Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 30 : Darwin | Summary

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Summary

Hilde wakes up the next morning and immediately begins reading. Alberto and Sophie are interrupted by Noah, who gives them a chart with animals on it. Alberto begins his lesson on Charles Darwin (1809–82), a naturalist who proposed the theory of organic evolution by natural selection. After sailing around the world on the HMS Beagle and observing animals in their native habitats (the Galapagos finches in particular), Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin's work had a profound effect of turning humans into "a product of something as unsentimental as the struggle for existence." Alberto points out that evolution has a direction, which means it cannot be accidental. They discuss Goethe's Faust, as the lines that Albert sent Sophie previously are words from this work spoken by the devil, Mephistopheles.

Analysis

Darwin's theory caused ripples of doubt in longstanding beliefs of the Christian church. John Ruskin, a noted English intellectual and scientist, heard "the blows of [scientists'] hammers" while reading the Bible. To many, the Bible gradually became on par with a fairy tale, which is why Alberto points out that Adam and Eve show up in their story with the rest of the fairy tale characters. Alberto tells her they were "forced to throw in their lot with Little Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland."

Adam and Eve (and Noah's) presence is notable because it shows how important figures, once thought to exist in history, can go from real to fictional. This journey is the inverse of Sophie and Alberto's journey to go from fictional to "real." Gaarder seems to put forth the idea that if this inverse is possible, then perhaps Sophie and Alberto's journey is possible, too.

The passages from Goethe's Faust are pertinent to this topic as well. As he dies Faust is glad he left his mark on the world: "Now records of my earthly day, no flights of aeons can impair." The devil disputes this, saying all his toil will be forgotten. But taken philosophically, Darwin's theory proposes that no living being is insignificant because it contributes to the whole. The same could be said for fictional characters as they, too, contribute to the whole, if only on an intellectual level.

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