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The Little Prince

16:29, Monday, 21 June, 2021
The Little Prince

The Little Prince (French: Le Petit Prince, pronounced [lə p(ə)ti pʁɛ̃s]) is a novella by French aristocrat, writer, and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was first published in English and French in the US by Reynal & Hitchcock in April 1943, and posthumously in France following the liberation of France as Saint-Exupéry's works had been banned by the Vichy Regime. The story follows a young prince who visits various planets in space, including Earth, and addresses themes of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. Despite its style as a children's book, The Little Prince makes observations about life, adults and human nature.

The Little Prince became Saint-Exupéry's most successful work, selling an estimated 140 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published. It has been translated into 301 languages and dialects. The Little Prince has been adapted to numerous art forms and media, including audio recordings, radio plays, live stage, film, television, ballet, and opera.

Plot

The narrator begins with a discussion on the nature of grown-ups and their inability to perceive "important things". As a test to determine if a grown-up is as enlightened as a child, he shows them a picture depicting a snake which has eaten an elephant. The grown-ups always reply the picture depicts a hat, and so he knows to only talk of "reasonable" things to them, rather than fanciful.

The narrator becomes an aircraft pilot, and, one day, his plane crashes in the Sahara, far from civilisation, where he is unexpectedly greeted by a young boy nicknamed "the little prince". The prince has golden hair, a loveable laugh, and will repeat questions until they are answered. The narrator has an eight day supply of water and must fix his aeroplane.

The prince asks the narrator to draw a sheep. The narrator first shows him the picture of the elephant inside the snake, which, to the narrator's surprise, the prince interprets correctly. After three failed attempts at drawing a sheep, the frustrated narrator draws a simple crate, claiming the sheep is inside. The prince exclaims that this was exactly the drawing he wanted.

Over the course of eight days in the desert, while the narrator attempts to repair his plane, the prince recounts his life story. He begins describing his tiny home planet: in effect, a house-sized asteroid known as "B 612" on Earth. The asteroid's most prominent features are three minuscule volcanoes (two active, and one dormant or extinct) and a variety of plants.

The prince describes his earlier days cleaning the volcanoes and weeding unwanted seeds and sprigs that infest his planet's soil; in particular, pulling out baobab trees that are constantly on the verge of overrunning the surface. If the baobabs are not rooted out the moment they are recognised, its roots can have a catastrophic effect on the tiny planet. Therefore, the prince wants a sheep to eat the undesirable plants, but worries it will also eat plants with thorns.

The prince tells of his love for a vain and silly rose that began growing on the asteroid's surface some time ago. The rose is given to pretension, exaggerating ailments to gain attention and have the prince care for her. The prince says he nourished the rose and tended to her, making a screen or glass globe to protect her from the cold wind, watering her, and keeping off the caterpillars.

Although the prince fell in love with the rose, he also began to feel that she was taking advantage of him and he resolved to leave the planet to explore the rest of the universe. Upon their goodbyes, the rose is serious and apologises that she failed to show she loved him and that they had both been silly. She wishes him well and turns down his desire to leave her in the glass globe, saying she will protect herself. The prince laments that he did not understand how to love his rose while he was with her and should have listened to her kind actions, rather than her vain words.

The prince has since visited six other planets, each of which was inhabited by a single, irrational, narrow-minded adult, each meant to critique an element of society. They include:

A king with no subjects, who only issues orders that can be followed, such as commanding the sun to set at sunset.
     A narcissistic man who only wants the praise which comes from admiration and being the most-admirable person on his otherwise uninhabited planet.
     A drunkard who drinks to forget the shame of drinking.
     A businessman who is blind to the beauty of the stars and instead endlessly counts and catalogues them in order to "own" them all (critiquing materialism)
     A lamplighter on a planet so small, a full day lasts a minute. He wastes his life blindly following orders to extinguish and relight the lamp-post every 30 seconds to correspond with his planet's day and night.
     An elderly geographer who has never been anywhere, or seen any of the things he records, providing a caricature of specialisation in the contemporary world.
     It is the geographer who tells the prince that his rose is an ephemeral being, which is not recorded, and recommends that the prince next visit the planet Earth. The visit to Earth begins with a deeply pessimistic appraisal of humanity. The six absurd people the prince encountered earlier comprise, according to the narrator, just about the entire adult world. On earth there were:

111 kings ... 7000 geographers, 900,000 businessmen, 7,500,000 tipplers, 311,000,000 conceited men; that is to say, about 2,000,000,000 grown-ups.
     Since the prince landed in a desert, he believed that Earth was uninhabited. He then met a yellow snake that claimed to have the power to return him to his home, if he ever wished to return. The prince next met a desert flower, who told him that she had only seen a handful of men in this part of the world and that they had no roots, letting the wind blow them around and living hard lives. After climbing the highest mountain he had ever seen, the prince hoped to see the whole of Earth, thus finding the people; however, he saw only the enormous, desolate landscape. When the prince called out, his echo answered him, which he interpreted as the voice of a boring person who only repeats what another says.

The prince encountered a whole row of rosebushes, becoming downcast at having once thought that his own rose was unique and that she had lied. He began to feel that he was not a great prince at all, as his planet contained only three tiny volcanoes and a flower that he now thought of as common. He lay down on the grass and wept, until a fox came along.

The fox desired to be tamed and taught the prince how to tame him. By being tamed, something goes from being ordinary and just like all the others, to being special and unique. There are drawbacks since the connection can lead to sadness and longing when apart.

From the fox, the prince learns that his rose was indeed unique and special because she was the object of the prince's love and time; he had "tamed" her, and now she was more precious than all of the roses he had seen in the garden. Upon their sad departing, the fox imparts a secret: important things can only be seen with the heart, not the eyes.

The prince finally met two people from Earth:

A railway switchman who told him how passengers constantly rushed from one place to another aboard trains, never satisfied with where they were and not knowing what they were after; only the children among them ever bothered to look out the windows.
     A merchant who talked to the prince about his product, a pill that eliminated the need to drink for a week, saving people 53 minutes.
     Back in the present moment, it is the eighth day after the narrator's plane crash and the narrator and the prince are dying of thirst. The prince has become visibly morose and saddened over his recollections and longs to return home and see his flower.

The prince finds a well, saving them. The narrator later finds the prince talking to the snake, discussing his return home and his desire to see his rose again, who, he worries, has been left to fend for herself. The prince bids an emotional farewell to the narrator and states that if it looks as though he has died, it is only because his body was too heavy to take with him to his planet. The prince warns the narrator not to watch him leave, as it will upset him. The narrator, realising what will happen, refuses to leave the prince's side. The prince consoles the narrator by saying that he only need look at the stars to think of the prince's loveable laughter, and that it will seem as if all the stars are laughing. The prince then walks away from the narrator and allows the snake to bite him, soundlessly falling down.

The next morning, the narrator is unable to find the prince's body. He finally manages to repair his aeroplane and leave the desert. It is left up to the reader to determine if the prince returned home, or died. The story ends with a drawing of the landscape where the prince and the narrator met and where the snake took the prince's corporeal life. The narrator requests to be immediately contacted by anyone in that area encountering a small person with golden curls who refuses to answer any questions...

Tone and writing style
     The story of The Little Prince is recalled in a sombre, measured tone by the pilot-narrator, in memory of his small friend, "a memorial to the prince—not just to the prince, but also to the time the prince and the narrator had together." The Little Prince was created when Saint-Exupéry was "an ex-patriate and distraught about what was going on in his country and in the world." According to one analysis, "the story of the Little Prince features a lot of fantastical, unrealistic elements.... You can't ride a flock of birds to another planet... The fantasy of the Little Prince works because the logic of the story is based on the imagination of children, rather than the strict realism of adults."

An exquisite literary perfectionist, akin to the 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Saint-Exupéry produced draft pages "covered with fine lines of handwriting, much of it painstakingly crossed out, with one word left standing where there were a hundred words, one sentence substitut[ing] for a page..." He worked "long hours with great concentration." According to the author himself, it was extremely difficult to start his creative writing processes. Biographer Paul Webster wrote of the aviator-author's style: "Behind Saint-Exupéry's quest for perfection was a laborious process of editing and rewriting which reduced original drafts by as much as two-thirds." The French author frequently wrote at night, usually starting at about 11 p.m. accompanied by a tray of strong black coffee. In 1942 Saint-Exupéry related to his American English teacher, Adèle Breaux, that at such a time of night he felt "free" and able to concentrate, "writing for hours without feeling tired or sleepy", until he instantaneously dozed off. He would wake up later, in daylight, still at his desk, with his head on his arms. Saint-Exupéry stated it was the only way he could work, as once he started a writing project it became an obsession.

Though the story is more or less understandable, the narrator made almost no connection from when the little prince travelled between planets. He purposely did that so that the book felt like it was told from a secretive little boy.

Although Saint-Exupéry was a master of the French language, he was never able to achieve anything more than haltingly poor English. Adèle Breaux, his young Northport English tutor to whom he later dedicated a writing ("For Miss Adèle Breaux, who so gently guided me in the mysteries of the English language") related her experiences with her famous student as Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942–1943: A Memoir, published in 1971.

"Saint-Exupéry's prodigious writings and studies of literature sometimes gripped him, and on occasion he continued his readings of literary works until moments before take-off on solitary military reconnaissance flights, as he was adept at both reading and writing while flying. Taking off with an open book balanced on his leg, his ground crew would fear his mission would quickly end after contacting something 'very hard'. On one flight, to the chagrin of colleagues awaiting his arrival, he circled the Tunis airport for an hour so that he could finish reading a novel. Saint-Exupéry frequently flew with a lined carnet (notebook) during his long, solo flights, and some of his philosophical writings were created during such periods when he could reflect on the world below him, becoming 'enmeshed in a search for ideals which he translated into fable and parable'."

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