Sophie doesn’t hear from Alberto for a few more days. To explain her absences to Mom, she lies and says that Hermes belongs to her old science teacher, with whom she had a long chat. On May 29, Sophie watches a news story on TV, about the Norwegian UN forces in Lebanon—a major has been killed by a bombshell.As Sophie watches TV, she begins to cry.
As Sophie spends more time with Alberto, she’s required to lie more often to her Mom, furthering the distance between them.We’re not sure who the major on TV is, but it’s certainly possible that it’s Hilde’s father himself—he was associated with the “major’s cabin,” after all.
As Sophie cries, Mom asks her what’s wrong. Mom declares that Sophie must have a boyfriend, and in return Sophie demands to know why herDad is never home—Sophie suggests that Mommight be the one with a boyfriend, and says she just isn’t brave enough to divorce Dad. With this, Sophie runs to her room.
Sophie and Mom are fighting, but at least they’re being more emotionally honest with each other right now—and we get a glimpse into Sophie’s worries about her own family dynamic.
Later in the evening, Sophie’s Mom enters her room. Sophie, who’s been crying, tells her mother that she wants a birthday party after all. Mom nods, but asks Sophie to explain what’s been going with her lately. Sophie admits that she’s been getting letters from and visiting a man named Alberto, who lived across town. Sophie explains that Alberto is a philosopher. Mom tells Sophie that she should invite Alberto to her birthday party. Sophie replies, “we’ll see.” She also tells Mom that she has menstrual cramps. Mom gives Sophie aspirin and lets her sleep.
Here Sophie has a more intimate moment with her mother than we’ve seen previously, and Mom even accepts the odd reality that an adult philosopher has been writing letters to her daughter. And yet Sophie continues to keep most of the information about her relationship with Alberto a secret from her mother. Sophie’s mention of menstrual cramps might symbolize her growing maturity and coming-of-age.
On May 31, Sophie receives an essay she turned in a few days before, on man’s relationship with technology. Sophie gets an A on the essay—her teacher is impressed with her intelligence. As Sophie leafs through her exercise book, she finds a postcard in it: a postcard from Hilde’s father in Lebanon. Hilde’s father tells Hilde that one of his friends has died recently. He promises that he’ll see Hilde very soon. He also notes that “soon” is relative—what seems like a week to Hilde may not be a week for him.
Interestingly, Sophie doesn’t fall behind in school, even as she spends less and less time thinking—or caring—about her schoolwork. This suggests that philosophy isn’t just a “useless” endeavor—it can help Sophie succeed in a conventional, real-world sense, by getting her higher grades on her exams. Hilde’s father—who is still alive, it turns out—also introduces an important concept here: our conceptions of time aren’t the same. One implication of this is that everyone has a different “world,” each with a different measure of time and space. We’ll return to this challenging idea many more times.
After school, Sophie shows Joannathe postcard. Joanna doesn’t know what to make of it. She’s excited to hear that Sophie will be having a birthday party, however. Sophie mentions that she’s thinking about inviting Alberto—something Joanna finds “crazy.”
Despite the fact that Joanna is now tangentially connected to the strange events in Sophie’s life, she’s still more excited by traditional teenage things like parties.
As she walks home, Sophie crosses paths with Hermes, who guides her back to Alberto’s attic. Outside building No. 14, Sophie finds a letter for Hilde. Hilde’s father explains that Hilde has lost ten crowns recently, and hopes that someone else has put them to good use. He promises that he’ll be back in the town of Lillesand soon.
It’s now confirmed: Hilde’s father was responsible for the returning of the missing money. The coincidences no longer seem merely fantastical—they’re purposeful, and both playful and sinister at the same time.
Inside, Sophie greets Alberto and asks him about the letter. Alberto calls Hilde’s father a shallow, shabby man, someone who thinks that his “surveillance” can rival that of God. Alberto presents Sophie with a book by Rene Descartes, as well as a pair of spectacles worn by Spinoza.
Alberto continues to deprecate Hilde’s father, suggesting that he is getting closer to the truth—that Alberto and Hilde’s world has been “created” by Hilde’s father, and yet he is still only a man (not an omniscient god) so his “miracles” are not particularly subtle.
Alberto launches into a history of the Baroque era (approximately the 16th and 17th century). Following the Renaissance, European culture shifted to focus on tension, contrast, ornamentation, and aesthetic complexity. During this period, Europe was ravaged by wars, including the Thirty Years’ War, between Protestants and Catholics. Europeans turned to art as an escape as well as for a reflection of their society’s complexity. It’s during this period, Alberto argues, that the idea of “life as theater” becomes common. This idea is apparent in the works of William Shakespeare, who bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, and once wrote, “All the world’s a stage.”
As we reach the halfway point of the novel, the idea of “life as theater” becomes more central to the narrative (particularly as it seems increasingly likely that Sophie herself is just “on a stage” for another’s entertainment). This idea suggests that the real world (or what we think of as the real world) is itself just a form of fiction, which can be manipulated and controlled by others. It’s interesting that this idea comes into prominence at a time of war in Europe—one could say that the intellectuals of Europe wanted a way to escape from the violence and bloodshed of their day.
The Baroque thinkers were obsessed with the principle of universality—the idea that the world can be understood with simple, predictable rules and laws. Newton’s laws of physics paved the way for a mechanistic interpretation of the world: an interpretation that stresses the world’s materiality and scientific predictability. During this period, thinkers tried to “mechanize” and rationalize abstract processes like dreaming—it was argued that dreams were the result of concrete, physical processes in the brain.The two greatest philosophers of the Baroque era were Descartes and Spinoza. Alberto prepares to tell Sophie about Descartes.
Baroque philosophers tried to understand how the universe is controlled—they tried to use math and physics to understand how planets move, or how rivers run. This is indicative of their belief in the predictable nature of everything in the world. It was widely believed that humans could understand the world if they were educated enough, and could even take on a godly power (this sounds a lot like the Sophistry that Alberto has warned of).