Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 17 : The Baroque | Summary

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Summary

Sophie watches TV and becomes distraught when it is reported that a UN major has been killed in Lebanon. When she calms down she announces she wants to have a birthday party on Midsummer's Eve. Then she tells her mother that Alberto is her philosophy teacher, and she has not been getting love letters.

The next day at school she gets another postcard addressed to Hilde, this time tucked in the pages of her exercise book. On it Albert mentions Hilde's loss of 10 crowns. Back at home Sophie is greeted by Hermes. The dog leads her back to Alberto's apartment, and on the way she stumbles over yet another postcard. This one is addressed to Hilde, c/o "a casual passerby."

Sophie's lesson is on the Baroque period during the 17th century. The period was marked by two extremes: lavishness and austerity. The theater was important, and Shakespeare straddled the Renaissance and the Baroque periods in history. Sophie and Alberto discuss the theater, dreams, and literature about these subjects. They also discuss the materialist Thomas Hobbes, determinists, and Leibniz, who argued that while objects and matter can be divided into smaller parts, the soul cannot.

Analysis

Alberto has been pretty careful so far when it comes to Albert, and most of his comments have been cryptic rather than inflammatory, but he changes his tone in this chapter. He calls Albert out for leaving Hilde's postcard on the sidewalk, calling it a "pompous and tasteless" trick. He is angry that Albert would have the "effrontery to compare his own shabby surveillance ... with God's providence." He also no longer seems afraid of Albert. Readers may wonder what has changed to make Alberto so much bolder.

The passages from Shakespeare that Alberto chooses to share with Sophie about the theater are very deliberate. He quotes the "All the world's a stage" passage from As You Like It and the "Life's but a walking shadow" passage from Macbeth. Sophie's World is a stage and Sophie and Alberto are merely players. But the line—"one man in his time plays many parts"—reads like a challenge to Sophie here to play a different part than the one she has been cast in. If she does not, then she might remain "a walking shadow" like the character in the Macbeth quote.

Likewise, the passages quoted about dreams take on a greater significance when applied to Sophie. Calderon de la Barca's Life Is a Dream rhapsodizes that life is "an illusion, a shadow, a story," which is exactly what Sophie's fictional life is. The Chinese sage Chuang-tzu was one of the first to be recorded comparing life to a dream. He dreamed he was a butterfly and then did not know whether he was Chuang-tzu dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang-tzu. This speaks to Gaarder's theme of the nature of existence. Gaarder continually raises the question: How does a person know they exist? Sophie thinks she exists, and yet she is merely a character in someone else's story.

Sophie's lesson on the materialists includes a discussion about determinism. If everything is a "product of material processes" then there is no free will. But Sophie refutes this idea saying that thoughts are not material in the way that bodily processes are. This is yet another instance within the text that illustrates Gaarder is positioning Sophie to use her own free will.

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