Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 14 : Two Cultures | Summary



Sophie's next packet is about Jesus and early Christianity. While Jesus belonged to Semitic culture, the Greeks and Romans belonged to Indo-European culture. The culture of the Indo-Europeans was characterized by polytheism (a belief in many gods) and a cyclic view of history. Meanwhile, the Semites were monotheistic and held a linear, chronological view of history. Through the teachings of Jesus and Paul, the two cultures began to come together and bring the world out of antiquity. Alberto asserts that knowing our roots is "the only way to avoid floating in a vacuum" and "the only way to become a human being."

Alberto also reveals that Hilde's father is a major in the United Nations' observer force in Lebanon.


When Alberto tells Sophie that he left Hilde's postcards in the cabin for Sophie to find because it is the "only way they could be delivered to [Hilde]," he is revealing several truths. First, Albert is not actually sending postcards to Hilde; their use is a narrative device with the purpose of merging Sophie's world with Hilde's. But leaving the postcards is most significant because Sophie has to go to the cabin to find them, and Alberto would not risk this unless he knew she would visit a second time. Alberto knew she would because this was Albert Knag's plan for her. Alberto is signaling to her that she has no free will in the matter. This is where it gets tricky, because as Albert's character, Alberto also arguably has no free will, either. So is Albert the one trying to wake Sophie up to her fictional nature? Or has Alberto somehow broken free from his creator? This distinction will be become important during the climax of the novel.

Gaarder draws parallels between the way "Christianity gradually began to permeate the Greco-Roman world" and the way Hilde and Sophie's worlds are colliding. Alberto explicitly uses the terminology "Hilde's world" and "ours." Upon a first pass, the reader might assume Alberto means this figuratively, but by the end of the novel, it is clear that Hilde's world and Sophie's world are two distinct worlds. Hilde's is meant to be the "real world," while Sophie's world is purely fictional. The reader knows that Hilde's world is also fictional, however, so it would seem Gaarder is also calling into question the reality of the reader's world. It is possible that everyone on Earth is simply a character in a novel and does not know it. Who, then, readers might ask, is the writer? Is each person's life already planned out with a specific ending? Is life predetermined or do humans have free will. These are weighty questions that have intrigued philosophers for millennia.

In his postscript, Alberto mentions the Goethe quote used in the epigraph. In this context it is an admonition for Sophie to learn her philosophic roots so that she can literally become a "real" person. Gaarder asserts it is the only way anyone can become a "human being"—a person aware of their extraordinary existence, as opposed to a "naked ape" who does not know why it exists.

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