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When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry

by Molly Bang

Summary

Where does anger come from and how do we justify it? How should we deal with anger?

Sophie is playing with a toy gorilla when her sister takes it from her for her turn. Sophie gets angry, really really angry. She is about to blow up, but decides to climb a tree to calm herself.

Read aloud video by AHEV Library

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry… raises a few interesting questions about the nature of anger. When Sophie gets angry, she looks a certain way and is also ready to “smash the world to smithereens.” Powerful depictions like this raise questions about what anger is, its appearance, and the appropriate course of action in response to anger. This discussion on anger could also lead to a discussion on the expression of anger and political violence based on individual and/or collective anger.

First, this book probes us to question what exactly is anger is. The first impulse that Sophie experiences when she feels angry is the desire to take her anger out on the world. Is anger some form of madness that destroys the ability to think? Some philosophers present the opinion that anger is often accompanied by an impulse to achieve a degree of revenge in an unjustified fashion. In other words, people do not express anger at the right people. The idea of getting angry with the right person implies that the person has done or intended to do something that can incite anger. In return, the angry man expects a certain degree of satisfaction or even pleasure in seeking his revenge. However, Sophie wants to tear the world apart, and she does not aim to avenge her misery from people who angered her, namely her sister and mother. Thus, sometimes anger seeks revenge on the appropriate person, but at other times, it may not.

We also see that Sophie starts crying after she goes through a phase of anger. This brings us to the question of how anger is connected to pain. Most philosophers would agree that anger is often accompanied by pain. However, there may be three different mechanisms in which both of these emotions are externalized. In the first mechanism, anger follows pain. People who are suffering from poverty or sickness and have gone through painful times in life might reach a point of pain where they express anger because they are experiencing pain and suffering alone. This might be the case when citizens might engage in violent demonstrations because others show a certain disregard for their pain or suffering. Another mechanism of expression is when both anger and pain are expressed together. When someone dies, what one expresses is the pain of loss and anger at their circumstances simultaneously. Finally, a third potential mechanism may be when the phase of being hurt comes after the stage when anger is expressed. In this case, a person expresses anger until he has vented it all out; he is left with a much more long-lasting feeling of being hurt by someone. So we can discuss how Sophie expressed her pain and anger together or separately, and if so, in what order. Maybe Sophie adopted the third mechanism. Initially, she was angry for not being allowed to play the Gorilla. Alternatively, maybe she was hurt because her mother scolded her.

Once we identify what impulses are or are not a part of anger, we get to the question, why do people get angry? Some philosophers might say that Sophie had unrealistic expectations about playing with Gorilla. Some might claim that Sophie should not have gotten angry when her sister did take it away for her turn. This view holds that a reasonable person can reason with themselves and will be able to note and deal with unrealistic expectations. In this view, destructive emotions like anger are a result of an error in judgment.

Other philosophers may argue that anger is inescapable and that everyone will get angry sometimes regardless of their morals and intellect. While some people may appear unreasonable in the act of getting angry, other people might be perfectly justified in being angry. However, even people who have a valid reason to be angry might not seem perfectly reasonable in how they express their anger and vice versa. Thus, when Sophie was bursting with the desire to explode with anger, many people might say she is unreasonable for not allowing her sister her fair turn. Nevertheless, when Sophie’s anger did not get her the toy, she tried to calm herself. Does that mean that people can prove to be more reasonable in how they deal with their anger even if they seem to be unreasonable in the act of getting angry?

This brings us to the issue of the expression of anger. We see that Sophie manages to control her anger. That might be because she realized her mistake. Alternatively, that might be because she didn’t think that further expression of anger would have been useful for her. However, even when we know that the expression of anger isn’t useful, can we always control our anger? Some philosophers argue that anger is bound to get out of control so that the expression of anger is never beneficial. Others claim that there are times when the expression of anger is necessary. In the present world, we see expressions of anger on a daily basis. While some philosophers argue that there is nothing that cannot be achieved by reason, this idea is not always applied in the world today. The children might have noticed that when a parent or guardian gets angry at them, they usually do what is asked, and thus, an expression of anger gets her what she wants. Hence, if we don’t express our anger, can we achieve the same things in life? Alternatively, if we realize that the expression of our anger at a person or a situation will not give us anything, what should we do with our anger?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Nature of Anger

Oh, is Sophie ever angry now!

  1. Why was Sophie angry?
  2. What makes you angry?
  3. Who are the people we get angry with?
  4. Is it what other people do, or is it something in our own nature (lack of patience, high expectations) that makes us angry?
  5. Should people know that it is in our nature to get angry about certain things and be extra careful about not doing those things? Or should we be careful about not getting angry?
  6. Do we always feel angry alone? Or can anger be shared? If yes, how does a group of people express anger together?
  7. What should we do when we feel angry about many things?

Moral Anger

“Yes!” said her mother. “It IS her turn now, Sophie”

  1. Was Sophie right to be angry? Was her anger justified?
  2. If someone did something that they think is right and you think is wrong, should you be angry at them?
  3. If two people have different ideas of what is right and wrong and are angry with the other, how can we decide on who is right?
  4. If someone hurt you when they didn’t mean to, should you still be angry?
  5. Do we ever get what we want when we show anger? Alternatively, are there times when we have to express anger to get what we want?

Appearances of Anger

She roars a red, red roar.

  1. Show the picture of Sophie’s roar. Ask, does she look angry?
  2. Can you show what you look like when you get angry?
  3. Does an angry person have to look a certain way or do a certain thing to show he is angry?
  4. Can you be angry without looking angry?
  5. Do all forms of anger look the same?
  6. Are there varying degrees of anger?

Pain

Then, for a little while she cries…Sophie feels better now.

  1. Show the picture of Sophie crying. Ask, does she look angry? If not, what does she look like?
  2. Why do you think Sophie cried?
  3. Why did Sophie climb the tree?
  4. Do we always cry or feel pain when we get angry?
  5. Is feeling hurt and being angry the same thing?
  6. What should we do when we feel pain in anger?

Forgiveness

And Sophie isn’t angry anymore.

  1. What if Sophie could really roar fire and was a volcano that could explode, should she roar fire and spread lava because she was angry?
  2. What are some examples of what people do when they are angry?
  3. Is it okay to harm your surroundings when you are angry?
  4. Did Sophie try to forgive her sister and mother for not letting her play with the toy?
  5. What should we do when we are angry?
  6. Could you ever forgive someone who destroyed your favorite toy instead of being angry? When and why? Should people who are angry, forgive?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Zuha Shaikh. 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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