Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 19 : Spinoza | Summary

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Summary

Alberto dives right into his lesson on Baruch Spinoza (1632–77). Spinoza wanted to look at things from the perspective of eternity. He saw God in all things and maintained that God is the world. Whereas Descartes was a dualist, Spinoza was a monist, someone who reduces all into one. But what he meant is that while man may exist independently from God (nature), man is also a manifestation of God (nature) working through him. According to Spinoza "God is not a puppeteer" working from the outside to control man; God created the natural laws that govern what man can do.

Sophie peels a banana and finds another birthday message for Hilde. Alberto admits that Albert is ingenious, albeit "mentally disturbed."

Analysis

Spinoza exemplifies the kind of danger that Albert spoke of in relation to the practice of philosophy. He was excommunicated from the Jewish faith community for questioning their doctrine and disowned by his family for his heresy.

It is interesting to consider whether Albert is Sophie's puppeteer. One might assume that he pulls her strings, and she only does what comes out of the author's mind. But Spinoza's view that God is not a puppeteer has important implications for Sophie's dualistic dilemma. Alberto explains that Sophie "may have the right to move [her] thumb," but her "thumb can only move according to its nature." If Albert, as Sophie's creator, can be considered her God, it is he who set the rules for how she behaves. But she also exists independently from Albert. She is a finger of Albert's body (meaning he is working through her to get a birthday message to Hilde, for an example) but she is also Sophie, who presumably has the free will to act within the confines of the natural laws set out for her. But the question is put forward to readers: can she break free of the confines of her fictional nature?

After finding the message in the banana, Sophie muses that it could well be Albert who is putting all the words in hers and Alberto's mouths. That is literally what an author does—he writes the dialogue that his characters speak. But Alberto is ever the philosopher, urging Sophie to "doubt everything."

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