The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

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What is Manuela's importance in The Elegance of the Hedgehog?

Quick answer:

Manuela is the maid and confidant to Renee. She's been at her side since the death of Renee's husband, as she was his assistant. She also serves as a connecting link between Renee and the outside world, and allows her to break her shell and be more social without feeling ashamed of herself.

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The importance of Manuela in Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehogis that she serves as the connection between the reader and the main character of Renee (Mdme Michel).  It is clear that Renee holds a secret that intrigues just about everyone from Ozu, to Paloma, to us as the reading audience. Manuela is the only person who knows that secret. She has been the one person who has faithfully remained by Renee's side since prior to the death of Renee's husband. After all, she is the typical matron maid of a lot of families in the building.

The secret, as we know, is that Renee's sister is violated by an employer of the upper class, and dies after giving birth. This situation not only shamed the family, but increase and solidified Renee's prejudices against the upper classes. The class system in France at this time is extremely snobbish and separatist. Renee belongs to the lower part of the system. She feels as if she cannot win for even trying. Manuela's support is the factor that eases Renee's inner fears.

Therefore, Manuela is the link of Renee to her past, her present, and her future.

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