Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 2 : The Top Hat | Summary



On her walk home from school, Sophie dismisses all of Joanna's suggestions for activities as boring, and they part ways. In her mailbox Sophie finds a fat envelope with her first course in philosophy.

This letter introduces Sophie to the idea humans are like a "white rabbit being pulled out of [a magician's] hat." After reading the first letter, Sophie finds a second letter in the mailbox. The writer insists that "the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder." He laments that most humans lose this faculty because they settle into habit—"they crawl deep into the rabbit's fur ... and stay there for the rest of their lives."

Sophie takes this lesson to heart and tries to engage her mother when she gets home. Her mother merely asks her if she's on drugs, which Sophie denies.


In Gaarder's view philosophy does not offer easy answers to life's big questions. Each individual must ask the hard questions, explore the ideas of others that came before, and then formulate one's own worldview. Gaarder believes all humans should engage in philosophical questioning: "There are questions that certainly should interest everyone," he says. Being interested in life's mysteries is ultimately more important than trivia or gossip or "the price of tomatoes."

He uses the metaphor of a rabbit in a magician's hat to explain one's level of readiness for philosophy. When children are born, they are at the tips of the rabbit's fur, open for surprise. As they grow older, they retreat from the position of wonder and tuck themselves close to the cozy skin. It is only through philosophy that they can approach the tips again. These inquisitive humans want to know how the universe works, so they climb to the top of the rabbit's fur and try to look mystery in the eye. Gaarder also acknowledges the risks of living a radically questioning life by calling it a "perilous expedition" and admitting that some cannot handle it and "fall off" the rabbit's fur.

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