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Ignorance can be defined as lack of knowledge, experience, and information; or as I call it: the most toxic element of humankind. Ignorance can twist and change a person’s views, and potentially interfere with freedom and quality life. In some cases it can determine life or death. You may ask: Am I ignorant? How can I identify ignorance in my life? Through four literary examples of mankind choosing to live in ignorance – despite the presence of enlightenment – readers can consider areas of ignorance in their own lives.
Lawrence and Lee’s Inherit the Wind highlights the battle between ignorance and enlightenment, and prepares readers for when they must choose between standing up for knowledge, or remaining in ignorance. The authors Lawrence and Lee use political and religious characters to represent ignorance. Leaders like the mayor of Hillsboro and Mathew Harrison Brady have a strong thirst for power and are able to manipulate their followers into staying in their dark and unenlightened world. For example, the mayor of Hillsboro warns the judge to avoid discussing any unpopular/controversial topics (such as evolution) when he claims that it “don’t do any of them any good to have any of the voters getting’ all steamed up”. The mayor encourages familiar yet hindering life styles, rather than exposing the citizens to a modern world of science. But the authors include characters like Henry Drummond to be the spokesperson for knowledge. Rather than choosing sides or trying to convince the people to listen to him, Drummond encourages the people of Hillsboro to think for themselves. Drummond is an encourager of free thought. He wants people who can think for themselves, and who are not just “run through a meat-grinder so they all come out the same” (Lawrence and Lee 21). Through these characters and the constant tension played throughout the story, readers can see that the argument between ignorance and enlightenment is one to consider.
The Allegory of the Cave by Plato is another instance of ignorant individuals choosing lack of knowledge over enlightenment, an idea that should be noticed by readers. The dark cave symbolically suggests the modern world of ignorance and the chained people symbolize ignorant people in this ignorant world. Plato says that after one of the men is released from the chains and sees outside the cave, he realizes the shadowy cave lacks the fullness of all the world has to offer. The man who is freed “considers himself lucky because of the transformation that had happened” to him (Plato 5). He runs back to the cave to tell the others who were chained up about real life and to help free them of their ignorance as well. He offers the other chained men an opportunity to be free, an opportunity to live life, an opportunity to be enlightened. But, out of their own ignorance, the other chained men reject him. In fact, their ignorance has blinded the other chained men so much that they believe his journey in the outside world has made him stupid. Readers should regard Plato’s hidden philosophy in this allegory, and apply it to themselves.
Jon Krakauer teaches readers the consequences of ignorance through the main character Chris McCandless in his book Into the Wild. Some may describe Chris McCandless as an idealist or a nature enthusiast, but after reading Into the Wild it is clear to see that McCandless was highly ignorant, arrogant, and possibly mentally unstable. Krakauer explains that “McCandless was hardly unique” there were other people who also had a passion for exploration, and hiked along the Alaskan mountains, but “the only difference is that McCandless ended up dead” because of his ignorance and carelessness. Some may claim that McCandless WAS being enlightened, that he was learning more about nature and about himself through his travels, he felt he had “passion for adventure” and thought that “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences” (Krakauer 40). Ironically, in the process of living in what he thought was enlightenment, he was actually living in extreme ignorance- which in the end caused his death. McCandless was ignorant to the Alaskan locals and the advice they gave him. They warned him that the trip was hard, and that he would need more efficient gear, shoes and food. They even offered to help McCandless, and tried to give him supplies and give him food; but like the foolish chained men from the cave, McCandless refused. McCandless claimed that he was “absolutely positive” that he “wouldn’t run into anything he can’t deal with on his own” on the rigorous Stampede Trail of Alaska. McCandless’ ignorance caused him death by starvation, showing readers that ignorance can have major consequences. McCandless’ journey also shows readers that even when we think we are more wise and enlightened than everyone else around us, we can be the most ignorant of all. McCandless’ ignorance blinded him, and eventually caused him a long and painful death in the middle of the Alaskan mountains.
Anthem by Ayn Rand illustrates a society that has suffered from the appalling consequences of ignorance: collectivism; which should help readers contemplate their own knowledge/lack of knowledge. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” is a common theme throughout the society in Anthem. This theme is common in many anti-utopian stories- stories that depict the world/society as it should not be. Bliss means great joy; as the origin of bliss is discovered by Equality 7-2531, the main protagonist, readers find that ignorance is not bliss but in fact the opposite. Equality knows that ignorance is holding his society back from happiness, and he wants to compensate for the lack of progression. Equality discovers electricity, an advancement that could benefit the whole society. He humbly presents it to the government, and says that “there is a great power in the wires, but the power is tamed. It is there’s. he gives it to them” but the government rejects his work, and shames him for “thinking that he could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets”. Equality presents enlightenment on a golden platter to his society, and in their own ignorance, they reject him.
What can four pieces of writing from different centuries, cultures, and genres teach an astute reader? What can readers take away from a fundamentally religious community, dark figures in a cave, a young man on an Alaskan quest and a misfit from a collectivist society? The answer is to observe the role of ignorance in your own being, your immediate surroundings, and your society as a whole. To pay heed to the urgings of others to wake up and live better. To “make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing” (Krakauer 41).
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