Skip to main content


Writing from the Odyssey Project: The Allegory of the Cave

(Photo courtesy of Odyssey the Project)

WBEZ’s Front and Center project will be launching a series about literacy in late May. We are highlighting writing from organizations around the city as we lead up to the series.

The Odyssey Project is an organization that provides a college-level  humanities classes to low-income adults. This essay is in response to an assignment to write a personal version of Plato's cave story.

The Allegory of the Cave
by Tené A. Buckner

The geography of the cave for me was a dysfunctional family of origin filled with abuse, neglect, abrasiveness, and all kinds of levels of addiction.  I would be lying if I said there was no love. There was. My family of origin were my “puppets.”

We were like “crabs in a barrel,” (an expression that I’ve heard my mom use quite often.) With crabs in a barrel, as one crab tries to get out of the barrel, the other crabs constantly pull whichever one is trying to escape back down with them.  In my family of origin we had toxic competitiveness and lack of emotional support, warmth, encouragement, motivation or inspiration. In fact, we put each other down quite often.

My fate was doom, gloom, failure and depression, and a repeated cycle of abuse, neglect, addiction, sadness and hate. I was blessed to start a long, tumultuous, and rewarding journey of professional therapy.  I began a very slow, gradual process of being “released from bondage.”

At some juncture I was able to turn around and see that every thing that I had been through and taught (verbally, or just modeled for me day-in and day-out) was mostly all lies!

My “ascent to the light” was a very long grieving process of realizing that my family would NEVER be the Cosby family, that my mom would never be Claire Huxtable, and that the Cosby family wasn’t even the real Cosby family!

Eventually I began to build a more positive life with warmer, more loving, more affirming people, all very imperfect like me though.  My “out-side world” is full of love and fun-times and also very challenging and sad too, such is life.

Relating to my family now, inside the “cave,” can be such a triumph for me sometimes. Other times I need to make that ascension and turn around to reality to discover some new, hard truth about life and about myself.

I have transformed on so many levels, and I can now accept people inside and outside of the cave for who they are, or appear to be, and love them and myself in a more healthy way, or at least what I believe and what I have learned is healthy.  But one can never be too sure, for I think that I’ve learned these things inside and outside of the cave.


Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.