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The Subway Mouse

by Barbara Reid


The Subway Mouse explores the tension between conforming to a community and pursuing one’s dreams.

A mouse named Nib lives in a subway station with old mice who tell tales about the “Tunnel’s End.” Nib decides to make a journey to the Tunnel’s End and has quite an adventure along the way.

Read aloud video by Harmony Square

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

When readers find Nib as a young mouse living in Sweetfall, they become immediately aware of his desire for something beyond his current life. It becomes evident that Nib feels alienated in a community that tries to establish an identity for him instead of allowing him the creative liberty to foster his own unique approach to life. This creates tension for Nib, as he yearns for a life and identity that exists beyond the confines of his relationships with the rest of the mice at Sweetfall. He’s tired of his day-to-day life, one he perceives as lacking authentic meaning and ambition.

Nib has a heartfelt appreciation for stories, mainly set in a place known as Tunnel’s End: a wondrous and alien world filled with tasty foods and dangers to face. Tunnel’s End is a distant utopia, a place where someone could realize their dreams. These stories allow Nib a temporary reprieve from the tedious realities of his current life in Sweetfall. Nib eventually produces his own coping mechanism to deal with his unsatisfying life by gathering oddities and other interesting things that remind him of his favorite stories. Unfortunately, we learn that the community does not accommodate his creative interest, and he is forced to find an empty corner to isolate himself along with his belongings in a secret hideout. Nib’s anxieties fall directly in line with those described by Marx in a system restricting the freedom of the individual. The mice of Sweetfall live and work solely as means to an end, and it’s this way of life that suppresses Nib’s creative output and keeps him isolated from fellow members of his community. His “species being” is constricted, and he does not seem to be living up to his natural potential by following his dreams and doing the things that he authentically enjoys.

Tension escalates as members of his family invade his personal hideout and take public ownership of his belongings, placing the value of the community over the personal feelings of Nib. This raises the question of how one might prioritize their values as a member of a community: do we place a higher value on the overall well being of the group, or does the individual deserve an opportunity to cultivate a unique though not always socially cohesive identity? At this point, Nib decides to set out and follow his dream of discovering Tunnel’s End. During his journey, he comes across a companion by the name of Lola, who agrees to help him find Tunnel’s End. Along the way, they find items that create contention as others try to lay claim to them. This raises important questions about ownership in a community.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


Family plays a significant role in Nib’s life.

  1. What would you consider to be family?
  2. What does it mean to be part of a family?
  3. What makes Nib’s family different from any other family?
  4. How do you think Nib feels about his family?

Often, we find Nib feeling lonely in the story.

  1. What does it mean to be alone?
  2. What does being alone feel like?
  3. Do you think Nib felt alone even when he was with his family?
  4. Is Nib better off alone than with his family?
  5. Do you think Lola felt alone?
  6. Do you think that Nib and Lola were better off alone or with each other?

Dreams and Happiness

In the story, Nib routinely seeks out treasures for himself.

  1. What is treasure?
  2. Do you have anything that you would consider to be treasure?
  3. Do you think what Nib has is treasure? Or is it only treasure to Nib?
  4. Can treasure only be things that you own?
  5. Do you think Nib should want to share his treasures with his family or keep them to himself?

Nib has a dream that he decides to fulfill.

  1. What is a dream?
  2. Do you have any dreams?
  3. What is Nib’s dream?
  4. Do you think Nib’s treasures help him find his dream?
  5. Is family more important than Nib’s dreams?

Nib wants nothing more than happiness.

  1. What does it mean to be happy?
  2. Has there ever been a time when you were unhappy?
  3. What do you look like when you are happy?
  4. Do you think Nib and Lola looked happy?
  5. Did Nib need more than his treasures to be happy?
  6. Do you think the dangers that Nib and Lola had to face were worth it to be happy?
  7. Do you have to work to achieve happiness or does it just happen?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Garett Marks and Nicole Volek. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

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

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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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