Sophie’s World

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Sophie’s World Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sophie returns to Joanna’s house. Joanna tells Sophie that Sophie’s Mom has called several times, asking for Sophie’s whereabouts. Sophie convinces Joanna not to tell anyone about her meeting with Alberto in the church. Then, she leaves Joanna’s house and returns to her own.
Once again, Sophie’s mother is totally disconnected from her daughter’s experience and education. She’s not a bad mother—she’s clearly concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing—but for Sophie she remains an example of a life without philosophy.
Themes
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Back in her room, Sophie stares at the brass mirror and sees another girl’s face. The girl winks with both eyes, just as she did before. Although she has no way of proving it, Sophie senses that this girl is Hilde. Sophie tries to introduce herself to this strange other girl, but before she can get far, a voice calls Hilde’s name, and Hilde runs away from the other side of the mirror.
Sophie has already experienced the sight of a girl winking at her in the mirror, but now, she feels more confident interpreting this phenomenon. This scene also reinforces the mystical connection between Sophie and Hilde, and finally shows Hilde as a real, living person.
Themes
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
Sophiegoes to sleep and has a strange dream in which a young girl runs toward a middle-aged man wearing a beret. In the dream, the girl drops a small gold crucifix. Sophie wakes up suddenly, realizing that she’s been dreaming. Underneath her pillow, she finds the gold crucifix.Sophie is bewildered by her dream. She also notes that Hilde’s father (in the dream) looked a lot like Alberto Knox. She goes downstairs and greets Mom. Mom tells Sophie that a strange dog is outside, near the hedge. Sophie, knowing that the dog is Hermes, goes out to find him. Hermes walks away from the hedge slowly, allowing Sophie to follow.
Sophie’s dreams are a running motif throughout the book. In her dreams, she can experience a more direct and literal connection between her own life and the lives of Hilde and Hilde’s father. Sophie also continues to experience concrete points of contact between herself and Hilde, such as the gold crucifix. The symbolism of a misplaced crucifix might suggest that Hilde and Sophie are losing their faith in God, or at least God as he is conventionally understood—or it could suggest that they’re communicating with each other in a mystical, even religious way.
Themes
Philosophy, Wisdom, and Wonder Theme Icon
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Hermes leads Sophie to the town square, which is lined with houses. Outside house No. 14, Hermes barks at the mailbox. Hesitantly, Sophie opens the box and finds a letter for Hilde Møller Knag. It’s dated June 15. Sophie reads Hilde’s letter. Hilde’s father tells Hilde that Sophie is coming to the “philosopher’s house” soon. He notes that European history is like a human life—the Middle Ages are like adolescence, long and dull. But the Renaissance is like Europe’s 15th birthday—a great awakening of energy and vitality. Hilde’s father tells Hilde to be more careful, noting that she’s lost her gold crucifix. He also tells Hilde that he’s “just around the corner.”
Hilde’s father makes an explicit connection between the content of Sophie’s lessons and her own coming of age. In this way, Hilde’s father is just reiterating what we’ve already seen throughout the novel so far: that Sophie’s life is somehow intimately connected with her knowledge of Western philosophy. So just as the Renaissance saw a great bursting forth of intellectual endeavor, so too will Sophie (and Hilde) experience a rebirth of curiosity and excitement.
Themes
Philosophy, Wisdom, and Wonder Theme Icon
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Hermes leads Sophie into the house. Sophie climbs up many flights of stairs, until she’s in the attic. There, she’s surprised to find Alberto Knox, wearing a yellow jacket with padded shoulders. Sophie demands that Alberto explain how Hilde’scrucifix came to be under her pillow. Alberto replies, “It’s just a cheap trick.” Without waiting for Sophie to respond, Alberto dives into Sophie’s lesson for the day.
Alberto Knox is like a Merlin-figure—a magician who can come and go as he pleases, but still bases his schedule (and even his outfits) around Sophie’s education. Alberto seems increasingly dismissive of these borderline-miraculous events in Sophie’s life, and he also grows more critical of Hilde’s father.
Themes
Philosophy, Wisdom, and Wonder Theme Icon
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Alberto directs Sophie’s attention to the attic, which is full of beautiful old books. He explains that he’s been living in the attic for some time, ever since leaving the major’s cabin. Sophie asks Alberto how Hilde’s father knows Alberto’s changing locations, but Alberto doesn’t say.
Alberto is clearly hiding some important information about Hilde and Hilde’s father, but he doesn’t share it with Sophie. This reinforces the idea that Sophie will only solve the mystery of Hilde’s father as she comes to understand the mysteries of philosophy.
Themes
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
Alberto next begins to tell Sophie about the Renaissance, the period of European history following the Middle Ages. Renaissance means “rebirth,” suggesting that Europe was recovering its connections to the culture of antiquity. The Renaissance is often celebrated as a time of great humanism—a renewed emphasis on human values and life in the material world. Some of the most important milestones of the Renaissance were the invention of the printing press, the rediscovery of the compass, and the perfection of the gun. These three inventions allowed Europeans to communicate morequickly and efficiently, conquer new countries, and explore unknown lands.
Alberto’s history lesson is cursory but important—it underscores the point that cultural revolutions must have very specific, material causes. We often talk about the Renaissance in abstract, cultural terms (even the name “Renaissance” itself is an abstraction of this kind), forgetting that the Renaissance was only possible because of inventions like the printing press, which allowed for the quick, reliable exchange of information.
Themes
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Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Renaissance humanists celebrated the Christian church, but they also celebrated Greco-Roman culture to an unprecedented extent. For this reason, Rome once again became a seat of art and scholarship. In spite of the new emphasis on humanism, the Christian church continued to persecute those whose ideas were seen as being too radical. So there were clear limits placed on humanism at this time—even humanists had to wrap their ideas in the language of Christianity to avoid persecution. Other important ideas of the time included the theory that the Earth moves around the Sun, proposed by Nicolas Copernicus and later Galileo Galilei.
The Renaissance was proof of the success of thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas: without their merging of Christianity and Platonism, the Renaissance thinkers could never have navigated smoothly between so many different philosophical systems. And yet in many ways the Renaissance thinkers rebelled against their Christian predecessors with scientific discoveries that discredited the (literal) centrality of man’s place in the universe.
Themes
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
Alberto tells Sophie more about Galileo, one of the key figures of the Renaissance. Galileo was an empiricist, meaning that he used careful observation to study the laws of the universe. For example, he used experimentation to show that all objects accelerate toward the Earth at a uniform rate, contrary to what Aristotle had maintained centuries before. Galileo also used astronomical observations to prove that the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the other way around, as had been previously believed.
Galileo showed that the Earth isn’t at the center of the universe—a hugely important discovery. But arguably even more important was Galileo’s new method—the method of empiricism and experimentation. Galileo’s successors, both in science and in philosophy, would imitate his methods to arrive at their own impressive discoveries about the world.
Themes
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Galileo’s studies of the laws of motion were influential in the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Newton took Galileo’s ideas further by showing that some laws of motion are universal—i.e., forces like gravity bind together all matter in the universe, no matter how big or small. Newton used this concept to show how the Moon orbited the Earth. The ideas of Newton and Galileo were revolutionary, and in some ways they undermined people’s faith in God. Man was no longer at the center of the universe; instead, he had to obey the same laws of physics as everything else in the world.
One important thing to keep in mind here is the relationship between Galileo and Newton’s specific discoveries and the more abstract, general lessons they teach us about science. So just as Sophie is more interested in the way that the natural philosophers conducted philosophy than in their specific conclusions, we might say that Galileo and Newton’s methods are more enduringly “true” than their conclusions (many of which are now debunked).
Themes
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Alberto goes on to tell Sophie about the history of religion during the Renaissance. During this time, figures like Martin Luther challenged the teaching of the Christian church. Luther maintained that Christians’ personal relationship with God was more important than their participation in ritual and ceremony. Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation—the great split in Christianity that resulted in the establishment of new sects, particularly Catholicism (the Christians who didn’t follow Luther) and Protestantism (the Christians who did).
The revolutionary discoveries of Galileo parallel the revolutionary claims made by Martin Luther, who challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. Even if Galileo and Luther never actually interacted, it’s Alberto’s point that the general “spirit of the Renaissance” influenced both Luther and Galileo and caused them to make parallel innovations in their respective fields.
Themes
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
Sophie realizes that it’s already4 o’clock—her mother must be missing her. Alberto nods and says goodbye to Sophie, calling her “Hilde.” Sophie challenges Alberto on this, and Alberto claims that he just misspoke. Sophie asks Alberto if he’s Hilde’s father, but he denies this.
Even Alberto seems to be confusing Hilde and Sophie now. Gaarder gets more playful and fantastical in his text as the story goes on, increasingly suggesting that this “world” isn’t the only one within the universe of the novel.
Themes
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Sophie leaves Alberto and begins heading home. Because she has no money, she’ll have to walk home instead of taking the bus. Then, she notices ten crowns lying on the ground—the exact price of a bus ticket. Sophie wonders if this is a coincidence, or if Hilde’s father has placed the money there for her. Sophie feels a chill running down her spine.
Just as Luther and Galileo began to question man’s place in society and the universe, so Sophie begins to question her own place in her world.
Themes
Philosophy, Wisdom, and Wonder Theme Icon
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon