The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery
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Profound Thought No. 12: “Teenagers think they’re adults when in fact they’re imitating adults who never really made it into adulthood and who are running away from life” (192). 

What does this quote from The Elegance of the Hedgehog mean?

This quote from The Elegance of the Hedgehog means that teenagers who act like adults are really imitating adults who themselves act like teenagers. Such teenagers think they're being all grown-up by imitating these adults, but the adults that they're imitating are immature and the kind of people who've never grown up themselves.

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Paloma is pretty scathing of those of her peers who engage in what they think of as adult behavior: having sex, taking drugs, that sort of thing. She finds it all rather depressing. Once upon a time kids used to sniff glue in the toilets, but nowadays they regularly take any kind of drug you can imagine. Paloma's classmates get high on Ecstasy the way she pigs out on chocolate truffles.

And where there are drugs, there's sex. According to Paloma, there are a few kids in sixth grade who've already had sexual relations of some kind or another. Paloma's no prude, but even so, she also finds this rather depressing. It's important for her to wait before losing her virginity; she believes that sex should be treated as a holy sacrament.

In pretty forthright terms, Paloma says that any teenager who acts like an adult is still a teenager. It doesn't matter how many drugs they take or how many sexual partners they have, they're still teenagers. Getting high at a party and sleeping around doesn't make you an adult any more than dressing up as an Indian makes you an Indian.

Furthermore, teenagers who act this way are imitating those adults who, ironically, haven't grown up. Those who indulge in a hedonistic lifestyle full of sex and drugs have never really made it into adulthood themselves. Not only that, but by indulging so liberally in sex and drugs, they're running away from life and all its problems. On any measure, then, their example is not to be imitated.

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