The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery
Start Free Trial

What does this quote from The Elegance of the Hedgehog mean? "There is always an easy way out, although I am loath to use it. I have no children, I do not use television and I do not believe in God."

This quote from The Elegance of the Hedgehog is from Michele when she hesitates to accept Mr. Ozu's dinner invitation. This simple decision is hard for her to make, partly because she is a concierge. The choice of having dinner with Ozu is a strange scenario for her, so she analyzes her past life choices just to figure out what to do. She recognizes that she is not like other people (parents, TV fans, and religious folks).

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This part of the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog takes place when Monsieur Ozu invites Madame Michele for dinner. She does not know how she could accept leaving her post as the concierge of this high end apartment complex, so she tells him that she does not know how to go about that. She cannot figure out how to stop her duties as a concierge just to go be someone else's guest.

He responds by saying that she can be both a dinner guest and a concierge at the same time.

Yet, Madame Michele is quite hesitant and thinks to herself:

There is always an easy way out, although I am loath to use it. I have no children, I do not use television and I do not believe in God ...

Essentially, she knows that she could figure something out, but then she reminisces about her own life and uses her past decisions to try to formulate this one. As a woman who is of an elderly age, it is logical that she would compare this decision to many other decisions that she has made in her life.

In this case, she analyzes that she is one of the few that has taken the difficult paths in life. She has always been someone who takes firm steps and does not deviate from them. This idea of being a "guest of" is a new scenario for her; it is so new that she literally has to go back and check her life choices to figure out what to do.

As far as the specifics of the quote, here they are: Michele claims that all of these lifestyles (parenting, TV watching, religion) are paths that people take to try to make their lives easier; that they are distractions people use to avoid grave responsibilities.

For instance, according to what Michele says later on in the novel, people have kids so that the kids can control them (the parents) or so that the parents can control the kids. However, these parents spend all this attention controlling kids while not knowing how to behave or control themselves.

Television, according to Michele, is another daily distraction that disconnects people from their reality. This means that it also takes away from valuable opportunities to analyze how your day was so that you can lead better, more productive lives.

Finally, according to Michele, people use God and religion to deflect from the ultimate reality: that our lives could cease at any moment and "our pleasures will end." So, people prefer to use religion as a way to gift wrap the ugly reality of life and make it look different than what it is.

The important thing about this quote is not so much what it means, but the fact that Michele, who is quite introspective, has to take this much information into consideration just for the simple notion of accepting an invitation to dinner.

She takes her position as a concierge quite seriously. Moreover, she compartmentalizes the people in her life. Her friends are one thing, her customers are another. The idea of having dinner with one of the residents of this posh apartment complex is strange to her, and perhaps she does not feel that it is appropriate for her to switch roles from concierge (who serves and tends to everyone) to guest.

We must remember however that, in this situation, the dynamics of culture, age, and social status come into play. Mr. Ozu did not see an "old-lady concierge with no husband or kids" when he asked her to the dinner. He simply saw Michele, the person. All of this was new to her.

Basically, this huge amount of thought put into the decision of accepting the dinner invitation shows that Michele has reached an age in her life when she is beginning to look back and put together who she is as a person, what she can or cannot do, and her thoughts on many major aspects of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team