Sophie’s World

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Sophie’s World Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the chapter begins, Hilde Møller Knag wakes up in her bed. It’s June 15, 1990, her 15thbirthday, and her father is due to come home from Lebanon in a week.
Now that the secret is out, Gaarder suddenly takes us to the other “world” Alberto kept alluding to: the world where Hilde lives. Of course, as readers we’re meant to recognize the fact that Hilde’s world is no more “real” than Sophie’s world is.
Themes
The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Hilde stares out of her window at the garden outside her house. There was a big storm the night before and everything is wet. The garden is full of tall birch trees (bjørketrær in Norwegian), and for this reason her house was named “Bjerkely” many years ago.
This explains why the major’s cabin contained a painting titled “Bjerkely”—it was a painting of Hilde’s home!
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Hilde stares into her brass mirror. She has long blonde hair and green eyes. The mirror reminds Hilde of her father, whose name is Albert Knag. He used to keep the mirror in his studio—the place where he once tried to write a novel. Albert claimed that his grandmother had bought the brass mirror from a Gypsy woman years ago. He used to joke that this mirror was the only place you could “wink at your own reflection with both eyes at the same time.”
Hilde’s behavior in this chapter mirrors Sophie’s, and we finally see the other end of this magical mirror—Hilde was the one blinking back at Sophie.
Themes
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
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Suddenly, Hilde notices a box on her table—perhaps a birthday present from Albert. Inside, she finds an ordinary three-ring binder. Inside the binder, there’s a book, titled Sophie’s World. The first chapter of the book is called “The Garden of Eden.” Hilde begins to read: the chapter is about a girl named Sophie, walking home from school with her friend Joanna.
The truth is now clear: Albert has written Sophie’s World—the book we’ve been reading so far—with the intention of educating Hilde about philosophy. Furthermore, Albert has modeled the character of Sophie on his own daughter. This is a surprising and entertaining twist—in essence, Sophie’s Worldis acknowledging that it’s just a work of fiction—and beyond that, it’s a meta-fiction partly about the philosophy that reality might be an illusion!
Themes
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As Hilde reads on, she’s surprised to find that she herself is a character in the book. The main character, Sophie, keeps receiving letters addressed to Hilde. Hilde realizes that the letters from her father, as they’re described in the book Sophie’s World, are intended for her to read. Hilde continues reading about both Sophie and philosophy, and gets through the Greek natural philosophers and Democritus. As Hilde reads, she also finds evidence of things that she’s misplaced: a red scarf, etc.
Sure enough, every chapter of Sophie’s World (the binder) corresponds to a chapter of the book we’ve been reading so far. One interesting question this brings up is: is Sophie more or less “real” than Hilde? While it’s obvious that both are fictional characters, the very fact that we beganthis book from Sophie’s point of view suggests that, if anything, Sophie is more real to us (more familiar, more human, more sympathetic) than Hilde.
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Hilde’s mother walks into the room, carrying food, and wishes Hilde a happy birthday. Hilde thanks her mother but then returns to reading her book. Hilde’s mother, a little offended, asks Hilde to open her gift—it’s a beautiful gold bracelet. Hilde is grateful for the bracelet, but quickly resumes reading. She reads the section in which Sophie visits the Acropolis with Alberto. Hilde recalls that her father, during his time with the UN, suggested that the UN build a replica of the Acropolis as a place to come together and “forge world unity.”
Just like with Mom in Sophie’s world, Hilde’s mother seems a little disconnected from her daughter and her interests. We now get some more “real world” explanations for the strange occurrences in Sophie’s world.
Themes
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Alone in her room once again, Hilde reads about Sophie’s encounters with the two portraits in the major’s cabin—Berkeley and Bjerkely. Hilde looks up Berkeley in an encyclopedia, and finds that he was a philosopher. Hilde wonders what her father is getting at—what’s the similarity between her house and the philosopher, apart from their names?
Bjerkely was a total mystery for Sophie, but that part seems obvious to Hilde. The appearance of Berkeley as a philosopher, then, is a hint for both girls to keep learning about philosophy in order to solve this mystery.
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Hilde continues with her reading. As she reads, she comes across postcards from her father. Although Sophie, the character, experiences these postcards over a period of weeks, Hilde reads them all in the course of only a few hours. Hilde then reads about Aristotle, and though she is disappointed by his views on women, she likes his other ideas.
Just as Berkeley suggested that time and space were illusions, it now seems that Sophie’s conception of time is an illusion—since Hilde experiences the equivalent of days for Sophie in the space of a few hours. If time is relative, then, perhaps space is, too—perhaps even the space called Bjerkely.
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When Hilde gets to the description of Hildegard of Bingen, she’s very interested (and appalled that she can’t find Hildegard in the encyclopedia). Sophie’s idea about “revealing herself” to Hilde, Hilde realizes, has a kind of truth—Sophie, a literary character, has revealed herself to Hilde, a real person. Hilde reaches the passage in her book in which Sophie stares in the brass mirror and sees a strange girl winking back at her—Hilde recognizes this strange girl as herself. Hilde continues reading. At the part when Sophie finds a gold crucifix, Hilde realizes that she’s lost her own crucifix recently.
We see what the relationship between Sophie and Hilde really is: Sophie is a fictional character whose behavior is meant to serve as a model or mirror for Hilde’s. Hilde is supposed to learn from Albert through the surrogate figure of Sophie (who learns through Albert’s surrogate figure, Alberto). Yet there are also coincidences that seem (to Hilde, at least) to be more than just Albert’s trickery—the gold crucifix, for example, seems like a physical object that has passed from one girl’s world to the other.
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Then Hildereads about Sophie’s dream—where Sophie sees Albert Knag returning to Hilde’s home, weeks in the future. Hilde knows that Sophie is an imaginary character, but she can’t help thinking that Sophie’s dream is prophetic—her father really will return. Because of this, and because of her lost crucifix, she starts to think that Sophie “really existed.”
On one level, Hilde is a kind of ideal reader—someone who intuitively grasps how fiction works, and finds a character “real” because she sympathizes with her. But here it seems that Hilde goes even further, and starts to believe that Sophie is actually alive—a human being with free will—somewhere within the world of her father’s book.
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The Nature of Reality Theme Icon
Education, Mentorship, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
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