Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 32 : Our Own Time | Summary



Hilde wakes up from a dream in which she was down at the dock when her father came home and she heard Sophie's voice. She reads about Sophie distracting her father and talking to a goose before going home to prepare for her party. The next day Sophie waits for Alberto in a café, but he arrives late to prove a philosophical point—that man partially controls his perception by deciding what to focus on.

Alberto discusses the existentialists: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), who coined the phrase "God is dead"; Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86), a feminist who wrote the Second Sex; and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80), an atheist who claimed that because there is no overall human nature, humans are free to create their own. This complete freedom is a burden, however, because people then have complete responsibility for the world they choose to build. Humans are thus charged with finding their own meaning in life.

Alberto takes Sophie to a bookstore where he grouses about all the books on the supernatural and warns her away from them. They find a copy of Sophie's World in the philosophy section, and Alberto buys it for Sophie.


One might argue Gaarder reveals himself here as an existentialist, albeit not necessarily one who believes that the most significant truth is what a person decides to act upon. Albert might have created Sophie and Alberto only as a gift for Hilde, but Sophie and Alberto still possess the free will and the responsibility to find meaning even in this "shadow" existence. Gaarder may have only created Hilde and Albert as a gift for eager philosophy students around the world. But they also have this responsibility, and as they do, so do Gaarder's readers, even if they were only created to please a higher being. Gaarder proposes that Sophie, Hilde, and the reader find this meaning by asking life's impossible questions. These are the questions that began in antiquity and have continued throughout human history up until today. Humankind must press on and ask them, even if no definite answers are forthcoming.

Existentialism begat Absurdist Theater, and Gaarder increasingly employs the surreal landscape of absurdity in the second half of the novel so that readers see Sophie looking into herself "for something more genuine and true." This truth is her search for identity and meaning, which, ironically, reaches its critical point exactly at the most absurd part of the novel—the garden party in the next chapter.

One might argue that Alberto's discovery of Sophie's World in the philosophy section of the bookstore is a wish-fulfillment on Gaarder's part. In any case, it shows Gaarder has a prophetic sense of humor about his own authorial legacy, as he could not have known how popular Sophie's World would become. The object, the book Sophie's World, thus ends up taking the same journey to becoming as real as its main protagonist, Sophie.

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