Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 16 : The Renaissance | Summary



Sophie gets back to Joanna's house, which was her alibi while she had her secret meeting with Alberto. She finally confides in Joanna about what has been going on. Joanna does not like what Sophie tells her, but she agrees to keep her secret. Back at home Sophie looks in the mirror from the Major's Cabin and sees an apparition of Hilde in it. Then she has a dream about seeing Hilde with her father, but they cannot see her. After the dream she finds Hilde's gold crucifix under her pillow. Hermes comes to Sophie's house to lead her to New Square. There she finds a new postcard for Hilde in which her father mentions the missing crucifix.

Alberto's attic apartment is spacious and full of historical treasures. He begins to lecture Sophie on the Renaissance and how it was a "rebirth" of the ideas of antiquity. While the Middle Ages were theocentric, the humanists returned their focus to the greatness of man himself. The empirical method developed into the scientific method, which made the later Industrial Revolution possible. Alberto covers the contributions of astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei as well as physicist Isaac Newton. Building on the works of the astronomers, Newton was able to develop universal laws of physics that created a new world view, one that resulted in an individual's personal relationship with God being more important than their relationship with organized religion. Erasmus and Martin Luther were key figures in the Protestant Reformation, a period that put the Bible in the hands of everyone, not just clergymen in the church.

After his lesson Alberto slips up and calls Sophie by the name Hilde twice. She leaves and realizes she does not have bus fare for her ride home, but subsequently she finds 10 crowns on the ground—the exact price of a ticket.


Sophie tells Joanna she wonders if "Hilde can see everything we do," which signifies Sophie is starting to stumble upon the right questions. When she sees Hilde's face in the magic mirror, she's so exhausted from sneaking out to meet Alberto that she imagines she is hallucinating the other girl based upon Hilde's photo ID.

While she's at his apartment, Alberto makes a few rather jarring statements to Sophie. First, he declares that Hilde's father may be using them "as a kind of birthday diversion for his daughter." Second, he insinuates that her finding of Hilde's crucifix is Albert's doing—"a cheap trick that costs him no effort whatsoever." Third, he says that if he is right, Hilde's father "knows practically everything" about what they are up to. All of these statements match up to Albert's writing Sophie's World for Hilde's birthday. Of course neither Sophie nor the reader knows about this at this stage in the narrative. At this point the reader might be trying to puzzle out the question of Albert's God-like power using the philosophical tools, such as reason and logic, given so far in the text. Alberto declares that "only philosophy can bring us closer to Hilde's father," but it is not immediately clear what he means by this.

When speaking about the Renaissance, Alberto says that humanists during this time favored a classical education because "human beings are not born—they are formed." This is significant because one might say that as a fictional character, Sophie was born only in the imagination, but because she is receiving a classical education from Alberto, she is going through the process that will "form" her into a "real" human being.

Alberto also quotes Francis Bacon—"Knowledge is power"—and this will certainly prove true for Sophie. At this point in the novel Albert is holding all the knowledge and all the power, but Alberto clearly has plans for this power dynamic to change via Sophie's education.

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