, the shadows on the cave wall with the projected movie on the screen, and the echo with the loudspeakers behind the screen.
the essential point is that the prisoners in the cave are not seeing reality, but only a representation of it. the importance of the allegory lies in plato's belief that there are invisible truths lying under the apparent surface of things which only the most enlightened can grasp. accustomed to the world of illusion in the cave, the prisoners at first resist enlightenment, and will even attack those attempting to show them truth.