Wednesday, June 2, 2010

selected student blogs

on Muriel Barbery's Elegance of the Hedgehog

25 comments:

Tate Herbert said...

"Some people are incapable of perceiving in the object of their contemplation the very thing that gives it its intrinsic life and breath, and they spend their entire lives conversing about mankind as if they were robots, and about things as if they have no soul and must be reduced to what can be said about them -- all at the whim of their own subjective inspiration." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, p.34

In this passage, Renee is criticizing the food critic Arthens. Barbery uses simile effectively to communicate the concierge's thoughts on shallow-minded people (in her opinion, most everyone), making a dark comparison that suggests people perceive their own world as soulless. However, there is a hint of irony in the very identity of the speaker. As far as we know, Renee lives a very limited life. Meaningful interactions with other people are kept to a minimum; she prefers to be alone, reading or listening to music. She is hardly in a position to criticize Arthens, seeing as she has effectively withdrawn from the world -- and yet she makes such acute observations about it. At the very least, this passage causes the reader to question Renee's motives and wonder whether she has a right to critique the tendencies of people in the "real world."
Since there is such an ironic tone to this passage, however, I wonder if Barbery is simply poking fun at herself as a writer? Writers, like Renee, are also natural observers. However, they tend to write in a way that she disdains: "at the whim of their own subjective inspiration." Usually they find a way to write what they know, but I doubt Barbery has ever had experience living as an antisocial concierge or a depressed child prodigy. I think that in this particular case she used Renee's hypocritical attitude to lighten up her own observations and themes.
Those themes, however are universal. This quote hints at both main characters' search for beauty in the world, and its irony drives home the point that beauty is not necessarily found by taking in things or events or ideas, but by reaching out to other human beings in order to experience the world.

Tate Herbert said...

"I figured out a long time ago that shrinks are comedians who believe that metaphors are something for great wise men." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, p. 86

First of all, I love how Barbery included a metaphor in this sentence. It's worked in so casually that it proves Paloma's point: metaphors are not that hard to use. This is a classic example of how Paloma takes ideas and turns them on their heads. In this particular quote, she is challenging psychiatry, holding a mirror in its face; in another entry, she describes the enlightening effects that she hopes burning down the apartment and committing suicide will have on her family. With quotes like this, the reader can begin to understand why Paloma would not want to live anymore. She is disillusioned with the world, and has not found much that she cannot cut down to size. She can see through all the contrived habits and philosophies of man. Like a shrink, she is forever analyzing. Unlike a shrink, she is looking for more meaning than the simple comparison of a metaphor. The key thing to remember is that she is actively looking. For all her sarcasm and her depressing diagnosis of the world at large, she remains a hopeful character because of this fact. A hopeful note is also added to one of the themes: if a suicidal girl believes it is worthwhile to try to find beauty in life, then we can all stand to try.
Overall, this passage and ones like it do an excellent job of developing the character's voice. Barbery showcases Paloma's nonchalant brilliance effectively.

Tate Herbert said...

"I was not yet seven years old, but I already knew that the measured drift of the little cotton particles foreshadowed what the heart would feel in moments of great joy. … As a child I often wondered whether I would be allowed to live such moments – to inhabit the slow, majestic ballet of snowflakes, to be released at last from the dreary frenzy of time.” -- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, p. 178

Barbery employs the flashback technique here at just the right moment. The memory she describes is brief but powerful, as it has such a fulfilling connection to the real-time experience. The fact that Barbery jumps right into the flashback, even separating it physically from the rest of the narrative and making it its own chapter, helps to relate Renee’s experience to the reader: for a whole separate page, he/she is suspended in the time of the story, just as Renee describes.
I think that for one of the main characters to experience this kind of joy is significant. Thus far, both have retreated into literature, films, paintings, or something of the sort to find any kind of comparable satisfaction – but both have made it clear that they are still unhappy, mainly with people. So, Renee’s reaction to Ozu is a turning point; she has rediscovered the beauty of joy and human connection – perhaps the true beauty she and Paloma have been longing for the whole time, without knowing.
Also, now that Renee has revealed this childhood memory, the parallel between herself and Paloma is clearer. Paloma is now at the same point in her life that Renee was when she watched the flakes in the snow globe; she is also wondering (doubting) whether she will ever find anything like this in her life. Now that Renee, a grown (and perhaps less willful) version of her, has begun to see the light, it is only a matter of time before she, too is transformed. With the revelation of this single memory, so many connecting threads of so many kinds are woven between characters.

Anonymous said...

“Just then, without warning, the rain starts to fall.”-The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, p. 284

Barbery talks about rain, in reference to Renee, throughout the book. The Rain is meant to symbolize the changing climate of Renee’s emotions. At first Renee was lost in the darkness of the rain. She lived her life, but a lot of the time she spent living was hollow and without meaning. She was lost in her self percieved mediocrity. She lived in this constant November rain from her childhood until Mr. Ozu entered her life. After their first dinner Barbery described Renee’s flood of emotion as a summer rain. A happier rain, one to was away the sadness . The clouds in Renee’s life finally cleared and for once she could see the sun. The summer rain had washed away her past and brought her a promising future, “The body is no longer a prison, your spirit roams the clouds, you possess the power of water, happy days are in store, in this new birth.”
Barbery gives a hint to the meaning of the rain when she discusses Renee’s past. Renee literally and symbolically lived in a constant state of rain. Growing up in poverty she began her life in a struggle. She witnessed he sister attept to climb the social ladder and then fall, hard. Renee saw first hand that trying to be someone you were not would kill you, this set her up for a life of no aspiratons. She lived in the rain, not expecting a sun to clear the way and illuminate her choices.
Mr. Ozu was the sun that lit up Renee’s life. She lived in the sun until tragically she let herself ever so briefly fall back into the rain. This time it was paloma that save Renee’s life. This was the turning point in the novel. Renee fell back into the darkness of the rain and Paloma made her face the truth. She brought Renee back to her senses. This both changed her and Renee. By bringing Renee to the reality of her foolishness Paloma could see her own. She realized she was just a blind as Renee had been. Renee realizes what she is losing and lets go of her past to embrace her future.
The drastic change that happens for these two characters at the end of the rain allows the book to end. Both paloma and Renee have saved eachother from themselves. There were able to fight the blindmess of the rain and see the beauty the world has to offer on the other side. Having said this I had the end of the book. I find it an untasteful use of irony. The entire book Renee was fighting against herself and when she finally won and her life began to show a promise it had never shown before she dies. Just when the reader thinks the courage to let go of your past and fears is all worth it Barbery tell us you can never escape fate. Like Lisette Renee meddled with the upper class and died. The only redeeming quality of the end of this book is that Renee dies content and out of the rain. But then maybe I am not seeing the point of the end of the book. Maybe Renee had to die to save Paloma? Maybe there was a greater significance of her dying peacefully and out of the rain? I don’t doubt that she was saved and she was in a better place when she passed, but I can’t figure out if it was supposed to kill the reader with irony or not. Any second opinions?
Kathryn Violette

Anonymous said...

“All our family acquaintances have followed the same path: their youth spent trying to make the most of their intelligence, squeezing their studies like a lemon to make sure they’d secure a spot among the elite, then the rest of their lives wondering with a flabbergasted look on their faces why all that hopelessness has led to such a vain existence.”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (23)

Muriel Barbery effectively uses a simile in The Elegance of the Hedgehog to compare the lifestyles of the rich to a lemon. Paloma is a highly intelligent, twelve-year-old girl born to a family with whom she shares none of the same values. She believes in the beauty of the world, while her parents and older sister mainly believe in the importance of a dollar. Paloma has grown up among the ‘elite’, and she has seen through the years how each individual progresses through similar steps to reach the same “vain existence”.
The above quotation, one of the many thoughts from young Paloma, conveys her distaste for the bitterness that soon befalls the high-ranking members among society. Each person works tirelessly as a mere child to excel beyond the standards that have been set for him or her. They believe because they are born into privilege they must continue working to maintain that piece of high society. In Paloma’s thought, she compares this obsessive need to the squeezing of a lemon. She believes these wealthy individuals squeeze all they can out of store-bought knowledge, much like one squeezes the juice out of a lemon to make lemonade. Even with their intelligence however, they grow up to be morose individuals, unaware of how such an unhappy existence has fallen upon them.
Paloma believes one of the main themes among the elite is bitterness will encompass everyone in the end. Just because someone is born into wealth, doesn’t mean they will live a fulfilling life. Instead, they will work their entire lives to become the hostile people they saw when they themselves were young.
Sydney Hebert

Anonymous said...

“If I find something, then I may rethink my options: If I find a body with beautiful movement or, failing that, a beautiful idea for the mind, well then maybe I’ll think that life is worth living after all.”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (38)

Muriel Barbery uses foreshadowing while dealing with twelve-year-old Paloma in The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Though she has a brilliant mind, Paloma struggles with the knowledge that she will inevitably reach the same mundane existence as all other high-class members who are nearing adulthood. Paloma believes her only choice to not reach this depressing adult life is to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She is not doing it as a huge production against the world, but instead she’s just looking for a way out of the inevitable. Paloma will not however commit suicide if she finds a meaningful piece of beauty within the world, and she searches for that “body with beautiful movement” every day.
When Paloma is discussing her thoughts on her suicide it is apparent she does not actually want to completely kill herself. She only describes the lifestyle she has been forced to live her entire life: that of a privileged, wealthy child; which to some may seem appealing, but Paloma wants to delve beyond money and power and into aestheticism. It is not until she meets a new tenant within the apartment complex that Paloma truly understands the beauty of existence. An older Japanese man, Mr. Ozu, looks beyond appearance to see the inner charms everyone holds. The quotation foreshadows the beauty she will surely find in the world as long as she keeps an open mind.
One of the main themes throughout The Elegance of the Hedgehog is finding beauty not only in the world, but also within one’s self. Paloma begins the story as an introverted person, but as time progresses and she meets new faces, she becomes more openly sociable because she has discovered beauty within herself. She searches for something, or really anything, to capture what she believes to be the true essence of life; it is not until the end of the story she finally realizes beauty must be found within one’s self before it can be found in the world.
Sydney Hebert

Robin Gallant said...

"And since it has been written somewhere that concierges are old, ugly and sour, so has it been branded in fiery letters on the pediment of that same imbelic firmament that the aforementioned concierges have rather large dithering cats who sleep all day on cushions covered with crocheted cases" -The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, p.19

Firstly, this quotation was the first indication of mine that I was really going to enjoy this novel. I love the character Renee and her perception as a concierge, as well as her astounding intelligence and her eccentric view of the world. Throughout the novel, and also as shown in this quotation, Renee is seemingly the stereotypical concierge. Her humorous personality is revealed, as she figures that since she is outwardly a stereotypical concierge that everything applying to her must also be true about every concierge, such as her 'large and dithering' tomcat. Renee uses humor and intelligence to scrutinize the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. She deliberately conceals herself from the members of the building as well as from the world, because she considers herself to always have been poor, discreet, and of no significance.
Paloma, a child living in the building (who is wise beyond her years), shares some of the same feelings as Renee. Both Renee and Paloma use their stereotypes to their advantage, as they hide themselves behind the perception of others. Paloma is one of the only people in the world who can see past Renee and her stereotype, and she begins her attempt at spending time with her, as Paloma is constantly looking for reasons to be alive. She discovers something in Renee that inspires her to continue on with her life, which is to the contrary of her original plans. Though it is too late for Renee, who dies just as Paloma begins to express her admiration of her. Paloma dedicates the rest of her life to Renee, as well as her last journal entry: "Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never. Beauty, in this world."
The search for identity is a main theme used by the author. Paloma, who is constantly searching for answers to questions as well as reasons to live, and Renee, who struggles to keep her true identity unknown to the world.

Anonymous said...

“... the most animal types among us, always get screwed by the others, the fine talkers, despite these latter being incapable of defending their own garden or bringing a rabbit home for dinner or procreating properly.”
The Elegance of The Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, p. 57

I find this quote very interesting, and wonder what Paloma herself would think had she read this quote in the story and she were not the character speaking. The reason for my wonder is due to the fact that Paloma is always very critical to the world around her, however never takes a chance to look at herself, because she believes she is perfect. In the case of this quote Paloma tells the reader she thinks it isn’t fair how the strong in the world are “screwed” by the “fine talkers”. I find it hard to believe that Paloma can’t point the mirror in her own direction and realize she is much more of a “fine talker” than an “animal type”.
If there is one things Paloma has proven through the book so far, it is that she is quite brilliant. A brilliant person like her has also shown she is very good at talking. Proving herself to be a fine talker. I find it hard to believe that Paloma would throw herself under the bus just to prove one of her “profound thoughts”. It could be that Paloma so strongly believes that it is wrong that the weak are dominant in human society, that as a “fine talker” herself, she thinks taking her life would help make a point that a not-so-animal-type person, like herself, shouldn’t be allowed to achieve power. I am sure that if Paloma did decide to begin to show the world how truly smart she is, she would achieve some great power.

- Ian Karby

Anonymous said...

Bonjour les élèves et Monsieur Gillis,

I read this delightful book at the beginning of the summer. I immediately noticed that it had been written originally in French, and asked some friends of mine to bring me L'Elégance du hérisson when they came to visit in July. I intend to read it again, in the original, very soon, and am interested to see what it is like. I will note that I could tell from the writing style and the suject matter that it was written in French, even when reading it in English.

I enjoyed all your comments, except that Sydney is now on probation as president of French Club for thinking that the characters in the book were interested in dollars, not euros!

Merci pour le dialogue,
Madame Fournier

Sarah Bragdon said...

“Live, or die: mere consequences of what you have built. What matters is building well. So here we are, I’ve assigned myself a new obligation. I’m going to stop undoing, deconstructing, I’m going to start building. Even with Colombe I’ll try to do something positive. What matters is what you are doing when you die, and when June 16th comes around, I want to be building.”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (114)

Paloma is using a metaphor by connecting the success of the Chinese game of go to the success of life. In order to win the game you must keep the other player alive and manage to get ahead. Life is not about analyzing everyone’s wrong doings and feeling hostile towards them because they do not have the intelligence that Paloma has. Life is about accepting the world she lives in and finding a place for herself in that world that allows her to use her knowledge.
She lives in a world right now that she does not feel she belongs in and that’s why she plans to commit suicide. Her father has just told her off for correcting their dinner guest. She feels like she is expected to act in a way that is not at all herself. She analyzes how everyone else at the table acts and makes fun of them. She does not want to make pointless comments to make conversation and sound educated when there is no meaning. For example, her sister Colombe talks about the Theatre des Amandiers when she can’t quote a single line or appreciate the theatre whatsoever.
This is a time in Paloma’s life where she is constantly looking for meaning, something worth living for. All the people around her are so fake towards each other. All they really care about is wealth and status. She cares about art and beauty. She is a misfit in her family, which makes her feel like a misfit in life.
Paloma’s position throughout the novel is the critic. She is constantly ridiculing peoples behavior and how unimportant the lives they lead are. The biggest problem is that Paloma was born into a family that teaches that money is power. Her family believes they are prominent but Paloma has a different take on the matter. She thinks what is important is having an opinion on art and life and looking for meaning in the beauty of life. When Paloma says when June 16th comes around she wants to be building, it indicates a change in the novel. Up to this point, Paloma has kept her intelligence to herself, but now she has decided that before she dies she wants to make something of herself in this world. She wants to finally find a place where she fits and can be comfortable expressing her outlook on life.

Mark Charest said...

But if, in our world, there is any chance of becoming the person you haven’t yet become . . . will I know how to seize that chance, turn my life into a garden that will be completely different from that of my forebears’?

- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, page 195

This passage represents an important emotional transition for Paloma. Up to this point, Paloma has justified her suicidal thoughts by her disillusion with life and human ignorance. Having lived all her life in the company of those who focus on material possessions and social standing to the exclusion of true happiness, Paloma has come to believe—perhaps correctly—that human beings chase societal distinction, financial success, and other forms of achievement in an attempt to fool themselves into ignoring life’s meaninglessness. As Paloma states early on in the novel, this manner of living results in a narrow-minded life view, which she refers to as the “goldfish bowl.” Unlike other children, who are deceived by the “universal lie” that adulthood is the key to solving life’s great mystery, Paloma has made a habit of acknowledging and accepting the pointlessness of life. However, her meeting with Yoko, Kakuro’s great-niece, marks the first time in the novel that Paloma witnesses something that truly causes her to question her beliefs regarding the purpose of life, or lack thereof. Unlike others that Paloma has met, Yoko is pure, vibrant, and full of possibility. Much to her own surprise, Paloma cannot envision Yoko growing up to be like Colombe or any of the others she has come to know. Instead, Paloma has faith that Yoko will find her own purpose in life and learn to chase true happiness. With this faith comes the realization that not all people in the world are doomed to the goldfish bowl—one of the novel’s main messages. In just a short amount of time, Yoko has made Paloma reconsider her plans of suicide. Profoundly affected by this encounter, Paloma uses a metaphor to describe the possibilities of her life as a unique garden that she grows, free of interference from the ignorant masses of the world. This passage brightly illustrates how Paloma is starting to believe that the goldfish bowl is not an inescapable outcome, and that there may yet be hope of finding meaning and purpose in her life.

Mark Charest said...

Personally I think there is only one thing to do: find the task we have been placed on this earth to do, and accomplish it as best we can . . . This is the only way we will ever feel that we have been doing something constructive when death comes to get us. Freedom, choice, will, and so on? Chimeras. We think we can make honey without sharing the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, page 238

In this passage, Paloma once again displays her trademark fatalistic disenchantment. Although not necessarily a deviation from her normal demeanor, this hasty shift in attitude comes as a surprise to the reader in comparison to Paloma’s recent introduction to Yoko, who seems to have kindled a spark of happiness. Paloma’s abrupt dismissal of this development can be attributed to her session with Doctor Theid, the Josse family’s therapist. Paloma’s brilliant and hilarious confrontation with “Doc T.” succeeds in exposing him as a conceited charlatan, but it also produces several negative consequences that reinforce Paloma’s bitterness. For instance, Paloma realizes that her victory over the therapist is meaningless and hurtful, a fact that contributes to her depression. In addition, upon revealing the therapist’s true nature as a mean-spirited fraud, Paloma becomes discouraged by the knowledge that, for many people, an angry or bitter soul hides behind a façade of calmness and happiness, and that “all you have to do is see right through them for their masks to fall.” Disgusted by this, Paloma once again undertakes her plans of suicide. In this passage, she uses a clever metaphor to comment on the meaningless of life. Using her sister’s description of bees, which die in the process of completing their sole task in life, Paloma states that all humans, regardless of whatever fanciful notions they may entertain about life’s meaning and free choice, are doomed to suffer a similar fate. The only hope of finding meaning in life, in her opinion, is to accept its ephemeral nature and focus on completing a constructive task. For Paloma, this task is the writing of her Movement Journals and Profound Thoughts. This passage ties in with Paloma’s bitterness, a major theme throughout the novel, and also serves to evoke compassion and sympathy for Paloma, who, at this point in the novel, seems to be a lost soul.

Anonymous said...

“Can’t you tell when a person hates himself? He becomes a living cadaver, it numbs all his negative emotions but also all the good ones so that he won’t feel nauseated by who he is”
The Elegance of The Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery p. 93

This quote is ironic by the means of who it comes from. Paloma is a girl who has decided to kill herself on a certain date. She decides this because she is too smart to live on in a world that she has all figured out. She concludes the only way to not kill herself is if she is able to find something beautiful enough in life. Paloma is in a sense a “living cadaver”. She has already decided to kill herself, she even knows the date. Paloma is also very critical of the world. She is able to see some beauty in things, but always finds reasons that they aren’t quite perfect enough for her to save her life. In a sense her “good emotions” have been numbed by her gigantic ego she has created due to how much of a self-titled genius she is.
Paloma doesn’t realize it but she is describing parts of herself in the quote. One clear difference is that Paloma doesn’t hate herself by any means. She thinks she is better than most people. However one would guess that the esteemed food critic Pierre Arthens thinks very highly of himself as well. He is considered a genius of French cuisine. It could be inferred by the quote that maybe Paloma does hate a part of herself, only she doesn’t allow the reader to see her imperfections or insecurities.

- Ian Karby

Maura Quigley said...

“Well, I mean: I’m going to commit suicide and set the house on fire in a few months; obviously I can’t assume I have time at my disposal, therefore I have to do something substantial with the little I do have.”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (37)

The way Paloma Josse talks about committing suicide and setting the house on fire throughout the book is plain depressing. The fact that she, being only twelve years of age, can speak so easily about death and suicide is troubling. Even though Paloma is clearly wise beyond her years, planning her suicide should not be weighing heavily on her mind. She has completely masterminded everything about her death. Slowly she has been smuggling her mother’s pills one at a time so that she would not notice any of them missing. So she plans to take all of those pills and then she will set the apartment on fire. She cannot wait to see how this affects her family. She believes that by doing this, it will awaken them and make them realize.
Once the reader meets the new owner of an apartment below the Josse’s, Monsieur Ozu, Paloma begins to question her plans for death. She is worried that if she sets the apartment on fire after taking her mothers pills it will travel down to his apartment. This is one adult who actually talks to Paloma the way she thinks, like a profound individual and Paloma begins to build respect for him. As Tate said, Paloma challenges everything and there is “not much that she cannot cut down to size”. Barbery does a wonderful job of showing the reader that even though Paloma is so pessimistic; she tends to search for the optimism in life wherever she goes. Through out the book Paloma has numerous amounts of “Profound Thoughts” and continually writes in her “Journal of the Movement of the World”. These things keep her searching for beauty and give her “something substantial” to do with amount of time she has given herself.

Maura Quigley said...

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adult-not to mention the fact that you’d be spared at least one traumatic experience, i.e. the goldfish bowl.”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (23)

Barbery paints Paloma as a realist, not a pessimist. Paloma believes that all adults strive for vanity at the cost of their humanity and intelligence. This quote is a result of Paloma’s “Profound Thought No. 1”. She explains adults like flies that buzz around and crash into the same windowpane of depression and misunderstanding. Throughout the book, Paloma breaks down every idea that is presented to her. In a way, she is a goldfish in a bowl. She is never perplexed with anything that is thrown her way and her windowpane is depression but complete understanding.
Paloma wonders about the actual intelligence level of the concierge at her apartment, Renee. Both see each other but don’t actually see one another. They have a lot more in common than they think. Paloma and Renee hide their true intelligence from the rest of the world in fear of exclusion. Throughout the book, Barbery slowly takes Renee out of her “internal seclusion” and allows Paloma to escape her suicidal thoughts. Barbery’s use of comparison of adult life to life in a goldfish bowl is very effective and relevant throughout the book of just how Paloma views most every adult she encounters.

Anonymous said...

“I am very proud of this profound thought. It came to me through Colombe. So at least once she will have been of some use in my life. I never thought I’d be able to say that before I die.”
-The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Paloma is a genius girl. She believes that her intelligence and “profound” thoughts set her aside as someone different in what she sees as an unappreciative and misunderstanding world. She is numb to kind feelings that one might feel for kin and friends and seems to only express disgust toward the “hypocrites” that populate the earth. Paloma’s outlook on life lets readers know that she for the most part takes people for simpletons that would never be able to grasp or understand her superior intelligence, at least to her liking. With that, when a normal person would see family as someone to share a life full of emotion with, she sees family as people she shares living space with. In one unlikely case, one of them (her sister) gives Paloma an idea for a profound thought. Colombe finally becomes a use for Paloma at least once in Paloma’s twelve year span of life. She feels that her true beauty, which is concealed over with mediocrity, will not be appreciated by the very people that she gives no appreciation to.

-Glenn Emery

Robin Gallant said...

"It may be well be that my cat - at present I perceive him as an obese quadruped with quivering whiskers and I have filed him away in my mind in a drawer labeled "cat" - is in actual fact, and in his very essence, a blob of green sticky stuff that does not meow...and the revolting blob... is masquerading before my consciousness beneath the appearance of a silky and gluttonous house pet." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, p.61


This quote is taken from a section narrated by Renee, where she reveals her opinion of what we, as people, really know about the world. She uses the theory of transcendental idealism, which is defined as the view of things in terms of how they appear to the actor rather than how they actually are, to explain. Here, Renee is using her cat for an example of this idealism, which she also refers to as a "depressing theory", questioning his true person.
She explains how a transcendental idealist would answer the philosophical questions: 'how can you be certain that it is really a cat and, likewise, how can you even know what a cat is?' They would have to respond to the questions rather than answering them, and their responses would be the illustrations of how impossible it would be to know whether what we perceive as a cat is really a cat.
What follows this quotation is what she calls "an even more depressing theory", another idealism that states all that exists is the perception of the cat, itself. This is the last theory explained by Renee; she is already convinced herself that nothing of the world is known, not even the most basic and apparent things such as her own pet's existence.
This section of the novel is one of hundreds of which are used to show Renee's unbecoming intelligence, though the major reason for this section of the novel is the common theme throughout: the meaning of life. It is obvious in these paragraphs that Renee is questioning the overall meaning of life by trying to understand our basic knowledge of the world. It is clear that if she cannot simply prove the existence of something simple such as the life of her own cat, then she cannot even begin to explain the larger world, or the largest: life's meaning.

Anonymous said...

“It would be so much better if we could share our insecurity, if we could all venture inside ourselves and realize that green beans and vitamin C, however much they nurture us, cannot save lives, nor sustain our souls.”
-The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (79)

In this passage, Paloma provides for the readers a metaphor to compare her mother’s care for her beloved house plants to her mother’s procedure for raising Paloma. She says she sees her mother fill with hope when she spurts water over the plant’s leaves. This hope is that the plant will survive and prosper now that she had given it what she could. Paloma believes that her Maman simulates the same care that she gives to the house plants, to her children. Giving them the right nutrition is what she can provide, enough to feel secure about her child’s safety. What Paloma feels she doesn’t understand, is that while these things will yes, keep a person physically healthy, they will not fight the real dangers of the world. Her Maman feels that she is doing her children right by spritzing them. Yet what this really does is provide the mother with a secure feeling that she did what she could, and if her children might get damaged later in life, at least she gave them the essential nutrients that they needed. This was an effective metaphor, as it gives insight to a feeling of unimportance held by Paloma when it comes to her mother. In the comparison, she and the plant are one in the same. The problem with this is that a human being requires far more worry, consideration and nurturing than a plant. How does Paloma feel knowing that her mother’s methods and rationale for caring for plants are the same methods and rationale she performs for her?

-Glenn Emery

Ayantu said...

“I am a widow, I am short, ugly, and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit certain early mornings of self-inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth. I did not go to college, I have always been poor, discreet, and insignificant.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, pg.19

In the opening pages of this novel, we get an interesting narrative from both main characters about who they are, or at least who they believe themselves to be. This particular quote from one of Renee’s first narratives stood out to me. Here she describes herself in a very unflattering manner and does so almost indifferently. She does not give off a resentful tone nor does she, in any way, give the impression that she is particularly displeased with her unfortunate appearance. She merely explains her disposition in a matter-of-fact tone. This is interesting to me because in later passages, she makes a big point of passing judgment on the tenants of number 7, rue de Grenelle. Renee describes herself as a short, ugly, plump widow yet she feels she feels she can pass judgment on her tenants. Not only does she pass judgment, but she also looks down at them and even views some of their behaviors with disgust. It becomes clear as she goes on in her narrative, however, that though she doesn’t think much of herself in the looks department, she does value intelligence. Renee does not seem to put much value in physical beauty or wealth as she spends endless hours reading books by great philosophers and nurturing her intellectual mind. It seems that she thinks much more highly of her books than she does of any of her tenants. She, through her rant about Arthens, the food critic, made it clear she found the tenants to be shallow and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terrible elegant.” Page 143

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry

This is essentially the title quote. What I get from it is that Renee Michel is a hard shelled person. She has a tough outer-layer per se, and she is a little rough around the edges, and she has built up a wall to protect herself from her own world. She protects herself from the people she is around, and she gives off the façade that she is just a concierge person. She is just like Paloma, whom also puts on a façade to hide who she really is. Both of these women are extremely intelligent, they love beauty, art, and they are both very sensitive and both have a kind heart. Now, Renee and Paloma hide their true selves from the world because they are worried about the way others might perceive them if they knew their secrets. They have a wall, or the needles, to protect their valuable insides, or their true beliefs. The build up this mask of pretending to be someone they really aren’t in order to keep themselves burden free, as well as safe from the thoughts, and consequences of others.

- Matthew Weimer

Ayantu said...

“From the very start Colombe and I have been at war because as far as Colombe is concerned, life is a permanent battle where you can only win by destroying the other guy. She cannot feel sage if she hasn’t crushed her adversaries and reduced their territory to the meanest share.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, Pg.84

Paloma Josse is wise beyond her years. This has been made very clear from the beginning of the novel. She herself explains that her intelligence exceeds far beyond that of the average twelve year old. Though the reader has no reason to mistrust her words, the truth of intelligence does not become clear until she conveys some of her theories. The statements concerning her many observations about the world around her reveal Paloma’s brilliance. The quote above is one example of such a statement. In the quote, she explains her sister, Colombe’s highly aggressive disposition. Paloma notices that Colombe believes that she must always be in the midst of a battle where she must always dominate and destroy the opponent. The fact that she see’s her sister’s aggressiveness for what it is says a lot about Paloma’s intelligence. There are not many adults, let alone twelve year olds, that could recognize Colombe’s aggression and be able to analyze it the way Paloma does in “Profound Thought No. 5.” For this reason, this passage is a great showcase of Paloma’s brilliance.
What makes this quote even more interesting is Barbary’s use of the metaphor of life being a “permanent battle.” Though this is told from Paloma’s point of view as a description of her sister, it is also a truth about a large portion of the human population. It is not only Colombe who has the “life is war” mentality. There are many people who feel that way; many who feel that all adversaries must be destroyed, while, in reality, the “adversaries” pose no true threat to them. In fact, we all, at some point have been guilty of such aggressiveness.

Anonymous said...

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl.” Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, pg. 23
The quote above is said by one of the main protagonist of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Paloma. While short and succinct, it makes use of two literary devices: symbolism and simile. It also conveys the tone of Paloma’s narration, that of a disillusioned young teenage girl. These techniques as demonstrated by Muriel Barbery allow for the reader to not only begin to understand the narrator, Paloma, but also the style and tone of the novel.
Simile is used in regards to the people and goldfish, with Barbery saying “People… end up like goldfish in a bowl.” In this instance, Barbery used simile to compare people and goldfish in a bowl. More than just simile, symbolism is used as well. Barbery provides the goldfish in a bowl as a symbol of the life led by people after they “aim for the stars” and fail. When one thinks of a goldfish in a bowl, one might think of the words “enclosed,” “trapped,” “sheltered,” or “stale.” The symbol of the goldfish is intended to bring those words to mind in regards to the lives of human beings; people lead staid, trapped, boring lives. This is the imagery the symbol of the goldfish in a bowl is intended to convey.
The techniques of likening people to goldfish while also providing the entrapped goldfish as a symbol of the life led by people who “aim for the stars” successfully conveys to the reader the attitude of the narrator and the outlook on life she possesses.

-Ben Morgan

Anonymous said...

“I am very fond of Neptune. Yes, we appreciate each other a great deal, no doubt because of that state of grace that is attained when one’s feelings are immediately accessible to another creature’s.” Page 65
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry

This quote is about the feelings that Neptune and Paloma feel towards each other. The dog can sense Paloma’s love and affection and the warmness that she has for Neptune in her heart, and Paloma can sense the needs of the dog, and the type of love that Neptune feels for her. The dog and Paloma are compatible, not in the sense of a man and a woman being compatible, but there is an air of love these two share. Anyone who has owned a pet, or has taken care of a pet knows what I am talking about. Dogs become part of the family, and can become a type of companion to an owner. That is why they are called man’s best friend. Dog’s can sense their owner’s feelings. Once they become situated to them they emphasize with them. Dog’s are probably one of the most caring animal species ever because of the way they treat their owners. Since Paloma’s feelings are out in the open for Neptune to feel, the two instantly become companions, and there is a sense of happiness between them.

- Matthew Weimer

Anonymous said...

“Moreover, a concierge who reads Marx must be contemplating subversion, must have sold her soul to that devil, the trade union. That she might be simply reading Marx to elevate her mind is so incongruous a conceit that no member of the bourgeoisie could ever entertain it.” Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, pg. 18
The above quote is said by one of the main protagonists of the novel, Renee. She is an educated concierge of an upscale apartment building whose tenants are rich and ignorant. The above passage sets tone and uses sarcasm to convey the narrating style of Renee. It highlights the first person narration used by Muriel Barbery.
The quote, while introducing the reader to the sarcasm of Renee’s narrating, also hints at the conflicts in the book. By mentioning Marx, one necessarily thinks of class and class warfare. While no warfare takes place in the book, one of the central themes is certainly class tensions and stereotypes. The sarcastic tone also aids the reader in understanding the class tensions lamented by Renee.
-Ben Morgan

Anonymous said...

“ ‘I shall do what I can,’ I say. ‘But I cannot pursue them into the stairway either.’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘but you can discourage them. Tell them the Maitre has locked his door.’ And he fives me a strange look. I must be careful, I must be very careful. I have been getting sloppy lately.”- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, P.82

In this passage Renee is surprised with the unexpected death of Pierre Arthens, and caught off guard with the dramatic physical change of Chabrot, Arthens’ personal physician. In this scene each person has dropped their guard in some manner. Chabrot has lost his haughtiness and Renee in response to Chabrot’s surprisingly human comment, “Oh, Madame Michel!... who wants to die in the hospital?” forgot to try has hard to conceal her ‘secret life’. She felt sympathy toward Chabrot for the first time and this paired with his exquisite use of vocabulary penetrated Renee to the point that she gave a natural response instead of crafting a halfhearted sentence to keep up her façade.
Renee’s minor slip up in this passage is ominous. When faced with a truly sincere interaction with another human she is bound to let her guard down. This is exactly the case when Mr. Ozu moves into Pierre’s home. She is as curious of him as he is of her. Never has Renee been seriously doubted on her level of intelligence and never has she been treated as normal person rather than a concierge. It is a series of truly sincere interactions with Mr. Ozu that transforms Renee. She is able to drop her pretenses and finally begin to discover the beauty within herself.
Tate commented on the theme of the book being a search for beauty in the world. I completely agree with this and believe that this passage only strengthens the idea. Renee has spent her entire life enjoying the beauty of the finer things in the world. She knows that the world and art created in it is beautiful, but it is the transformation Ozu sparks in Renee that allows her to see things in a new light. In stead of spending her time critiquing people and things when she finds the beauty within herself she can find the beauty in others.
Kathryn Violette