Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 9 : Plato | Summary



After pondering her questions of the day, Sophie gets her next delivery from Hermes. She decides to follow the dog to see if he will lead her to her mentor, Alberto, but the dog growls, barks, and races off.

Naturally, her packet is about Plato (428–347 BCE). Plato believed that everything in nature flowed in the world of senses but that it also had an eternal "idea" form—even though horses are all different, they are made from the same horse mold. This is Plato's Theory of Ideas. He especially liked mathematics because "mathematical states never change."

Plato is also famous for his Myth of the Cave. In it bound viewers only see shadow forms so they believe that is all there is. One man frees himself of his bonds and views the true forms that are casting the shadows. He excitedly tries to explain his newly found vision to the other captives, but they do not believe him and kill him.

In his dialogue Republic, Plato sets forth what he envisions as a utopian state, one in which reason and philosophers rule. Plato believed women could rule just as effectively as men, an atypically positive view of them for the time.


Once again Sophie makes an attempt to take control over her story by following the dog Hermes, even though Alberto warned her against trying to meet him. Sophie proves herself to be strong willed; she is not dissuaded by Hermes's barks or growls. It is only when Hermes races off and it becomes physically impossible for her to continue that she stops her pursuit.

Sophie is also adept at taking her lessons and connecting them to her own environment. When she comes up for air after reading about Plato, she sees a squirrel she thinks she might have seen before. She realizes it would be difficult for her to know if she has seen this particular squirrel before or if she merely recognizes its form. Perhaps her soul "had seen the eternal 'squirrel' before—in the world of ideas," at a time before she was born. This is a case of dramatic irony, of course, considering Sophie herself, being a fictional character, belongs to the world of ideas. In this sense, Gaarder shows throughout most of the novel that Sophie is a shadow living in a world of shadows. Like Plato says, she feels "a longing to return to the realm of the soul," or in her case, her true self. Her ultimate goal as a philosopher and as a character is to realize that, just as in Plato's cave, she is bound within the confines of her book and to become "real" she must find the courage to escape it. This journey to self-awareness relates to the theme of free will because while she remains in her "book," her author creator controls all her actions.

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