New Superstitions for Old and The Allegory of the Cave


The two articles: N Superstitions for Old and The Allegory of the Cave were both written by characters of high standing in the academic world; Margaret Mead and the Greek philosopher Plato respectively. The Plato’s allegory of the cave is one of the famous passages, and most instinctual accomplishments trying to expound the nature of reality. The cave characterises the conditions in which people live, and the story of a dramatic departure from the cave is the source of real understanding.

On the other hand, Margaret Mead is giving a better understanding of the superstitions through comparison of the old and new notions, as well as comparing the superstitions themselves and scientific knowledge. The two articles, through a different approach, discuss a number of essential similar themes and issues that commonly affect human beings. Moreover, some of their strategies of passing information to the reader are quite the same, for instance, both of the articles portray a tone that criticises and somewhat belittles the reader.

Summary of the Articles

The Allegory of the Cave is a brief passage which is found in book four of Plato’s tome, The Republic. The author explains the allegory in the perspective of education; it is eventually about the characteristics of philosophical knowledge, it provides an insightful view into Plato’s perspective about the understanding of reality. In this short excerpt, the Socrates is the chief character, and he is narrating the allegory of the cave to one of Plato’s brothers known as Glaucon. Socrates describes the tale, asks both rhetoric and non-rhetoric questions, and sometimes tells the interlocutor to try to imagine with him about some scenarios. Ultimately, the message is clearly passed to the reader, and themes can be identified from the extract.

On the other hand, the short excerpt, ‘New Superstitions for Old,’ is also found in one of the Margaret Mead’s celebrated books. Margaret tells the story of how people once believed in superstitions, and how these irrational beliefs extend into the contemporary world. She attempts to view superstitions in different contexts such as in the modern world, in the religious setting, and the home-based traditions. Moreover, the author gives some examples of old superstitions which remain to be followed in the current times. She also explains how new notions are being formed, and provides examples of these new irrational beliefs. In the passage, Margaret also reminds the reader of the transitional objects and defines the relationship of these entities with the superstitions.

Analysis of the Articles

The two articles majorly point out the theme of factuality. They are distinguishing the realm of actuality from the sphere of ordinary imagination. For instance, in the Allegory of the Cave, the Socrates narrates about men walking through the pathway and carrying substances made of stone at the back of the curtain wall, as well as making sounds to go in consort with the items (Plato 199). The pieces are protruded onto the back wall of the cave for those who are imprisoned to observe.

Interestingly, due to lack of facts, the prisoners are giving names to the shadows of the objects they are seeing (Plato 200). The situation to them is the reality since they have lived their entire life believing and imagining that things they have been seeing are real. Therefore, the fact for the captives of the cave is the shadows of the objects and figures cast on the wall of the cave. Sarcastically, Socrates explains this scenario indicating how human beings are far from the realities of the world.

Similarly, in the article, ‘New Superstitions for Old,’ Margret Mead also points out the theme of factuality in her narration. She postulates that superstitions do not exist in reality and they are simply jokes. For instances, she states in the article, ‘It is a kind of joke, of course, but it makes you feel safe.” (Mead 167). She satirically describes the individuals, who observe the ‘empty’ beliefs that superstition actually has some power over their day-to-day life. Mead also makes assertions that most people do not factually rely on the art of knocking on wood as a preventive mechanism for any danger (Mead 165). Therefore, Margaret Mead enlightens on how people live in fantasy, fearing or celebrating objects or situations which are superstitious and do not exist in reality.

Moreover, both articles highlight the theme of lack of knowledge, as well as pointing out the importance of understanding why and how things or situations occur. In The Allegory of the Cave, Socrates narrates about a prisoner who by some means breaks free of the chains (Plato 200). The escapee turns around and looks at the fire (symbolising enlightenment and recognising human ignorance), which ultimately pains his eyes and makes him instantly desire to go back to the previous conditions in which he could properly see objects, and intelligently think to the point of naming the shadows. Therefore, Plato portrays human beings as enemies of progress and conservatives of their own understanding of reality.

However, after his eyes have adjusted to the light of the flame, he hesitantly and with much trouble progresses out of the cave into the sunlight, symbolising the process of acquiring knowledge and the capacity of a human being to take in the truth. Eventually, the prisoner who escaped into the realm of sunlight would then see shadows, actual forms and shapes, and then looks at the sun itself which he then understands to be the source of the reflections. Therefore, the knowledgeable prisoner, in the realm of sunlight, starts to sympathise with fellow prisoners who are still trapped in the cave which represents the state of ignorance. Interestingly, when the prisoner attempts to enlighten his fellow prisoners about the reality; his partners view him as dangerous because they are comfortable in their own lack of knowledge (Plato 202).

Similarly, the article,’ New Superstitions for Old,’ also points out the theme of lack of knowledge. This article adopts an academic and educational approach in presenting this subject. Margaret Mead postulates that natural measures have inherent sources, suggesting that people should have the ability to understand the connection between natural causes and their impacts. Moreover, Mead emphasises the theme of ignorance when she says, “Superstitions, however, belong to the category of beliefs, practices, and ways of thinking that have been discarded because they are inconsistent with scientific knowledge,” (Mead 168). Margaret Mead also suggests that people should embrace scientific ways of thinking rather than relying on the superstitions which are deprived of scientific proofs (Mead 168). Furthermore, the article describes a religious setting as where truths cannot be verified instead irrational beliefs are being accepted as a matter of faith. Mead also views superstitious individuals as characters who lack true knowledge (Mead 165).

Even though both articles have common themes, they vary concerning the tone, the purpose, and the effect. The tone of The Allegory of the Cave can be defined as curious, inquisitive, and somewhat wise. Socrates keeps asking Glaucon perceptive questions that spark mixed-up and thoughtful reactions. Remarkably, Socrates tells the tale in a manner that indicates that he does not know the truth, so he appears to share in the ignorance of the prisoners. Conversely, New Superstitions for Old embraces a criticising tone which to some extent belittles the reader. Mead states that superstitions are pure jokes. She criticises individuals who believe in the power of such irrational beliefs implying that those superstitious people have a false and childish understanding (Mead 166).

The two articles are different regarding their purpose and effect. Through the use of metaphors and rhetorical questions, Plato seems to be proposing that human beings should strive to acquire knowledge. According to him, getting the education is a struggle, symbolising transformation from darkness to light; where darkness denotes ignorance and light signifies knowledge and truth. He believes that anyone who is interested in learning can gain insight and get into the realms of actuality. On the other hand, Margaret Mead describes superstitions and exposes their fictitious nature. She initiates the narration by having her readers relate to ordinary superstitious objects or situations which are pervasive in their day-to-day lives. This approach allows her readers to connect personally to the subject. Mead advocates for scientific knowledge and emphasises that superstitions are irrational beliefs which do not demonstrate any truth.


These two articles are significant since they have comprehensively and analytically explored various subjects that typically affect human beings. On the theme of ignorance, human beings should continuously strive to acquire knowledge to have a better understanding of reality. Notably, the process of gaining knowledge is excruciating and can only be achieved by individuals of great desire. Besides, scientific knowledge is more critical than superstitions since they are based on the shreds of evidence that can be observed and scientifically proven rather than mere faith.

Conversely, on the subject of actuality, people should question every assumption they make about reality. Things or vents that persons view as real sometimes demonstrate to be fictional; thus, they should be explored rationally. Moreover, superstitious objects or occasions are not real, and they cannot cause any form of occurrence. Therefore, those who believe in superstitions are in the world of fantasy.

Works Cited

  1. Mead, Margaret. New Superstition for Old, pp. 165-169.
  2. Plato. The Allegory of the Cave, pp. 199-207.