Study Guide

Sofie in Nothing

By Janne Teller


Sofie is perhaps the most tragic character in the book. Yep, we said it. There's just no other way to slice it: this girl agrees to give up her virginity to a boy she doesn't love, simply because that's what her classmates tell her to do. A role model, she is not.

We don't learn anything about what she looks like or why (or even if) the boys find her desirable; Huge Hans' desire to take her "innocence" seems to come from his anger at her pressuring him to give up his neon yellow bike. She's the only one of the group willing to cut off Jon-Johan's index finger, presumably because he penetrated her with it on the night of her rape. The whole scenario is gruesome, horrifying, and oh so depressing.

And it only gets worse: She's also the only holdout after the rest of the class concedes defeat to Pierre Anthon, and her insistence that the heap of meaning is, in fact, meaningful, leads to her ultimate institutionalization. She loses her mind quickly, thoroughly, and in a very violent fashion.

Oh No She Didn't

The obvious question about Sofie is, why would she agree to lose her virginity in this way? It's dangerous and degrading, and she probably knows that on some level. But she doesn't stand up to the boys. It's hard to understand why she wouldn't just refuse to meet the boys at the sawmill.

But let's imagine for a minute that your friends are saying things like what Agnes says here: "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). She's not getting a lot of support from her friends, and the boys are pressuring her to do something sexual she's not ready to do. Which, unfortunately, sounds like a million girls at a million junior high schools every single day. And often, those girls know they're giving up something meaningful, too.

Do I Smell a Double Standard?

We thought you'd never ask. The short answer: yup. The more complicated, slightly longer answer: Sofie's the one who goes crazy at the end of the book. She's running around the sawmill screaming, "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!" (23.15), but the boys who raped her aren't running around screaming with her. They're okay—well, except for the fact that Jon-Johan's missing a finger, which to us sounds way better than losing your mind.

Consider the fact that Pierre Anthon says to her, "And you, Sofie, what have you got left, now you've sold yourself?" But he says nothing of the sort to the boys who did the same. No money was exchanged, but bodily fluids certainly were—just look at the handkerchief on the heap of meaning. The fact that Pierre Anthon shames Sofie about her participation in her rape but says nothing to the boys who raped her is a significant statement about how even sensitive guys can have double standards when it comes to sex. (23.57)

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