Cave Dwellers

I’ve recently been reading Room by Emma Donoghue, which has harrowing subject matter and the cutest little narrator ever.Room by Emma Donoghue Specifically, it is told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old boy who has lived in one room all his life (I won’t say why, you can read the book for that). He’s with his mother and he has access to television and books, but he has never left the room.

Every object in the room is capitalized and, according to the boy, is particular. In other words, he doesn’t use a dresser or walk on the rug; he puts his clothes in Dresser and he walks on Rug. The constant contact gives him a hyper-real sense of these objects, treating them as if they are the only ones in the world. He knows a bit about the outside world (he does have a television after all), but none of it approaches the immediacy of Room (and the near-rhyme with “womb” (especially in a child’s voice) must be intentional).

In fact, he quickly points out that some things are real and other things are television. Although the television gives him information, he can’t quite believe it, or rather he can’t decide what is really real and what is fantasy. So it’s all television to him, not a part of his life and safely ignored.

This got me thinking, of course, about Plato. Not to be pedantic, but Plato wrote an allegory where he stuck a bunch of people in a cave. All they saw where shadows on the wall. He asked if they would, with sufficient special effects, mistake the shadows of things on the wall for real things. The common answer is that they would, having had no interaction with real things. It is all television.

I think that part of the great appeal of Mormonism is its promise to help us approach the real. The notions of continuing revelation or of a great plan of happiness that underlies human endeavor feel like glimpses outside the cave. We are stuck in our room, where the trivial is given undue importance and the difference between real and television seems to be coming undone. Mormonism (and religion in general) gives us a means for distinguishing the real, a way to put the objects in our life into perspective.

I’ve heard so many testimonies regarding how Mormonism gave folks answers they couldn’t find elsewhere. Even though I sometimes find slightly different answers, the method rings true. We are here, in the church, because it is a vehicle for finding, acknowledging, and living in accordance with what we consider to be real, or true.

Of course, there is a danger here. There always is. While everyone loves the allegory of the cave, no-one likes to think that they are still in there. And assuming that you’ve left, when you haven’t, is a sure-fire path to trouble. Joseph Smith told us that knowledge and truth were relegated to spheres, and spheres within spheres. At best, we catch occasional glimpses of the sunlight through the smoke in the cave. But those moments of enlightenment are what drive people to Mormonism. They are what drives us to anything at all.


  1. observer (fka eric s) says:

    i’ve always wondered how one can know whether they have left the cave. i’m beginning to think that at least one test is the ability to laugh at one’s self.

  2. I think there are strong comparisons here (if I may develop your metaphor) between the tendency for the child to identify the rug as ‘Rug’ and the tendency to identify the truth with ‘Truth’. Additionally there is always that challenge of recognising the light if our faces are permanent turned away from it; perhaps the reflected glimpses of the TV are a good comparison to problems the child experiences in distinguishing between fantasy/reality.

    On a different note, having read the book just after Christmas, a number of other themes emerged for me and so I appreciate this additional perspective. I won’t say what they are for fear of spoiling it for others but it is an interesting book.

  3. “at least one test is the ability to laugh at one’s self.”
    That sounds like an apology for mocking others and justifying your presumably preferences with an air of moral authority. In other words, just another blog comment ;)

    So I’ll have my own go at it. I’d like to think the test of finding out whether you’re in the cave or not, is not the ability to laugh at yourself, but rather the ability to lose yourself in the service of God and your fellow (wo)man. The times when I have found I am not doing that, I’m living within the constructs (caves) created by this world.

    Of course in fairness, you might also say I’m choosing to living within a different cave by doing so. But I’d argue, perhaps the only way to “leave the cave” is by actively focusing my life on others.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Any reference to Cave Dwellers is worth it.

  5. I think that part of the point of Plato’s cave . . . and of the gospel, for that matter . . . is that you are never completely out of the cave.

    Like the above concept, we live in spheres within spheres of reality. There is always, in this life at least, another sphere. And even if we’re outside of more spheres than our neighbor, the difference is still rather slight in the long run.

  6. The most I can tell you about Cave Dwellers deals with three shadows in front of the screen that make fun of the movie of the same name starring Miles O’Keefe.

  7. Dave P. : Thumbs up!

  8. Mostimportantly says:

    Loved “Room”. Something that interested me even more (when taken in a gospel context) was not just that the narrator thought “Room” was the world, but that Ma constructed this reality for him to spare him the pain of missing the real world. Too much of a spoiler? Anyway, this may be the opposite of the cave dwellers line of thinking, but it offers another perspective on the veil.

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