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The Missing Piece

by Shel Silverstein


The Missing Piece raises a number of questions about happiness, independence, and the value of the journey over the destination.

An unhappy circle searches for its missing piece, and as it rolls it sings a song: “Oh I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece/I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece/Hi-dee-ho, here I go,/Lookin’ for my missin’ piece.”

Read aloud video by ReadToMe

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Missing Piece raises important questions about the nature of happiness. The circle feels that finding its missing piece will make it happy. After finding a seemingly perfect missing piece, however, the circle discovers that it can no longer enjoy many of its favorite activities–it now rolls by too quickly for a butterfly to land atop it, it cannot stop to talk to a beetle or smell a flower, and it can no longer sing coherently.

In our lives, we often also feel that finding our own missing piece–whatever it may be–will make us happy. However after we find our own missing pieces, we often develop a new set of desires and problems arise. This becomes a never-ending search for an illusory missing piece that leads to unhappiness. According to the book, real satisfaction lies in rejecting the idea that there is a magic bullet that will make us happy. In the end, the circle realizes this and abandons its missing piece. After doing so, it immediately starts looking for its missing piece again, now armed with the knowledge that it is the quest that brings it fulfillment and not the attainment of the object itself.

The book also raises questions about the nature of our identities. The missing piece tells the circle that it can belong to someone else and still be itself–even if the missing piece is subsumed into the circle, it can still retain an independent identity. Children also possess multiple identities. They are students, musicians, and athletes; and they can have these identities while still maintaining a conception of an individual self. The goal of the discussion here would be to help them identify the various hats they wear on a day to day basis, and try to see how they fit together to form their personal identity.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


The circle is unhappy with its missing piece.

  1. Is the circle happy before it finds its missing piece?
  2. What does the circle enjoy doing?
  3. Is the circle happy after it finds its missing piece? Why or why not?
  4. What do you want? Is it similar to what the circle wants?
  5. Why do you think the circle keeps on looking for its missing piece even after it left the one that fit perfectly?


The missing piece says to the circle, “I can be someone’s and still be my own.”

  1. Do you think that you are independent, or do you belong to someone else?
  2. Can you rely on other people and still be independent?
  3. Do you need other people to be happy?


The circle finds that it is happiest when searching for the missing piece.

  1. Why does the circle let go of its missing piece?
  2. Does the circle like searching for the missing piece?
  3. What happens to the circle while it looks for the missing piece?
  4. Is the journey more fun than the destination?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Jason Wu. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for The Missing Piece featuring a circle that is missing a small slice. It is comprised of a black outline on a white background with a dot for an eye. It resembles a face looking upward. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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