Published in 1943 amidst the chaos of the Second World War, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is classified as a children’s book. Being both the most sold and most translated French piece ever written, however, the novella about a peculiar young boy is much more than that. Told from the point of view of a pilot stranded after his plane crashes in the Sahara desert, it is an emotional, deeply meaningful and philosophically-loaded journey.
More than half a century after being written, The Little Prince still has a few things to teach anyone willing to listen. A tale of love, sacrifice, loneliness, greed and the importance of staying true to oneself, it is a profound study of human nature, told in the simplest of jargon and skillfully presented through the unlikely platform of fairy tales.
The Little Prince himself is a confused character: traveling in space away from his home planet, he is driven by heartbreak from caring for someone who was too vain and spoiled to love him back – a beautiful rose which mysteriously came to grow on his planet.
The Prince’s journey takes him to many planets; he encounters various characters who through their actions symbolize vanity, redundancy, close-mindedness and others alike. As shown through the eyes of, essentially, a child, these and other vices seem all the more pointless and illogical. For example, on one of the destinations our hero encounters a drunkard. He tells the prince that he drinks so that he may forget his shame. “Of what?” asks the Prince. “The shame of drinking!” the drunkard retorts. Commenting on the weirdness of adults, our boy leaves the man alone.
Eventually he reaches Earth, where he meets the narrator and later on, a lonesome fox. The Prince always brings up his rose, obviously angry and frustrated, but also increasingly worried about her. The fox comes to tell him a simple truth: “You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” The value of this quote can be translated as such: this world is our rose. To neglect any part of it is to betray the ties we’ve established – it’s selfish as it is unthinkable.
Another essential thing the fox tells us is that “the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched; they are felt with the heart.” That is, materialistic things can never bear the same importance as kindness, selflessness, friendship and affection. If more people could live by these words, issues such as global poverty would doubtfully be as prevalent.
Visiting a train station, the Little Prince gets to witness in awe, the locomotives go by, speeding away in the distance. People are in a hurry to get somewhere, but what important things are they pursuing – he wonders? “’They are pursuing nothing at all,’ said the switchman. ‘They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only the children are flattening their noses against the windowpanes.’” Surely, these passengers have lost their ways. Consumed by greed, or perhaps laziness or conceit, they waste their lives away in an endless road leading to nowhere. Children are innocent, selfless; that’s why they are superior to the adults in this quote’s context.
Inspirational and pure, The Little Prince’s tale should be known to everyone in the world. Too often we are too blinded by materialist concepts to see the beauty of other human beings. Truth is, each and every one of us was once an innocent, hopeful, positive and loving child – channel that child more often and influence others to do the same.
– Natalia Isaeva
Sources: Good Reads, The Little Prince