Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 1 : The Garden of Eden | Summary

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Summary

Norwegian schoolgirl Sophie Amundsen walks home from school and checks her mailbox. While she thinks she might get a letter from her father who is away most of the year on an oil tanker, what she finds is a white envelope addressed to her. There are only three words written on the paper inside: "Who are you?"

She stands in front of her mirror and ponders the question. Would she be someone else if she were named Anne or Lillemor, for example? She chases her cat outside, and thinks about how knowing you will die makes life more precious.

She gets a second letter that asks "Where does the world come from?" She has learned that God created the world, but who created God? Sophie is annoyed that this question seemingly has no answer.

A postcard comes for someone named Hilde, but it is sent care of Sophie.

Analysis

From the very beginning, Sophie proves herself to be an excellent student of philosophy because she is always asking questions, and asking questions is the main point of philosophy. Her first question in the first paragraph wonders about the nature of existence, one of Gaarder's main themes: "Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?" This question is in response to Sophie's friend Joanna's assertion that the human brain "was like an advanced computer." This line of thought also touches on free will, another of Gaarder's main themes. If humans are like computers, are they programmed to react a certain way?

While pondering who she is, Sophie reflects that she did not get to choose what she would look like, or even that she was born as a human being. The basics of her identity are predetermined, but she believes she has the power to make some choices, such as who her friends are. Considering that the novel's ending reveals she is fictional, Albert Knag, the "author," actually made those choices for her, too, which seems to point to Sophie's complete lack of agency. Gaarder leaves a clue in this chapter to set up this twist with the line: "She felt like doll ... brought to life by the wave of a magic wand." The magic wand that brings her to life is of course Albert's writing pen.

Sophie compares herself to her cat and realizes wrestling with life's great questions is what makes her human. The question of where the world comes from makes her think "at some point something must have come from nothing." This line of reasoning leaves her open for her first lesson, which comes in the next chapter.

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