A Window to the Outside World In Sophie’s World, the author takes the reader through a strange series of drawing out the events surrounding a girl’s life. In “The Human Condition”, Howard Nemerov paints this graphic image of a man inside a motel room living his life without contact to the outside world except through the window in his motel room. Both works of literature have similar images that portray parallel meanings.
The mailbox in which Sophie receives her mail from a philosopher in Sophie’s World can in a way relate to the television that provides the audience with a glimpse into the motel room described in “The Human Condition. These images and other literary devices draw a similar theme across these works of prose and poetry. Set in Norway, 14 year old Sophie corresponds with a philosopher whom she doesn’t know directly in the beginning. The philosopher sends her a series of questions and an accompanying series of explanations every day, having made no physical contact with her before.
The philosopher reveals himself in time and is able to more clearly and allow Sophie to see the ways of philosophical thinking through her own window. 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” This was the first of the daily mailings she would begin to receive from her teacher whom used the mail as his classroom (Gaarder 13). Howard Nemerov uses many powerful images in his poem “The Human Condition. ” The main character is told to wait in the hotel room by another unnamed character, which is similar to how Sophie received these grand philosophical teachings in her mailbox each day from an allusive mentor.
The author uses staunch imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of what the room is like, what the author is feeling, and what they are experiencing inside of the aforementioned motel room. The window and the television are the only direct connections the person in the motel room has with the outside world, likewise Sophie connects with her mentor solely through her mailbox. In his poem, Nemerov speaks about how important it is to orient himself in reality by saying, “Nothing could be more useful to a man than knowing where he’s at, and I don’t know, but pace the day in doubt between my looking in and looking out” (Nemerov).
This quote tells the reader that inside of this motel room, the speaker does not know where he is in a realistic sense such as time, location, or date. The author references the window when he says “looking in and looking out” as if this window is the sole connection he has to the life beyond the walls of the room that he is in. Parallels can be drawn between the window of the motel room in The Human Condition and how Sophie experienced some things in life that she had never encountered before through the writings of Alberto Knox.
Both works of literature use strategic placement of objects or figures in their stories to help paint a more dense picture of what is happening in the character’s head. Gaarder uses Alberto Knox’s dog, Hermes, to provide a few much needed periods of relief in the heavily philosophical novel which helps to keep the story light at times. Nemerov uses things such as the cars passing on the road outside of the motel as well as when he references the painting by Magritte which begs the question “what is real” in both the poem and the painting.
The cars passing by outside of the motel room are similar to the dog in Knox’s writings by the way that they connect the person standing inside of the motel room with things going on outside of the confines of that space in which they are told to wait. Sophie receives her lessons via mail on a daily basis, twice a day. The information that she is provided with is introspective in that she does not have a teacher standing over her or lecturing her, explaining the philosophical readings or deep theoretical questions that are poised to her.
Sophie is left to her own devices with the materials she is given, and is denied the luxury of instant verbal communication with her teacher. In the same way, the character left waiting in the motel room is left to his own devices as well as he looks at each and every detail of the room and begins to compare with things he has experienced previously. The author states: “A picture of a picture, by Magritte, Wherein a landscape on an easel stands Before a window opening on a landscape, and the pair of them a perfect fit, Silent and mad.
You know right off, the room” (Nemerov). This stanza depicts an easel holding a painting that matches exactly what lies beyond it outside of the motel window. The person who is told to wait inside of this hotel room comes to the conclusion that what he is looking at is similar to something he has previously experienced. He made this realization inside of the room by himself, without the guidance of any outside force or leader. Both Sophie and the person in the poem came to their own conclusions and thought their own independent thoughts in these situations.
The author of Sophie’s World weaves an alternate story into the book as the audience discovers later in the novel that Sophie and her teachings are actually a book that is being read by Hilde, whom uses the images and teachings that Sophie has learned and applies them to her own life. Hilde is wise in that she is cautious in the way that she learns by forging her own answers out of the text. She takes what Sophie is being taught and translates it into her own life and how it applies to what she experiences daily in a way that the author did not depict Sophie doing.
Nemerov lays a story within a story in “The Human Condition” by placing the television in front of the window that he later references with a painting in front of the window, which begs the question “Was it actually a painting or simply the television sitting in front of the window? ” The reader must determine for themselves what they believe is happening in the poem, just as Hilde determines how to interpret what Sophie is learning into her own daily narrative. Both Sophie’s World and “The Human Condition” hinge on the use of imagery and diction to create these grand illusions and pave the way for introspective thought.
Both authors invite the reader to look inward at what they are experiencing and to look deeper into the text to find that the avenues of thought that are on the surface do not paint the entire picture of what is happening. The use of the window and the mailbox beg the audience to come to the realization that the isolation from the outside world allows for personal reflection and growth with both the philosophical teachings and what was realized in the motel room. The two authors laying a story within a story or an image within an image per say allows for contemplation and discussion about what is real and what is deeper than the surface.