Study Guide

Nothing Quotes

  • Dissatisfaction

    "Nothing matters. I have known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that." (1.1)

    If "nothing matters" is as close as we get to a absolute truth in existentialist philosophy, Pierre Anthon is speaking only for himself, based on his own life experience, in saying that nothing is worth doing.

    Pierre Anthon left the door ajar like a grinning abyss that would swallow me up into the outside with him if only I let myself go. (2.12)

    Is Agnes's allegiance to her classmates' demands based solely in fear of admitting Pierre Anthon is right? And even if she does admit she thinks he's spot on, what exactly is she so afraid is going to happen?

    "If something's worth getting upset about, then there must be something worth getting happy about. And if something's worth getting happy about, then there must be something that matters. But there isn't!" (2.31)

    Uh, is anyone else totally confused? Pierre seems to be arguing that meaning only comes from emotions. But Existentialists would disagree that only objects, events, or situations that make you feel a certain emotion can hold meaning.

    The school was so gray and ugly and angular that I almost couldn't catch my breath, and all of a sudden it was as if the school were life itself, and it wasn't how life was supposed to look but did anyway. (3.5)

    Agnes's perception of her school changes once Pierre Anthon says nothing matters, as if his dissatisfaction is infectious. His perceptions color hers, which is yet another example of how this girl is inauthentic.

    Jon-Johan threw up his arms, and we imagined all the experts, the educators and psychologists who would come and observe us and talk to us and reason with us until eventually we would give in and again start pretending that things really did matter. Jon-Johan was right: It was a waste of time that would get us nowhere. (3.28)

    Jon-Johan presumes that the only thing a psychologist can do is annoy you until you start pretending to see things their way just to shut them up. But if Pierre Anthon's dissatisfaction can evoke similar dissatisfaction in his peers, why couldn't someone else's satisfaction authentically do the same?

    "It doesn't matter," she began. "Or rather, it matters a lot. But that's the whole idea, isn't it? Otherwise the heap of meaning has no meaning at all, and then Pierre Anthon will be right about nothing meaning anything." (7.28)

    What do you think are the essential characteristics that give a thing meaning? No seriously—we're asking. Shmoop hasn't got a clue.

    "Meaning." She nodded, as if to herself. "None of you has taught us any. So now we've found it ourselves." (18.15)

    Given that several of the students have career goals based on things they've learned about in school (Maiken's astronomy, for example), Sofie is somewhat inaccurate in telling the adults they haven't taught the children any meaning. They understand language, mathematics, science—aren't all those things packed with meaning all their own?

    "It's all been seen before!" Pierre Anthon hollered, a cloud of frosty white breath issuing from the mouth of his dark blue balaclava. "It's news now, and the eyes of the world are on Taering. In a month's time Taering will be forgotten and the world will be someplace else." (20.1)

    Existentialists would argue that a thing becomes meaningful the minute one individual perceives it as meaningful, but that doesn't give it meaning in and of itself. In other words, just because it has meaning to one person doesn't mean anyone else will care, which is why no one is interested in seeing your stamp collection. Sorry, bud.

    Each day was like the next. And even though we looked forward all week to the weekend, the weekend was always still a disappointment, and then it was Monday again and everything started over, and that was how life was, and there was nothing else. (22.9)

    This is, in a way, a rewording of the sentiment, "Variety is the spice of life." But we have to point out that plenty of people have meaningful lives that are in some way repetitive. Just because you go to the same school every day doesn't mean there's nothing meaningful there.

    Spring, summer, fall winter, joy, sorrow, love, hate, birth, life, death.

    It was all the same.

    The same. One. Nothing.

    It wasn't just me who understood.

    And with that revelation, it was like the devil himself took hold of us. (23.17-21)

    When the whole class accepts that Pierre Anthon is right, they start beating each other up. Do you think we need meaning to prevent violence? Do we only restrain ourselves from violent acts when we have something to lose?

  • Death

    "Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That's how it is with everything." (2.21)

    Just because something has to end doesn't mean it's meaningless. In fact, it could be argued that the inevitability of death makes life even more meaningful.

    I don't think Elise was too sad about her baby brother being dead. And I don't think she was too sad that he was going onto the heap of meaning. I think Elise was more afraid of her parents than of us, and that that was why after a long silence she said, "We can't." (9.22)

    Fear is a big motivator in these kids' lives: fear of parents, fear of their peers' wrath, fear of Pierre Anthon being right. Do you think fear more often motivates us to do the right thing, or the wrong thing, as it does for these student?

    "The dead are to rest in peace."

    Peace. More peace. Rest in peace. (9.27-28)

    Teller does this funky three short sentence fragments thing throughout the book. It's a hallmark of her distinctive voice as a writer, and often these fragments are about death. Sometimes rhythm is just as important as content.

    It was Cinderella, Sorensen's old dog. After the old man had died, Cinderella had refused to reside anywhere else than on top of her master's grave. (10.35)

    And yet Cinderella makes the stunningly bad decision to follow these kids back to the sawmill, where she'll end up peeing on rosewood Jesus for the rest of her tragically short life. Welp, sometimes that's just the way it goes.

    A law of physics we had never learned: When a physical body is removed from the ground, the level of earth at the place occupied by the body will diminish relative to the body's volume. (10.38)

    Reasons to stay in school instead of climbing up a plum tree, part 23849729384: future grave robbing preparedness. Who says math will never come in handy after high school?

    In the bright neon light it didn't seem so scary anymore. It's just a dead child with some wood around it, I thought to myself as I considered more closely the coffin that had now been placed at the foot of the heap of meaning, it being too heavy to be put on top. (10.54)

    This is one of the few strangely, perhaps unintentionally humorous moments in Nothing: the phrase "a dead child with some wood around it" is a particularly brilliant bit of translation. Are you as grateful for these moments of levity as we are?

    She sat completely still, all pale in the face like little Emil's coffin must have been when it was new, and yet calm and almost collected, like I imagined a saint would look who was about to meet her death. (13.10)

    Girls often perceive the loss of virginity as a kind of death, while boys often perceive it as a conquest. What's that about? And what does it tell us about these particular characters?

    "There are six billion people on Earth. Way too many! But in the year 2025 there'll be eight and a half billion. The best thing we can do for the future of the world is to die." (13.12)

    Oh, Pierre Anthon, you kidder. You really know how to sweet-talk a girl.

    When we got to the sawmill on a cold and stormy afternoon in the late fall, Cinderella was no more; her head lay gaping resentfully at us on top of the heap, while her carcass lay draped across little Emil's coffin, that was now more red than crackled white. (15.23)

    The word "resentfully" is an interesting choice here. Agnes perceives Cinderella as resentful instead of terrified, tortured, or any of a number of other words that might more accurately describe how Cinderella actually feels (especially since resentment seems like a bit of a complicated emotion for a dog to have). We think Agnes might be projecting a bit here.

    And although we'd sworn we'd never become like them, that was exactly what was happening. We weren't even fifteen yet.

    Thirteen, fourteen, adult. Dead. (22.10-11)

    The kids are afraid of becoming like adults, even as they long to grow up and have adult careers like fashion design or astronomy. Growing up is full of contradictions—like the fact that it's an awesome time full of life and vitality, but it's also bringing you ever closer to death. Oops, did we just kill the party?

    "The reason dying is so easy is because death has no meaning," he hollered. "And the reason death has no meaning is because life has no meaning. All the same, have fun!" (25.22)

    Obviously Pierre Anthon is being sarcastic here, but the awareness that life has no meaning shouldn't mean you can't have fun. Those existential nihilists were some major buzz kills.

  • Violence

    "The sun was heavy, making us slow and irritable, the tarmac caught on the soles of our sneakers, and apples and pears were just ripe enough to lie snugly in the hand, the perfect missiles." (2.4)

    It's a well-documented fact that violent crimes rise with the heat. A University of Iowa study found that there are 2.6 percent more murders in the U.S. in the summer than in the winter (source). Seriously.

    One stone, two stones, many stones. (4.1)

    Here we have another of Teller's cool, funky, choppy, three-fragment sentence things. And yes, you're welcome to steal that scholarly description from us.

    We should have stopped even before it got this far. Now it was somehow too late, even though I did what I could. (5.19)

    Agnes is already aware things are headed in a bad direction after the first three sacrifices. You know that kid with the Dungeons and Dragons books was giving some serious thanks for going first when it came finger time.

    Henrik stubbornly and stupidly maintained that the snake in formaldehyde didn't belong on the heap of meaning. However, it helped some that Hussain held the jar with the snake up above Henrik's head at recess […] and threatened to smash it against his skull if Henrik didn't give the snake up to the heap. (8.6)

    Teller does a great job of foreshadowing the violence to come, building up suspense by showing us little glimpses of the cruelty of which the members of 7A are capable. Take note, budding writers: this is how you do it.

    Jon-Johan examined the knife, which had been stuck back into the post, now all begrimed with dried blood.

    "Who would have thought Pretty Rosa had a butcher inside her!" he exclaimed, and laughed loudly. (15.27-28)

    On the other hand, it's amazing how dumb some of these characters can be despite the foreshadowing. Paging Jon-Johan: don't bring a knife into the picture if you've participated in a rape and your turn is yet to come. Duh.

    Something cold had come over Sofie ever since the thing about the innocence. Cold. Colder. Frost, ice, and snow. (16.7-8)

    Interestingly, Sofie is also the one who's most invested in the heap of meaning being meaningful. What do you think she knows that her classmates don't?

    "If you don't turn up, we'll beat you up all over again!" Otto hollered after him.

    "No, said Sofie, shaking her head. "If you don't turn up, we're going to take the whole hand." (17.24-25)

    At this point, it could be argued that Sofie has a mental illness. But being a victim of violence can make you behave in some pretty crazy ways, too. Maybe she's exhibiting some signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

    No, it was worse than pathetic, because Jon-Johan was the class leader and could play guitar and sing Beatles songs, but all of a sudden he'd become a howling little baby you just wanted to kick. (17.36)

    Agnes has a strong reaction to seeing Jon-Johan's mask come off. Seeing him show his true self is so revolting to her that she can't find any sympathy for the fact that he's about to lose his finger.

    My eye caught sight only of more blood in the chaos of fighting bodies, blood that ran from the faces of my classmates and gradually was staining the sawdust and the concrete floor beneath. (23.23)

    Sofie's breakdown sparks everyone else's revolt. As soon as she admits Pierre Anthon is right and stops being the holdout for the meaning, all bets are off, and it's payback time.

    Noses were beaten askew, eyebrows had been cut, teeth were missing, lips were gashed and swollen, eyes were red and bruised, an ear was all but torn away, and one or two looked like they could hardly keep themselves upright. All were smeared with blood and sawdust. But that wasn't what I saw. What I saw was the hatred. (23.39)

    Is meaning as necessary for hatred as it is for happiness? After all, if the items on the heap of meaning were actually meaningless, there would be nothing to fight about, right?

  • Sex

    I can hardly bring myself to tell what it was Sofie had to give up. It was something only a boy could think of, and it was so gross and repugnant that the rest of us almost all pleaded on her behalf. (13.1)

    Note the word "almost" in this sentence. Pleading for mercy on Sofie would have meant going against the group, and Agnes just isn't willing to do that—even if it means being party to sexual violence.

    So even though we had our doubts, it was eventually agreed that Huge Hans was going to help her lose it the following evening at the old sawmill. Four of the boys were to stay behind to lend a hand if necessary. The rest of us would be sent home to make sure we couldn't come to her rescue. (13.7)

    "Lend a hand"? Hmm. That reminds us of Sofie's later threat to cut off Jon-Johan's entire hand if he won't give up his finger. That's some cruel irony right there.

    Sofie was doing right to grin and bear it. There was definitely something that mattered in spite of everything, even if that something was something you had to lose. (13.14)

    What are some other things you might have to lose in order for them to have meaning?

    I don't know exactly what happened the night Huge Hans helped Sofie give up the innocence. The next day there was just a smidgen of blood and some slime on a checked handkerchief lying at the top of the heap of meaning, and Sofie was walking a bit funny, like it hurt when she moved her legs. (13.15)

    The fact that nobody told what was going on at this point is a testament to the power of peer pressure. Given her physical condition, Sofie has clearly been the victim of sexual violence, and yet nobody's talking.

    She wouldn't tell me anything. Just walked around looking like she'd found out a secret that may have been terrible but that nonetheless had handed her the key to something of great meaning. (13.18)

    Listen up, Shmoopers: it's not supposed to be terrible, and if it is, something is terribly wrong. Okay? Okay.

    Eventually we agreed, since no one was going to be able to bring themselves to cut off Jon-Johan's finger anyway. "I will," said Sofie matter-of-factly. (16.15)

    Sometimes suffering an act of aggression makes a person more capable of committing one.

    The rest of us had given up without a fight, but still the thought of Sofie giving up was too unbearable. And that was exactly what was happening. Or so I thought. But Sofie didn't give up. Sofie lost her mind. (22.29)

    Agnes feels that what Sofie lost makes it uniquely awful for Sofie—too awful, in fact, for Sofie to admit Pierre Anthon was right. The idea that losing her mind is preferable to giving up makes her seem like a martyr, which Agnes called her earlier.

    "Oh, so that's the meaning!" he burst out angrily, and grabbed hold of Sofie. He took her by the shoulders and sort of shook her until she stopped screaming. "And that's why you sold it?" (23.48)

    We're never sure if Pierre Anthon knows exactly what Sofie sold to the museum—after all, all that was left behind from that night was a handkerchief—but given the implication of prostitution, his saying this would probably be particularly hurtful to her.

    That summer we were scattered to the bigger schools to the north, south, east, and west, and Sofie was sent somewhere where they protect people like her from themselves. (26.1)

    In what way did Sofie need to be protected from herself? What might have happened if she had gone to school with her peers?

  • Defeat

    We'd won!

    Victory is sweet. Victory is. Victory. (4.25-26)

    Yeah, not so fast, there, Agnes. You've just thrown a few rocks. It's not over until somebody loses a digit and a couple of house pets.

    As songs go, it was hardly noteworthy, but we repeated it over and over to our great amusement. What amused us most, though, was probably the horrified expression on Frederik's face. (7.9)

    The kids are singing to Frederik to go get his Dannebrog, and, as we all know, there's nothing like being taunted in song. Here again, Teller gives us a bit of foreshadowing that shows us just how ugly things can get when you've got a group behind you to egg you on.

    Something in Hussain seemed to have been destroyed. He went round dragging his feet with his head bowed, and whereas before he'd always dished out his fair share of knocks and shoves, now he wouldn't even defend himself if someone went for him. (12.7-8)

    Hussain comes to school defeated after being beaten by his dad for being a bad Muslim, showing his classmates that there's far worse punishment than what they can dish out. This is one of several examples in Nothing (think Sofie's rape and Cinderella's beheading) of a scene that's even more chilling because you don't see it.

    Most of us were grounded, some were given a sound beating, and Hussain was again sent to the hospital where Jon-Johan had also been admitted. They were the lucky ones; they got to share a room and talk. (18.8)

    If by "lucky" you mean "missing body parts and suffering domestic violence," then sure, those are some lucky dudes. Sometimes we're not quite sure what Agnes is thinking.

    All the rage and the fury and the words for and against meant that the heap of meaning at once grew irresistibly more meaningful. But more important was that with all the press coverage and all these art critics showing up, and a whole load of other grand people, as well as a few ordinary ones, the police were forced to open up the sawmill and allow access on a daily basis between noon and four o'clock. (19.5)

    Again the masses assert their influence: the police are forced to compromise a crime scene because of the feeding frenzy generated by the media. That, ladies and gents, is a defeat of justice.

    It didn't even help when first the Swedish, then the Norwegian, then the rest of the Scandinavian and most of the European, and then the American and then at last what looked like the entire world press descended on Taering and turned us all into something. (19.13)

    Even though the international media thinks the heap of meaning is meaningful, the kids still feel defeated by Pierre Anthon's assertions that it's meaningless and by his refusal to come and see it. In this case, what one person thinks is more important to them than what the group thinks. They built the heap of meaning for Pierre Anthon, and he doesn't care.

    …it planted inside me an unpleasant, nagging suspicion that Pierre Anthon maybe had ahold of something: that the meaning was relative and therefore without meaning. (20.28)

    Twist your brain into an existential pretzel for a minute and ponder this: if the meaning is relative, doesn't that mean that it does have meaning? Does Agnes perhaps have it backwards?

    We won the struggle for the meaning, both at home and in the world's press. The strange thing was that our victory ended up feeling like a defeat. (20.34-35)

    Again we see Agnes struggling with the need for Pierre Anthon's validation of the heap of meaning's meaning. If victory can be defeat based on individual perception, doesn't that give individual perception—Agnes'sbeing equal to Pierre Anthon's—the power to bestow meaning? (Yes, we know, we're throwing some real philosophical doozies at you here. Thanks for playing along.)

    Pierre Anthon had won. But then he made a mistake. He turned his back on us. (23.61-63)

    Ah, but it's only a mistake if you don't think that the best thing you can do for the world is die. It could be argued that Pierre Anthon's just keeping it real, and is totally cool with what goes down next.

    Looking back on it now, it must have been very gruesome indeed. But that's not how I remember it. More that it was messy. And good. It made sense to beat up Pierre Anthon. It made sense to kick him. It was meaningful, even if he was down and unable to defend himself and eventually wasn't even trying. (24.3)

    So violence begets meaning? Aiyeee! These themes are folding in upon themselves. It's like an existentialist black hole. Where's Doctor Who when you need him?

  • Appearances

    We had just started seventh grade, and we were all so modern and well-versed in life and being in the world that we knew that everything was more about how it appeared than how it was. (3.14)

    It's kind of funny that Agnes thinks she and her classmates are so worldly, considering that later they're all impressed about going to Atlanta. Not that there's anything wrong with Atlanta. But Paris it ain't.

    The most important thing, in any circumstance, was to amount to something that really looked like it was something. (3.14)

    And this, friends, is the central rule of Facebook. Our online persona is often the biggest mask of all.

    "Then how come everyone's making like everything that isn't important is very important, all the while they're so busy pretending what's really important isn't important at all?" (4.20)

    Yeah, good question, Pierre Anthon. If he asked you, how would you answer?

    "You'll be a fashion designer and teeter around in high heels and make like you're really something and make others think they are too, as long as they're wearing your label." He shook his head. "But then you'll find out you're a clown in a trivial circus where everyone tries to convince each other how vital it is to have a certain look one year and another the next." (4.29)

    Check out the fashions from 10, 20, and 30 years ago, and we guarantee you'll find at least one look that makes you wonder what in the sam hill people were thinking. We can definitely be influenced to think things are beautiful or ugly depending on what the rest of the world thinks. Case in point: polyester.

    We all knew that none of what we had collected mattered to us, really, so how were we supposed to convince Pierre Anthon that it did?

    He was going to see right through us.

    Squat. Zilch. Nothing. (5.12-14)

    What gives Pierre Anthon the power to see through others? Do you think growing up on a hippie commune made him more of an individual? Or is he just blessed with some sort of awesome insight.

    I swapped hair elastics with Gerda, whispered with here about boys, and confided to her that I had warmed a bit to Huge Hans (which wasn't true in the slightest, but though you're not supposed to lie, this was what my older brother referred to as force majeure, and even though I wasn't quite sure what it meant, it definitely entailed that right now lying was okay.) (6.4)

    Force majeure is a clause in a contract that frees both parties from responsibility in the case of events beyond their control (for example, if you buy a house that's struck by lightning, you don't have to keep making payments). Do you think it actually applies here?

    Without her hair, Ursula-Marie would no longer be Ursula-Marie with her six blue braids, which meant that she no longer would be Ursula-Marie at all. (11.12)

    Of course cutting your hair doesn't make you a different person, but Agnes is so caught up in appearances she can't see this. Ah, 7th grade.

    One Jon-Johan had become another Jon-Johan, and we didn't care for this one. I thought maybe it had been this one Sofie had seen that night with the innocence, except that time it had been him on top, and suddenly I got shivers down my spine thinking about how many different people one and the same person can be. (17.36)

    Why would Jon-Johan have behaved the same way the night of Sofie's rape that he behaved the night she cut off his finger? Uh, yeah… we'll give you a pass if you don't even want to go there.

    It was nice inside the fame and the belief in the meaning, and I didn't want out of it, because beyond that there was only the outside and nothing. So I carried on parading myself around and looking superior, exactly as if I really had found the meaning and had no doubts whatsoever. (20.30)

    Take note: often, the people who seem the most confident are actually the most insecure. It's kind of like how the most talented people are usually the most humble: they're actually good at what they do, so they've got nothing to prove.

    Suddenly everyone knew that the heap of meaning was art, and that only an uninitiated ignoramus could say otherwise. Even the art critic from the biggest of the local newspapers backtracked and said that he'd now considered the heap more closely and that it was indeed a work of near genius…He had only seen the work from the front the first time, he wrote. (21.2)

    Quick, find one piece of contemporary art and ask yourself if it's really art. Not sure where to start? Check out Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, or Jeff Koons, or watch the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop.

  • Revenge

    I looked down at my bare feet and decided Gerda was going to pay. (5.35)

    A hamster for sandals: do you think it's a fair trade, or is Agnes being unnecessarily harsh?

    That made Gerda cry even more and say I was the cruelest of anyone she knew. And when she had cried for two hours and was still inconsolable, I started having second thoughts and thinking maybe she was right. But then I saw my green wedge sandals on top of the heap and wouldn't budge. (6.8)

    Gerda's sacrifice is the first morally questionable one. After all, Oscarlittle does die at the sawmill. Agnes's insistence that Gerda give up her hamster sets the stage for the increasingly vicious demands that follow.

    There were no longer tears on her cheeks. Instead her eyes were glowing with rage. She turned calmly to Hussain and in a gentle voice, her teeth only moderately clenched, said: "Your prayer mat!" (11.17-18)

    If Ursula-Marie knew about Hussain's father's temper—and it seems likely she would, since they've gone to school together all their lives—her asking for his prayer mat is an indirect way of asking for his physical punishment for cutting off her hair.

    We weren't expecting much of Holy Karl, but this time he surprised us: He wanted Cinderella's head. (15.1)

    Lesson learned: don't even mess with Jesus on the Cross, or you'll go down. Holy Karl ain't playin'.

    "Everyone else has gotten what they wanted. And if Pretty Rosa wants Jon-Johan's finger, then she should have Jon-Johan's finger." (16.13)

    Hmm, this is interesting phrasing. It's no longer about what holds the most meaning for the person giving it up, it's about how the person seeking revenge feels they can best exact it.

    Sofie slowly got to her feet, wiped the knife with a handful of sawdust, and then thrust it into the post like before. She wiped her hands on her jeans.

    "That's that," she said, and went back to look for the finger. (17.58-59)

    Sofie leaves her blood on the rag in the heap, but she ends up wearing her tormenter's blood on her clothing. It's an interesting look at how we reclaim the things that traumatize us.

    I don't know what would have happened if Jon-Johan hadn't told on us. What did happen was that the police turned up at the sawmill before we had any chance to get Pierre Anthon out there. (28.15)

    After suffering such a big loss, it seems like Jon-Johan might want Pierre Anthon to see the pile more than ever, so it's a bit confusing that he decides to fink on everyone. What's he hoping to accomplish here?

    Hussain lashed out at Ursula-Marie for making him give up his prayer mat. Huge Hans kicked into Hussain and got back at him for the bike. Elise scratched at Otto and bit him as hard as she could, and then Ursula-Marie hit out at Elise, and Sofie laid into Huge Hans and tore at his hair until it came away in great tufts in her hands. (23.22)

    It's like a great big revenge pile-up. It's the NASCAR of revenge.

    Sofie was the first to lunge at him, and had the rest of us remained standing, Pierre Anthon would easily have been able to shake her off. But we didn't. (14.1)

    We think Pierre Anthon may have known they wouldn't, and is just following through with his statement that the best thing you can do for the planet is die. His death could be a form of suicide, if you want to read it that way.

    The only thing we were certain about was that it was Pierre Anthon's fault. And that we were going to pay him back. (24.6)

    At what point did Pierre Anthon become at fault? If he had just sat quietly in the tree without tormenting his classmates, do you think they would have ultimately sought revenge?

  • Sacrifice

    I knew it was going to come. And to be honest, that was probably why I tried to stop the whole affair. It would only be a matter of time before someone got around to my sandals. (5.22)

    It's kind of odd that the kids who made small sacrifices in the beginning still joined in the fistfight at the end, right? We mean, what do they have to be so worked up about?

    "Well, I'm most sorry," Lady William retorted with an indulgent air. "My diary is my life. If it may be sacrificed to the heap, then so may a certificate of adoption. Was it not our intention that the heap should be meaningful?" (7.24)

    What would you prefer: for your classmates to read your diary, or to lose a finger? Tough call, we'd say. Shmoop's got some pretty embarrassing entries in our diary, which is why it's hidden under lock and key.

    "Elise's baby brother," Otto finally announced, and it was like a gust of wind passed through the sawmill. (9.17)

    Why does Agnes use the phrase "a gust of wind" to describe the feeling in the room? It has a ghosty feeling, to be sure, but maybe she's just being metaphorical—talking about the impact of Otto's request.

    Ursula-Marie sat for a long time, looking at her braids.

    There were no longer tears on her cheeks. Instead her eyes were glowing with rage. She turned calmly to Hussain and in a gentle voice, her teeth only moderately clenched, said:

    "Your prayer mat!" (11.16-18)

    Agnes equates cutting off Ursula-Marie's hair to cutting off the Biblical character Samson's, so it makes perfect sense that the sacrifice Ursula-Marie demands has to do with religion.

    Sofie was one of those who pressured the most.

    She shouldn't have done that. (12.16-17)

    Poor Sofie. We feel so sorry for her we can't even disagree with Agnes.

    "How do you know my neon yellow bike doesn't mean as much to me as Sofie's innocence means to her?" (13.5)

    Because, nimrod. It doesn't. It's a BIKE. But putting that aside for the moment, we can't help but note that he's basically pointing out a central tenet of existentialism, which all these kids are sort of trying to argue against—that meaning is relative.

    The first thing was for Pretty Rosa to pull herself together. Cinderella's head was a considerably smaller sacrifice than the ones many of the rest of us had been forced to make. The second thing was that we'd all suspected Elise had gotten off too lightly and had actually been happy about her brother's coffin being dug up. Holy Karl had found two sacrifices with one prayer. (15.20)

    Why do you think Elise would have been happy that her brother's coffin had been dug up? We never learn much about her family. Can you think of a scenario that could have led to her feeling this way?

    "And if it didn't hurt," Anna-Li added quietly, "there wouldn't be any meaning in it." (17.54)

    Do you agree with Anna-Li? Can you think of anything meaningful that doesn't hurt?

    There was something eerie about how calm she was. Nevertheless, it was like it was rubbing off on the rest of us. What was to happen was a necessary sacrifice in our struggle for the meaning. We all had to do our bit. (17.49)

    Sofie's coldness may have rubbed off on the others, but theirs may have rubbed off on her first. It's the Nothing version of the chicken-and-egg question.

    "Isn't that the meaning we've got out there at the sawmill?" Sofie looked Frederik straight in the eye and stared until he lowered his gaze and nodded. "If we give up the meaning, all we have is squat." (18.33)

    So what do you think, Shmoopers: was it the meaning they had out there at the sawmill? Or was Pierre Anthon right all along?