What is Plato’s Cave Allegory in 1899, Explained

Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, Netflix’s ‘1899‘ follows a group of migrants sailing from London to New York, hoping to start a new life. Each migrant in the group has a traumatic past they want to leave behind. However, en route to the New World, their ship, Kerberos, finds Prometheus, another ship that had disappeared four months ago. Despite the migrants’ disapproval, the captain decides to tow this abandoned vessel to New York. The decision leads him and the migrants down a dark path where they must face their traumas and decipher what’s real and what’s not.

Over 8 episodes, different characters mention Plato’s cave allegory. For instance, Daniel Solace tells Maura in one scene, “You’re watching the shadows on the wall, and you think that they’re the reality. But if you could only look over your shoulder, you would see what’s causing those shadows. What’s actually real.” In another scene, Henry, Maura’s father, recollects how his daughter perceived the allegory at a young age. But what exactly does it mean? How is it connected with the show’s story? Let us find out. SPOILERS AHEAD!

What is Plato’s Cave Allegory?

Plato developed a theory known as the Theory of Forms. According to this, everything we see around us is not real. It’s merely a perception of real things, and the real world lies beyond the one we live in. To support this, Plato gave an allegory known as ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ called Plato’s cave allegory in the show.

According to this allegory, a few people are made to sit inside a cave facing its wall. These people are shackled to a point where they can’t move their legs, hands, and even necks. Behind them is a small opening from where sunlight can stream in. The opening also acts as a parapet where puppeteers walk along. In addition, a fire is burning behind the parapet at a slightly elevated height.

Now, every time puppeteers walk by, they talk, make noises, or do something else. The fire behind them projects their shadows on the walls. Since none of the shackled people have ever looked back, they perceive these shadows as real human beings. Furthermore, they think the sound is coming from the shadows, not the puppeteers. Thus, Plato proves that this is their reality and argues that humans generally behave in the same manner. We do not see what’s real and what’s not. Instead, we observe and react to our perception of reality.

In the show, Henry tells the young boy, Elliot, that Maura stumbled upon the allegory at a very young age. She seemed so fascinated by it and wondered if everything we saw and experienced was merely a shadow of reality and not reality itself. When Henry answered that God is real, Maura inferred if he is indeed real, then to him, all people are merely dolls in a doll house. To her, it also meant that God’s world is the real one. However, she also asks who created God, thus continuing the cycle.

Maura applies Plato’s cave allegory to create her simulation and keep her son, Elliot, alive. Due to this, all other migrants perceive the simulation as the real world. At the end, when Maura places the ring inside the pyramid, she wakes up in a spaceship. As she steps out of the pod and walks toward a screen, she sees a message from her brother, which reads, “Welcome to reality.” Thus the cycle of simulations continues, and we do not know if Maura’s current state is real or yet another simulation.

Read More: Is 1899 Based on a True Story or a Book?