The Top Hat by Jostein Gaarder - Interdisciplinary Readings: First Semester (M. Ed. English)

The Top Hat by Jostein Gaarder - Interdisciplinary Readings: First Semester (M. Ed. English)
The Top Hat by Jostein Gaarder - Interdisciplinary Readings

Full Lesson

Sophie's World (1991) is a novel written by Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder (1952). It follows events of Sophie Amundsen, a teenage girl living in Norway, and Alberto Knox, a middle aged philosopher who introduces her to the history of philosophy. The following extract comes from chapter II of the novel. (alert-success)
…the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder...
Sophie was sure she would hear from the anonymous letter writer again. She  decided not to tell anyone about the letters for the time being. 
At school she had trouble concentrating on what the teachers said. They seemed  to talk only about unimportant things. Why couldn’t they talk about what a human  being is—or about what the world is and how it came into being? 
For the first time she began to feel that at school as well as everywhere else  people were only concerned with trivialities. There were major problems that needed  to be solved. 
Did anybody have answers to these questions? Sophie felt that thinking about 
them was more important than memorizing irregular verbs. 
When the bell rang after the last class, she left the school so fast that Joanna had 
to run to catch up with her. 
After a while Joanna said, “Do you want to play cards this evening?” 
Sophie shrugged her shoulders. 
“I’m not that interested in card games any more.” 
Joanna looked surprised. 
“You’re not? Let’s play badminton then.” 
Sophie stared down at the pavement—then up at her friend. 
“I don’t think I’m that interested in badminton either.” 
“You’re kidding!” 
Sophie noticed the touch of bitterness in Joanna’s tone. 
“Do you mind telling me what’s suddenly so important?” 
Sophie just shook her head. “It’s ... it’s a secret.” 
“Yuck! You’re probably in love!” 
The two girls walked on for a while without saying anything. When they got to 
the soccer field Joanna said, “I’m going across the field.” 
Across the field! It was the quickest way for Joanna, but she only went that way  when she had to hurry home in time for visitors or a dental appointment. 
Sophie regretted having been mean to her. But what else could she have said?  That she had suddenly become so engrossed in who she was and where the world  came from that she had no time to play badminton? Would Joanna have understood?  Why was it so difficult to be absorbed in the most vital and, in a way, the most 
natural of all questions? 
She felt her heart beating faster as she opened the mailbox. At first she found  only a letter from the bank and some big brown envelopes for her mother. Darn!  Sophie had been looking forward to getting another letter from the unknown sender.  As she closed the gate behind her she noticed her own name on one of the big  envelopes. Turning it over, she saw written on the back: “Course in Philosophy.  Handle with care.” 
Sophie ran up the gravel path and flung her schoolbag onto the step. Stuffing  the other letters under the doormat, she ran around into the back garden and sought  refuge in the den. This was the only place to open the big letter. 
Sherekan came jumping after her but Sophie had to put up with that. She knew 
the cat would not give her away. 
Inside the envelope there were three typewritten pages held together with a 
paper clip. Sophie began to read.


Dear Sophie, 
Lots of people have hobbies. Some people collect old coins or foreign  stamps, some do needlework, others spend most of their spare time on a  particular sport. 
A lot of people enjoy reading. But reading tastes differ widely. Some  people only read newspapers or comics, some like reading novels, while  others prefer books on astronomy, wildlife, or technological discoveries. 
If I happen to be interested in horses or precious stones, I cannot expect  everyone else to share my enthusiasm. If I watch all the sports programs on  TV with great pleasure, I must put up with the fact that other people find  sports boring. 
Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns  everyone—no matter who they are or where they live in the world? Yes, dear  Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are  precisely the questions this course is about. 
What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the  edge of starvation, the answer is food. If we ask someone dying of cold, the  answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely  and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people. 
But when these basic needs have been satisfied—will there still be something that everybody needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that  man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And  everyone needs love and care. But there is something else—apart from that— which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are  here. 
Being interested in why we are here is not a “casual” interest like  collecting stamps. People who ask such questions are taking part in a debate  that has gone on as long as man has lived on this planet. How the universe,  the earth, and life came into being is a bigger and more important question  than who won the most gold medals in the last Olympics. 
The best way of approaching philosophy is to ask a few philosophical questions: 
How was the world created? Is there any will or meaning behind what  happens? Is there a life after death? How can we answer these questions?  And most important, how ought we to live? People have been asking these  questions throughout the ages. We know of no culture which has not  concerned itself with what man is and where the world came from. 
Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have  already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with  many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical  questions than to answer them. 
Today as well each individual has to discover his own answer to these  same questions. You cannot find out whether there is a God or whether there  is life after death by looking in an encyclopedia. Nor does the encyclopedia  tell us how we ought to live. However, reading what other people have  believed can help us formulate our own view of life. 
Philosophers’ search for the truth resembles a detective story. Some  think Andersen was the murderer, others think it was Nielsen or Jensen. The  police are sometimes able to solve a real crime. But it is equally possible that  they never get to the bottom of it, although there is a solution somewhere. So  even if it is difficult to answer a question, there may be one—and only one— right answer. Either there is a kind of existence after death—or there is not.  A lot of age-old enigmas have now been explained by science. What the  dark side of the moon looks like was once shrouded in mystery. It was not the  kind of thing that could be solved by discussion, it was left to the imagination  of the individual. But today we know exactly what the dark side of the moon  looks like, and no one can “believe” any longer in the Man in the Moon, or that  the moon is made of green cheese. 
A Greek philosopher who lived more than two thousand years ago  believed that philosophy had its origin in man’s sense of wonder. Man thought  it was so astonishing to be alive that philosophical questions arose of their  own accord. 
It is like watching a magic trick. We cannot understand how it is done.  So we ask: how can the magician change a couple of white silk scarves into a  live rabbit? 
A lot of people experience the world with the same incredulity as v?? a  magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat which has just been shown to  them empty. 
In the case of the rabbit, we know the magician has tricked us. What we  would like to know is just how he did it. But when it comes to the world it’s somewhat different. We know that the world is not all sleight of hand and  deception because here we are in it, we are part of it. Actually, we are the  white rabbit being pulled out of the hat. The only difference between us and  the white rabbit is that the rabbit does not realize it is taking part in a magic  trick. Unlike us. We feel we are part of something mysterious and we would  like to know how it all works. 
P.S. As far as the white rabbit is concerned, it might be better to  compare it with the whole universe. We who live here are microscopic insects  existing deep down in the rabbit’s fur. But philosophers are always trying to  climb up the fine hairs of the fur in order to stare right into the magician’s  eyes. 
Are you still there, Sophie? To be continued . . . 
Sophie was completely exhausted. Still there? She could not even remember if 
she had taken the time to breathe while she read. 
Who had brought this letter? It couldn’t be the same person who had sent the  birthday card to Hilde Moller Knag because that card had both a stamp and a postmark. The brown envelope had been delivered by hand to the mailbox exactly like the  two white ones. 
Sophie looked at her watch. It was a quarter to three. Her mother would not be 
home from work for over two hours. 
Sophie crawled out into the garden again and ran to the mailbox. Perhaps there 
was another letter. 
She found one more brown envelope with her name on it. This time she looked  all around but there was nobody in sight. Sophie ran to the edge of the woods and  looked down the path. 
No one was there. Suddenly she thought she heard a twig snap deep in the  woods. But she was not completely sure, and anyway it would be pointless to chase  after someone who was determined to get away. 
Sophie let herself into the house. She ran upstairs to her room and took out a big  cookie tin full of pretty stones. She emptied the stones onto the floor and put both  large envelopes into the tin. Then she hurried out into the garden again, holding the  tin securely with both hands. Before she went she put some food out for Sherekan. 
“Kitty, kitty, kitty!” 
Once back in the den she opened the second brown envelope and drew out the 
new typewritten pages. She began to read. 


Hello again! As you see, this short course in philosophy will come in  handy-sized portions. Here are a few more introductory remarks: 
Did I say that the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the  faculty of wonder? If I did not, I say it now: THE ONLY THING WE REQUIRE  TO BE GOOD PHILOSOPHERS IS THE FACULTY OF WONDER. 
Babies have this faculty. That is not surprising. After a few short months  in the womb they slip out into a brand-new reality. But as they grow up the  faculty of wonder seems to diminish. Why is this? Do you know? 
If a newborn baby could talk, it would probably say something about  what an extraordinary world it had come into. We see how it looks around and  reaches out in curiosity to everything it sees. 
As words are gradually acquired, the child looks up and says “Bow-wow”  every time it sees a dog. It jumps up and down in its stroller, waving its arms: 
“Bow-wow! Bow-wow!” We who are older and wiser may feel somewhat  exhausted by the child’s enthusiasm. “All right, all right, it’s a bow-wow,” we  say, unimpressed. “Please sit still.” We are not enthralled. We have seen a  dog before. 
This rapturous performance may repeat itself hundreds of times before  the child learns to pass a dog without going crazy. Or an elephant, or a  hippopotamus. But long before the child learns to talk properly—and Ion  before it learns to think philosophically—the world we have become a habit. 
A pity, if you ask me. 
My concern is that you do not grow up to be one of those people who  take the world for granted, Sophie dear. So just to make sure, we are going to  do a couple of experiments in thought before we begin on the course itself.  Imagine that one day you are out for a walk in the woods. Suddenly you  see a small spaceship on the path in front of you. A tiny Martian climbs out of  the spaceship and stands on the ground looking up at you . . . 
What would you think? Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever  given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself? 
It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from  another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But  you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and  see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods. 
I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature. 
You feel as if you are waking from an enchanted slumber. Who am I?  you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe.  But what is the universe? 
If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered  something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only  have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are  yourself an extraordinary being. 
Do you follow me, Sophie? Let’s do another experiment in thought:  One morning, Mom, Dad, and little Thomas, aged two or three, are  having breakfast in the kitchen. After a while Mom gets up and goes over to  the kitchen sink, and Dad—yes, Dad—flies up and floats around under the  ceiling while Thomas sits watching. What do you think Thomas says?  Perhaps he points up at his father and says: “Daddy’s flying!” Thomas will  certainly be astonished, but then he very often is. Dad does so many strange  things that this business of a little flight over the breakfast table makes no  difference to him. Every day Dad shaves with a funny machine, sometimes he  climbs onto the roof and turns the TV aerial—or else he sticks his head under  the hood of the car and comes up black in the face. 
Now it’s Mom’s turn. She hears what Thomas says and turns around  abruptly. How do you think she reacts to the sight of Dad floating nonchalantly  over the kitchen table? 
She drops the jam jar on the floor and screams with fright. She may  even need medical attention once Dad has returned respectably to his chair.  (He should have learned better table manners by now!) Why do you think  Thomas and his mother react so differently? 
It all has to do with habit. (Note this!) Mom has learned that people  cannot fly. Thomas has not. He still isn’t certain what you can and cannot do  in this world. 
But what about the world itself, Sophie? Do you think it can do what it 
does? The world is also floating in space. 
Sadly it is not only the force of gravity we get used to as we grow up.  The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all. It seems as if in the process  of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. And in doing so,  we lose something central—something philosophers try to restore. For  somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery.  This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the  thought. 
To be more precise: Although philosophical questions concern us all, we  do not all become philosophers. For various reasons most people get so  caught up in everyday affairs that their astonishment at the world gets pushed  into the background. (They crawl deep into the rabbit’s fur, snuggle down  comfortably, and stay there for the rest of their lives.) 
To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives  rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world  as a matter of course. 
This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A  philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world  continues to seem a bit unreasonable—bewildering, even enigmatic. 
Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common.  You might say that throughout his life a philosopher remains as thin-skinned  as a child. 
So now you must choose, Sophie. Are you a child who has not yet  become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to  become so? 
If you just shake your head, not recognizing yourself as either a child or  a philosopher, then you have gotten so used to the world that it no longer  astonishes you. Watch out! You are on thin ice. And this is why you are  receiving this course in philosophy, just in case. I will not allow you, of all  people, to join the ranks of the apathetic and the indifferent. I want you to  have an inquiring mind. 
The whole course is free of charge, so you get no money back if you do  not complete it. If you choose to break off the course you are free to do so. In  that case you must leave a message for me in the mailbox. A live frog would  be eminently suitable. Something green, at least, otherwise the mailman  might get scared. 
To summarize briefly: A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it  is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals  are born at the very tip of the rabbit’s fine hairs, where they are in a position to  wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work  themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay. They become so  comfortable they never risk crawling back up the fragile hairs again. Only  philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of  language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately  and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves  with delicious food and drink. 
“Ladies and gentlemen,” they yell, “we are floating in space!” But none of 
the people down there care. 
“What a bunch of troublemakers!” they say. And they keep on chatting: Would you pass the butter, please? How much have our stocks risen today?  What is the price of tomatoes? Have you heard that Princess Di is expecting  again? 
When Sophie’s mother got home later that afternoon, Sophie was practically in  shock. The tin containing the letters from the mysterious philosopher was safely hidden in the den. Sophie had tried to start her homework but could only sit thinking  about what she had read. 
She had never thought so hard before! She was no longer a child—but she  wasn’t really grown up either. Sophie realized that she had already begun to crawl  down into the cozy rabbit’s fur, the very same rabbit that had been pulled from the top  hat of the universe. But the philosopher had stopped her. He—or was it a she?—had  grabbed her by the back of the neck and pulled her up again to the tip of the fur where  she had played as a child. And there, on the outermost tips of the fine hairs, she was  once again seeing the world as if for the very first time. 
The philosopher had rescued her. No doubt about it. The unknown letter writer 
had saved her from the triviality of everyday existence. 
When Mom got home at five o’clock, Sophie dragged her into the living room 
and pushed her into an armchair. 
“Mom—don’t you think it’s astonishing to be alive?” she began. 
Her mother was so surprised that she didn’t answer at first. Sophie was usually 
doing her homework when she got home. 
“I suppose I do—sometimes,” she said. 
“Sometimes? Yes, but—don’t you think it’s astonishing that the world exists at 
“Now look, Sophie. Stop talking like that.” 
“Why? Perhaps you think the world is quite normal?” 
 “Well, isn’t it? More or less, anyway.” 
Sophie saw that the philosopher was right. Grownups took the world for  granted. They had let themselves be lulled into the enchanted sleep of their humdrum  existence once and for all. 
“You’ve just grown so used to the world that nothing surprises you any more.”  “What on earth are you talking about?” 
“I’m talking about you getting so used to everything. Totally dim, in other 
“I will not be spoken to like that, Sophie!” 
“All right, I’ll put it another way. You’ve made yourself comfortable deep down  in the fur of a white rabbit that is being pulled out of the universe’s top hat right now.  And in a minute you’ll put the potatoes on. Then you’ll read the paper and after half  an hour’s nap you’ll watch the news on TV!” 
An anxious expression came over her mother’s face. She did indeed go into the  kitchen and put the potatoes on. After a while she came back into the living room, and  this time it was she who pushed Sophie into an armchair. 
“There’s something I must talk to you about,” she began. Sophie could tell by 
her voice that it was something serious. 
“You haven’t gotten yourself mixed up with drugs, have you, dear?” 
Sophie was just about to laugh, but she understood why the question was being 
brought up now. 
“Are you nuts?” she said. “That only makes you duller’.” 
No more was said that evening about either drugs or white rabbits. 
- by Jostein Gaarder in Sophie's World


A. Use the following words/expressions in your own sentences:

- shake (one's) head
- shrug (one's) shoulder
- soccer field
- to catch up
- you're kidding!
- to hurry home in time
- so engrossed in
- den
- to put up with
- give her away
- age-old enigmas
- shrouded in mystery
- their own accord
- not all sleight of hand 
- edge of the woods
- rapturous
- to pass a dog
- take the world for granted
- Martian
- enchanted slumber
- nonchalantly
- thin-skinned
- world-weary
- shake your head
- you are on thin ice
- pullet
- are you nuts?

B. Answer the following questions:

1. What are different hobbies that people have?
2. Write a paragraph about your hobby.
3. Write two paragraphs about the strange hobbies of your teacher/friend/relative.
4. Jesus answered, "lt is written 'Man shall not live on bread alone." Elaborate this maxim with reference to the philosopher's expression.
5. What are the perennial questions that every culture has been asking so far?
6. Select one such question that interests you and write your own opinion on it.
7. What are some of such questions as cannot be found in an encyclopedia. Add two more questions to the list.
8. Why is it that a philosopher's query is compared with a detective story?
9. Write a short paragraph about any detective story you have read ever.
10. "Philosophy has its origins in man's sense of wonder." Elaborate.
11. What is a 'mailbox' in the given context?
12. "The brown envelope had been delivered by hand to the mailbox exactly like the white ones." Interpret this expression.
13. Who brings Sophie all such letters? How do they come to her and who writes them?
14. How does 'sense of wonder develop very gradually in human mind?
15. What is the course the writer is talking about?
16. Explain the 'Martian' context in this text to your friends.
17. In what sense are philosophers difterent from other people? Why are they compared with small children?
18. "Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence." Explain this claim.
19. What do you mean when they say "philosophers are floating in space"?
20. What is mystery in this story of Sophie's activities?
21. Why does the 'rabbit fur' reference recur here?
22. Why do you believe Sophie was seeing the world first time?
23. What was the first absurd question Sophie asked her mother?
24. What is Mother's response regarding to Sophie's query?

C. Beyond the text:

1. Draw a list of all characters in the extract and write one paragraph about each (by imagining their physical features).
2. Bring out the element of mystery or fantasy from The Top Hat.
D. Assignments:
1. "Sophie's World" is a philosophical novel or a novel on the theme of western philosophy. Find five other philosophical novels and introduce one of them the in the class. Write in about 2,000 words.

Key Points and Highlights

    • Name: Jostein Gaarder
    • Birthdate: August 8, 1952 Oslo, Norway
    • Occupation: Novelist, Story Writer (Very much sensitive regarding"the children inquisitiveness. His meta-fiction is basically related to sense of wonder about the world presented through children perspective. Sophie's World is very important Novel about history of philosophy.)
  • The Top Hat Highlights
    • Extracted from Sophie's World (Chapter II)
    • Major Characters, Sophie, a very sensitive girl who does not like school teaching,
    • Strongly influenced by her philosophy teacher, Alberto Knox,
    • Doesn't like childish game i.e. badminton, card etc...
    • Mother doesn't response her questions,
    • Grown up people are habituated to take the things for granted,
    • Always raise questions about the mysteries of nature,
    • Gets a big envelope in her mailbox when she return back from school,
    • Does not tell anybody about letter, alone she reads in back garden,
    • Questions, like who are you? Who made the universe? What happens after death...
  • Some Symbols:
    • Letter: quest of thoughts, opinions
    • Rabbit's fur: deep knowledge and fact
    • White rabbit: human beings and the universe
    • The Top Hat: the mystery of universe and deep knowledge only few people can reach there.
  • Major Characters
    • Sophie Amundsen: Very curious girl, asks questions regarding the mystery of the universe,
    • Alberto Knox: Philosophy teacher, inspires Sophie about philosophical questions,
    • Hilde Moller Knag: One of Sophie's serious friends,
    • Jonna: Sophie's best friend but think differently,
    • Sophie's mother: very simple, does not understand Sophie's inquisitiveness.


Sophie doesn’t tell anyone about the postcards she receives. As she proceeds with school, she begins to notice that her teachers are dull and concerned with unimportant things. She wishes they would tell her about things that really matter—what it means to be human, or what it means to exist.
Sophie’s traditional education in school doesn’t satisfy her. It teaches her important information about math and history, but it doesn’t make her feel any more confident or any less lonely. Gaarder suggests that philosophy, then, will be Sophie’s true education.
One day after school, Joanna asks Sophie to come home to play cards. Sophie tells Joanna she’s no longer interested in cards, or games of any kind. Joanna becomes annoyed with Sophie, and suggests that Sophie is in love. Joanna walks home without Sophie, and Sophie regrets being short with Joanna.
Here Sophie shows her immaturity by becoming so humorously pretentious right away. One common thread of the book I that people will assume that Sophie’s strange behavior or actions come from her having a boyfriend or crush—everyone assumes that a young girl must only be thinking about boys, not about life’s deep questions.
Sophie returns to her home and checks the mailbox. Inside, she’s surprised to find a big envelope with her name on it. Inside, she finds a three-page letter, headed, “WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?” The letter explains that philosophy is the most abstract and yet the most useful thing in the world. Human beings have learned to provide for their material needs—they can find food and shelter. But humans also require intellectual and spiritual nourishment—this is what philosophy provides.
Sophie’s introduction to philosophy corresponds perfectly to the sense of frustration she felt in the classroom. School has given Sophie plenty of information but very little wisdom—philosophy (literally the “love of wisdom” in Greek) will satisfy what Sophie feels she’s been missing. (Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but Gaarder assumes his readers to be of a similar mindset).
Sophie’s letter goes on to identify several major questions that philosophy tries to answer. These include: “How was the world created?”; “Is there life after death?”; “How ought we to live?” The letter explains that philosophers proceed like detectives: they use evidence and contemplation to solve their “mysteries.” One of philosophers’ favorite tricks is to answer big questions by “working their way up” from tiny details—or, as the letter puts it, “to climb up the fine hairs of [a rabbit’s]fur in order to stare right into the magician’s eyes.” The letter ends, and there’s no signature.
In this letter, an unknown author spells out the basic “direction” of philosophy, and of Sophie’s education. Sophie will start with profound, mysterious questions about the universe. But in order to make broad conclusions about the universe, she’ll have to focus on the “little things” in life. Once again Gaarder intertwines a rather straightforward lesson with a mysterious, whimsical plot, and thus enriches both aspects of his work.
Related Quotes with Explanations
Sophie tries to make sense of her letter. It was probably written by someone other than the person who sent a postcard to Hilde Møller Knag, since there’s no stamp or postmark on this most recent letter. Sophie then checks the mailbox again, and is amazed to find another large letter. She looks around, hoping to find the person who placed the letter there—but all she sees is Sherekhan, her cat.
Throughout this novel, the plot of the book will mirror the study of philosophy itself—in other words, Sophie won’t just be tangling with the mysteries of philosophy; she’ll also have to solve the concrete mysteries of who’s been sending her letters, and who Hilde is.
Sophie’s newest letter begins by explaining that Sophie’s philosophy lessons will come in small portions. The most important thing for Sophie to keep in mind is that philosophy requires “the faculty of wonder.” As people grow older, they lose their innate sense of wonder—they begin to take the world for granted and focus on smaller, more mundane things. The letter urges Sophie never to forget that she is an “extraordinary being”—her very existence is something of a miracle.
This is one of the key passages of the novel—an explanation of the philosophical “attitude” rather than any specific philosophical position. There are many implications of the idea that philosophy is an act of wonder, which the novel will unpack later on. For now, though, it’s important to recognize that philosophy doesn’t just give its students information; it teaches them how to live their lives differently—with a sense of excitement and curiosity.
The letter asks Sophie to perform a thought experiment: imagine that a family of three (a mother, a father, and a small child) is eating breakfast. The father suddenly begins to fly through the room. The small child is delighted by his father’s behavior, while the mother, on the other hand, is terrified. The difference, the letter suggests, is that small children are used to miracles and new phenomena—everything they see is equally surprising. By the time we get to adulthood, though, we’re trained to see the world as a “matter of course.” The exception, the letter argues, is the philosopher. The letter then makes an analogy. Every day, humans see incredible things—like an audience seeing rabbits coming out of top hats. Average humans become accustomed to this sight, however—in the analogy they “burrow” into the rabbit’s fur, losing their sense of the big picture.
The letter clarifies its initial point by contrasting a baby’s experience with an adult’s. It’s a common trope of children’s books that adults are dull-minded and unobservant, while children are more open-minded and innocent (The Polar Express, anyone?). That is certainly the case in this novel—Sophie is young, but what she lacks in real-world experience she makes up for with her unique and open sensibility. Sophie will never “burrow,” we can sense—she’ll continue to explore life’s mysteries. Without Sophie’s sense of wonder, this novel wouldn’t get very far at all.
Sophie is fascinated by the letter. When her Mom gets home, Sophie asks her if she thinks it’s an amazing thing to be alive. Mom replies, “Stop talking like that.” Sophie tries to explain the letter’s analogy about rabbits and fur, but Sophie’s Mom tells Sophie to be quiet. She jokes that Sophie has been “mixed up” with drugs.
Gaarder presents Sophie’s Mom as a kind of foil—an example of what happens to adults when they lose their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. Mom seems to be rather dull, but Gaarder isn’t too negative or cruel in his presentation of her—she’s just a kind of stereotypically clueless, narrow-minded parent who won’t accept her child’s fantastical experiences.
Credits: Vincent Price VO (Audio Book), Netra Gyawali, Janamaitri Multiple Campus (Key Points), Interdisciplinary Reading (Book), Arn, Jackson. "Sophie’s World Chapter 2: The Top Hat." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 29 Jun 2016. Web. 11 Feb 2022. (alert-success)

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