What is the predominate philosophical thought in this book ,The Elegance of the Hedgehog?   Ellen Urie

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This novel touches upon several themes, in my opinion; philosopy in and of itself being one of them. The story is told through the viewpoints of Renee, a French concierge, and Paloma, a young adolescent. Both of these characters expound on their philosophies of life throughout the novel, so the subject of philosophy and its inability to bring happiness to human beings is one central idea.

Another predominate philosophical thought is the hypocrisy of the class system, notably in France, since this novel was written by a French writer. Renee is a concierge. In France, this is equivalent to an on-site building manager. It is a very blue-collar position, yet Renee is a secret intellectual. She reads philosophy and classical literature. She goes to the museum. She prepares gourmet meals. She appreciates classical music and art. All the while, she pretends to be a low-class, TV-watching, dolt. The rich people that live in her apartment building have no idea that she is so cultured and her life is a challenge to keep it that way. The irony is that she is much more cultured than the rich people that live in her building, hence the author points out the hypocrisy involved in class structure. The fact that the rich people don't even suspect that she is not what she seems enhances this theme. In fact, when Paloma's mother finds out that someone has been hit by a truck, at first she panics, but when she finds out it is the concierge, she merely replies, "Oh" and then sighs with relief, since it is not someone important, in her view.

Paloma, on the other hand, is the daughter of one of the families that live in the building. She is rich. She is a young adolescent whose life has become so annoying, boring and absurd, that she plans to kill herself when she reaches age 13. Renee and Paloma "discover" each other's secrets. Paloma is hiding the fact that she is a genius. Everyone knows she is smart, but no one has any idea of HOW smart she is. The only place where she can be herself is in Renee's "loge" (apartment) - which is a far cry from the luxury in which Paloma herself lives, in one of the apartments above. This emphasizes the absurdity of class structure.

In my opinion, there is an underlying existential quality to this novel which you also could explore. Although both Renee and Paloma seem to exist in a meaningless society, the strength of love and human kindness trancends this, resulting in Renee and Paloma finding each other and befriending each other. At one point, Renee even says that if she had ever had a daughter, it would have been Paloma.

Lots of choices! What do YOU think?

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