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The Subway Mouse

By Barbara Reid

Summary

Nib lives deep beneath the city, in a subway station the mice call Sweetfall. By day, the trains thunder past. At night, the old mice tell stories of the mythical land known as Tunnel’s End, where the air is sweet and the nests are soft, but where scary, mouse-eating monsters roam. One day, Nib sets out on a quest to find Tunnel’s End. Along the way he faces danger, finds a friend... and discovers a place more wonderful than he ever dreamed.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Garett Marks and Nicole Volek

When readers find Nib as a young mouse living in Sweetfall, they become immediately aware of his lamentation 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 what is defined by his relationship with the rest of the mice at Sweetfall resulting in a more or less conformed day to day life lacking authentic meaning and ambition.

As readers, we learn that 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. The story invites us to regard Tunnel’s End as a distant utopia, a place where someone could reify 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 favourite 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, suppressing Nib’s creative output and placing a veil of isolation over him where he feels atomized from his fellow members of the community. His ‘species being’ is constricted and he does not seem to be living to his natural potential by following his dreams and doing authentic things that he intrinsically 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 invokes the question of how one might prioritize his or her values as a member of a community: do we place a higher value on the overall wellbeing 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 Sweetfall. During his venture, he comes across a companion by the name of Lola who agrees to help him find Tunnel’s End. In the process, they find items along the way that create contention as others try to lay claim to such items. This invokes important questions such as how one might define ownership of earthly material and if there is such thing as exclusive ownership, or if all things belong to the duly community at large.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Community

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 he was 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 dream that he decides 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 to 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?

This book module deals with ethics, specifically happiness. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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