The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

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How does the ending of "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" reflect on Palome's and Renee's views on beauty and reactions to Renee's death?

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Throughout the novel, Renee and Paloma discuss and grapple with the meaning of life, death, beauty, friendship and many other weighty topics. Renee and Paloma had just discovered each other and, under the guidance of Mr. Ozu, were becoming "kindred souls." The novel ends with Renee running out into the street, trying to help the neighborhood vagrant. As she does so, she is struck by a dry cleaner's van and killed. She then utters some thoughts as she is dying, one of which is that the beauty in her life she realizes has come from simple things: her cat, her friends, Paloma, Ozu, her dead husband, etc., NOT philosophy, art, music, etc. These are the real "camillias" in her life, not her books. People have provided what is truly beautiful. Even though she has enjoyed books, art, music, philosophy, etc., they have not brought her happiness.

With Renee's death, Paloma decides to live. She decides not to burn down the apartment building and kill herself. Renee and Ozu have shown her that she should continue living (in fact, Renee states this as her dying wish, that Paloma would continue on) to search for the beauty in life. Paloma's reaction to Renee's death is hurt, but this is the first time in her life that she is able to experience hurt, so it is a good thing. Ozu's reaction to Renee's death is also sad, but he is respectful and takes Paloma down to Renee's "loge" for a final contemplative moment of silence. Paloma says she now realizes what hurt looks like "on a wise face."

Paloma has grown up at the end of the novel.

Notice, too, that the rich people in the apartment building have a very different reaction. Madame Josse, Paloma's mother, sighs with relief when she realizes that it is ONLY the concierge that has been killed, not one of her elite friends. The author is criticizing the French class structure throughout the novel, so this is significant. Remember that when Renee goes out to dinner with Ozu, they pass two tenants and the tenants do not even recognize Renee because she is dressed up, looks lovely, and is with Mr. Ozu. They can't even concieve of something like this in their haughty opinions of themselves.

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