Of all the books written in French over the past century, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” is surely the best loved in the most tongues. This is very strange, because the book’s meanings—its purpose and intent and moral—still seem far from transparent, even seventy-five-plus years after its first appearance. Indeed, the startling thing, looking again at the first reviews of the book, is that, far from being welcomed as a necessary and beautiful parable, it bewildered and puzzled its readers. Among the early reviewers, only P. L. Travers—who had, with a symmetry that makes the nonbeliever shiver, written an equivalent myth for England in her Mary Poppins books—really grasped the book’s dimensions, or its importance.
Over time, the suffrage of readers has altered that conclusion, of course: a classic is a classic. But it has altered the conclusion without really changing the point. This year marks an efflorescence of attention, including a full-scale exhibition of Saint-Exupéry’s original artwork at the Morgan Library & Museum, in New York. But we are no closer to penetrating the central riddle: What is “The Little Prince” about?
Everyone knows the basic bones of the story: an aviator, downed in the desert and facing long odds of survival, encounters a strange young person, neither man nor really boy, who, it emerges over time, has travelled from his solitary home on a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has made him so miserable that, in torment, he has taken advantage of a flock of birds to convey him to other planets. He is instructed by a wise if cautious fox, and by a sinister angel of death, the snake.
It took many years—and many readings—for this reader to begin to understand that the book is a war story. Not an allegory of war, rather, a fable of it, in which the central emotions of conflict—isolation, fear, and uncertainty—are alleviated only by intimate speech and love. But the “Petit Prince” is a war story in a very literal sense, too—everything about its making has to do not just with the onset of war but with the “strange defeat” of France, with the experience of Vichy and the Occupation. Saint-Exupéry’s sense of shame and confusion at the devasation led him to make a fable of abstract ideas set against specific loves. In this enterprise, he sang in unconscious harmony with the other great poets of the war’s loss, from J. D. Salinger—whose great post-war story, “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” shows us moral breakdown eased only by the speech of a lucid child—to his contemporary Albert Camus, who also took from the war the need to engage in a perpetual battle “between each man’s happiness and the illness of abstraction,” meaning the act of distancing real emotion from normal life.
* * *
We know the circumstances of the composition of “The Little Prince” in detail now, courtesy of Stacy Schiff’s fine biography, “Saint-Exupéry.” Escaped from Europe to an unhappy, monolingual exile in North America, engaged in petty but heated internecine warfare with the other exile and resisting groups (he had a poor opinion of DeGaulle, who, he wrongly thought, was setting the French against the French, rather than against the Germans), Saint-Exupéry wrote this most French of fables in Manhattan and Long Island. The book’s desert setting derives from the aviator Saint-Exupéry’s 1935 experience of having been lost for almost a week in the Arabian desert, with his memories of loneliness, hallucination, impending death (and enveloping beauty) in the desert realized on the page. The central love story of the Prince and Rose derives from his stormy love affair with his wife, Consuelo, from whom the rose takes her cough and her flightiness and her imperiousness and her sudden swoons. (While he had been lost in the desert in ’35, Schiff tells us, she had been publicly mourning his loss on her own ‘asteroid,’ her table at the Brasserie Lipp.) The desert and the rose—his life as an intrepid aviator and his life as a baffled lover—were his inspiration. But between those two experiences, skewering them, dividing them with a line, was the war.
In the deepest parts of his psyche, he had felt the loss of France not just as a loss of battle but also as a loss of meaning. The desert of the strange defeat was more bewildering than the desert of Libya had been; nothing any longer made sense. Saint-Ex’s own war was honorable: he flew with the GR II/33 reconnaissance squadron of the Armée de l’Air. And, after the bitter defeat, he fled Europe like so many other patriotic Frenchmen, travelling through Portugal and arriving in New York on the last day of 1940. But, as anyone who lived through it knew, what made the loss so traumatic was the sense that the entire underpinning of French civilization, not merely its armies, had come, so to speak, under the scrutiny of the gods and, with remarkable speed, collapsed.
Searching for the causes of that collapse, the most honest honorable minds—Marc Bloch and Camus among them—thought that the real fault lay in the French habit of abstraction. The French tradition that moved, and still moves, pragmatic questions about specific instances into a parallel paper universe in which the general theoretical question—the model—is what matters most had failed its makers. Certainly, one way of responding to the disaster was to search out some new set of abstractions, of overarching categories to replace those lost. But a more humane response was to engage in a ceaseless battle against all those abstractions that keep us from life as it is. No one put this better than the heroic Bloch himself:
The first task of my trade (i.e. of the historian, but more broadly the humanist properly so called) consists in avoiding big-sounding abstract terms. Those who teach history should be continually concerned with the task of seeking the solid and concrete behind the empty and abstract. In other words, it is on men rather than functions that they should concentrate all their attention.
This might seem like a very odd moral to take from the experience of something as devastating as the war. But it wasn’t merely intellectual, an amateur’s non-combatant epiphany. At a purely tactical, military level, the urge to abstraction had meant the urge to fetishize fixed, systematic solutions at the expense of tactical fluidity and resourcefulness. The Maginot line was an abstract idea that had been allowed to replace flexible strategy and common sense. (One recalls Picasso’s comment to Matisse, when the troubled French painter asked him, in 1940, “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”: “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!” Picasso responded, meaning men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.
From an experience that was so dehumanizing and overwhelming—an experience that turns an entire human being with a complicated life history and destiny first into a cipher and then into a casualty—Saint-Exupéry wanted to rescue the person, not the statistic. The statistics could be any of those the men on the planets are obsessed with, the ‘counting’ fetish that might take in stars if one is an astronomer or profits for businessmen. The richest way to see “Le Petit Prince” is as an extended parable of the kinds and follies of abstraction—and the special intensity and poignance of the story is that Saint-Exupéry dramatizes the struggle against abstraction not as a philosophical subject but as a life-and-death story. The book moves from asteroid to desert, from fable and comedy to enigmatic tragedy, in order to make one recurrent point: You can’t love roses. You can only love a rose.
For all of the Prince’s journey is a journey of exile, like Saint-Exupéry’s, away from generic experience towards the eroticism of the particular flower. To be responsible for his rose, the Prince learns, is to see it as it really is, in all its fragility and vanity—indeed, in all its utter commonness!—without loving it less for being so fragile. The persistent triumph of specific experience can be found in something as idiosyncratic and bizarre as the opening image of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, which, the narrator tells us, the grownups can only see as a generic object. (This is where Saint-Ex and the Surrealists who admired him—a tracing of his hand appears in one of the issues of the Surrealist journal Minotaur—touch. Rene Magritte’s paintings, with their very similar obsession with middle-class hats, suggest that every time you see a bourgeois derby there may be a boa constrictor inside. The X-ray of every hat reveals a boa constrictor in every head. That could be the motto of every Surrealist exhibition.)
The men the Prince meets on his journey to Earth are all men who have, in Bloch’s sense, been reduced to functions. The Businessman, the Astronomer, even the poor Lamplighter, have become their occupations, and gone blind to the stars. It is, again, the essential movement we find in Camus, only in “The Little Prince” it is shown to us as comic fable rather than realistic novel. The world conspires to make us blind to its own workings; our real work is to see the world again.
A version of this essay first appeared, in French, in the magazine France-Amerique; it was also the subject of a lecture at the Morgan Library & Museum.
An Analysis of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExuperyGet Your
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The Little Prince or Le Petit Prince was inspired by the author Antoine de Saint Exupery’s real life experience and just added fictionalized images to make it real and understandable. It became the marvelous book written for children. Sold over 140,000,000 copies worldwide into more than 250 languages and has been one of the best-selling books published ever. According to Paris-based Saint-Exupery Foundation, “The Little Prince” is the most translated book in history after The Bible.
It also known as “children’s fable for adult” as it conveys profound and idealistic views in human nature and its settings. Until now, The Little Prince is still the most advisable book not only for the children but also to the adults to read. Antoine de Saint Exupery was a French aviator and writer who became more popular with this novella, which was written in year 1943. After failing in a university preparatory school and was not able to pursue his real dream to become a naval officer. He entered into a different field which is architecture but still resulted in failures and he did not even graduated.
In 1921, he started his military service and was sent to Strasbourg for training as a pilot. In 1926 he became one of the pioneers of international postal flight. Until an accident happened in 1935 wherein a sudden machine failure strike and crashed it in the Libyah Sahara desert. In four days of experiencing dehydration, there was a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and saved their lives. The book begins with the narrator, which is the Pilot reminiscing the days when he was a six year old boy.
He was trying to draw a boa constrictor and shows it to the grown-ups, but they always advise that he should stop reaming to become an artist instead he should focus in geography, grammar, arithmetic and history. So he gave up his dream to become an artist and choose another profession which is to pilot airplanes. And whenever he met someone, he always showed his drawings of boa constrictor and asked them if they know it. But he always gets an answer of “That’s a hat”. Then he would never talk to that person about boa constrictor again. Until a plane crash accident happened in Sahara Desert and he met the little prince that asking him to draw a sheep.
After three attempts and failed to draw a sheep, he decided to draw a box instead and explained that the sheep were inside of it. That was the start of their friendship. The narrator soon found out that the little prince came from what he called his planet which is Asteroid B-612. Where there can be found a baobabs, a two active volcanoes and a flower. As each day passed, the narrator soon learned to know the flower. Its importance and the way it was treated by the prince. When the prince is about to travel onto the other planet, he found himself in the neighborhood of asteroids 325, 326, 327, 328, 329 and 330.
The first of them was inhabited by a king, who was said to rule everything but the real thing is it’s completely nothing. The second planet was inhabited by a conceited man, who always think that everyone were his admirer. The third planet was inhabited by a tippler, who is not consistent with what he’s saying. The fourth planet belonged to a businessman, who is busy in counting stars and also believes that he owns them. The fifth planet was the smallest planet wherein there was just a street lamp and a lamplighter.
The little prince has thought that the lamplighter could be his friend and also because of the 1440 sunsets it has every day, but the planet is too small for them. The sixth planet was ten times larger than the last one. It was inhabited by a geographer who wrote voluminous books. He was thought as an explorer and was asked several questions in his own planet. On the latter part, the geographer advised the planet Earth as the best to visit. When the little prince arrived in on the planet earth, he first met a snake claims that through his poison he can bring the little prince back to his planet.
Had talk to a three-petaled flower, climbed in to highest mountain hoping to see a human. Then he found a rose garden that made him depressed because he thought of his flower in his planet which acclaimed she’s one of a kind. He also met a fox and they became friends. The fox made him realize what makes his flower unique is because of the way he gave importance to it. The prince continued his journey where he met the railway switchman and a merchant. He discovered lot of new things about differences of grown-ups and the children.
Back to the present, the narrator experiencing dehydration and with the help of the little prince, he found a well. Later he found out that the little prince was deciding to go back to his planet for his flower through the help of the snake. The little prince made a very sentimental farewell but the narrator refuses to leave him alone in the desert. Soon, the little prince allowed the snake to bite him and falls without making a sign. The next morning, the narrator was not able to find the body of the little prince and concluded that he must be already at his planet.
The story ends with a portrait of the landscape where they have met. Making the readers engage if some day they will be in African desert, and will meet a little man with the same characteristics. That will surely be the little prince. The Little Prince is known as a children fable and an example of allegory. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines allegory as the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence. There are many symbolic fictional figures to consider in the story. First the stars, it symbolizes the feeling and emotions of humans.
It also symbolizes the mystery of the universe. Secondly, the planets and the remarkable persons can be found on it. They symbolize the group of people, where different type or attitudes of grown-ups are in. Thirdly, the rose symbolizes as the comfort zone. If you won’t get out of it, you won’t discover or know a lot of important things. Fourthly, the trains which can be found in Chapter 22, it symbolizes the things how people rushed things and wasn’t able to see the importance of its existence. Lastly, the water symbolizes a spiritual fulfillment or as a completion for what supposed to be done.
The point of view in the poem is a first person, which is the pilot. But mostly focuses in narrating the story up to the end. Still the question is, who is this book really written for? Yes, it has been said that this is good for both children and adults. But there are some ideologies might not be understandable for the children, just like the bizarre story of a little prince that fell in love with his flower. And for the adults wherein their negative perspective has been criticize. Is that what really the book for? A blogger named Erin (2008) of Goodreads said that “We are all children in adults bodies.
Yes we are, don’t think we aren’t for one moment. The fact that we WERE, indeed, children, is a huge part of each of us. It is possible to shed a few appreciative tears on every page of this book if you entertain the thought that the pilot IS The Little Prince. Maybe you won’t think that–maybe you’ll have your own take on the book—that’s the magic about it…Consider honoring the Little You that still remains, and resides within you, and read this ‘salute’ to childhood, to innocence, and to you. It just takes a ‘Little’ imagination and bravery. ”
This book is made to tickle the imagination of the children as well as to show sort of the reality about grown-ups. Every story has its own moral lesson. In this story, children can have their own realization on reading it. Adults can also have their own insights about themselves. It’s good for the children to read because of its illustration, based on an open source site Wikipedia, The Little Prince was illustrated through watercolors painted personally by Exupery. Another unknown reviewer noted that the author “Exupery chose the best illustrations… o maintain the ethereal tone he wanted his story to exude.
Choosing between ambiguity and literal text and illustrations, Saint-Exupery chose in every case to obfuscate. ” Also, good for the young adults because of its humorous attack in portraying values. The mood is first a mystery, wherein the little prince did not reveal where he comes from. It captures the imagination of the readers. Until pieces by pieces it became adventure when the little prince started to tell the story of his journey in seven planets including the Earth.
The tone of the story is much more with being regretful when the little prince left his flower alone in his planet. Curiosity in the part of the narrator; about his real identity and where did he came from. Happiness and sadness all throughout the days were the narrator and the little prince were together in the desert. But at the end, still being able to treasure the moments they have together makes each characters happy. Philosophical approach is used because it mostly focuses in dealing with the undesirable values of grown-ups.
Then a part of it is Biographical because some scenes are almost similar with the experience of the author. Example of this is the narrator’s boa constrictor drawing but grown-ups were always telling him that it’s a hat. For the author, this scene may be similar when he failed to enter in the preparatory university school and wasn’t able to pursue his dreams. Instead he ended up for being an aviator. There is also a part of Introspective approach as cited in by Wahlig (2010), it’s a reader-response approach, where the reader takes an active role in garnering meaning or value from a text.
The reader is responsible for taking an inventory of her own biases, values or assumptions prior to reading and pinpointing the ways that a text challenges or reinforces those traits. Introspective approaches also value the subjectivity of the reader’s experience and assume that an objective reading is either impossible or no more valuable than a subjective reading. It occurs when it simply engage the readers if through their own experiences in dealing with the attitude of grown-ups and will make a self realization if the book’s telling the truth towards their attitudes.
As the mostly recommended book for children, the writer executed a different type of writing or illustrating the story. Exupery stated on page 19, chapter 4 of the Little Prince: “Figures are a matter of indifference. I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say “Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep…” “to those who understand life, that would have given a much greater air of truth to my story.
The way he uniquely narrate the story is one factor why this became remarkable not only to the children but also to the French literature. This book is full of symbols and meanings, but what are the moral lessons? Valuing life as well as the little things on it is the highlight of this story. Everything we say or show to others will reflect to everyone’s who’s involved until the end. Just like what happened to the narrator of the story, he wanted to be an artist and also tried to show his drawings numbers one and two to the grown-ups of a boa constrictor.
But he always gets a wrong interpretation and insisting him not to pursue his dream of being an artist instead focus on grammar, arithmetic, geography and history. The negative side of it reflected when he became a pilot, and someone asked him to draw a sheep. He did not know how to draw anything aside from boa constrictor since he stopped to draw when he failed about his boa constrictor. Also in reality, the way how people look more in to the physical appearance than to the inner side.
Like on Chapter 4, where there was a Turkish astronomer in 1909 in a Turkish costume. Nobody believed on what he said about asteroid B-612 because of his look. And when he tried to present it again in European costume, everybody accepted his report. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to eye. ” Grown-ups are indeed so much like that, for them figures are more important than its meaning. The interpretation or understanding of the story will always depend on how it will touch one’s heart.
Adamson, Thomas Little Prince’ discovery offers new insight into classic book, The Times Tribune May 2012
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Author: Brandon Johnson
An Analysis of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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