Seeing with the Heart in The Little Prince
The Little Prince (1943), number 92 on the BBC book list, is a short, sweet allegorical novel about the important “things” in life. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry explores these ideas through the unexpected friendship of his protagonist (seemingly an autobiographical depiction) who has crash-landed in the Sahara desert, and the little prince, a child visitor from another planet. The prince and the stranded pilot exchange ideas and thoughts on their planets, and the result is a rich treasury of life’s most important truths and how to attain happiness.
My favorite themes of the book are the ideas that grownups just don’t understand and that they forget so quickly the innocence of youth. This idea is immediately introduced through the crashed pilot’s discouragement from being an artist at the age of six. How many of us were discouraged from our dreams at such a young age because of cynical grownups, busy lives, or parental expectations that were unreal? Could we have turned out differently (or more happily) if that dream hadn’t been crushed? Could we avoid midlife crises by not teaching children what they can’t do?
And yet The Little Prince reveals that children sometimes know better. They just keep quiet. De Saint-Exupéry wrote, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again” (p. 2). He explained that many adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a child. I remember acutely what it’s like to be a child, but since becoming a parent, sometimes I’m too exhausted to care or too overwhelmed to be in touch with that side of myself. I could do better.
I also liked the section that reveals how silly adults sometimes are when it comes to numbers. He explained that grownups like numbers and never ask the important questions. When they meet someone new, they want to know how old they are, how big their house is, or how much money they make. The essential questions are more along the lines of what this person likes to do and what makes this person “leap out of bed in the morning” (to quote Meryl Streep as Julia Child and my own blog post).
I appreciated the ideas about kings and authority. Kings believe that all men are subjects. That is true, but I found it applicable to relationships. Those most trying are with people who tend to view themselves as kings. And yet, we learn a few pages later that authority is based on reason. One cannot rule well or justly without being reasonable.
The idea of planets at first struck me as ridiculous, but then I remembered to think as a child would and to enjoy the story. And then I realized that the planets had a deeper meaning, of course, because this is an allegory. We are all on our own planets. We can all be lonely or separated or shortsighted because of this. When telling about the lamplighter, the little prince said, “That man is the only one I might have made my friend, But his planet is really too small. There’s not room for two…” (p. 43). How many times have we shut out possible friends because our planets are too small? I guess we all go through phases, and sometimes one must protect one’s planet, but planets should be big enough to share.
The phrase, “Trying to be witty leads to lying, more or less” hit home for me (p. 48). I tend to exaggerate when I tell stories in groups, and my husband calls me on this. If something interesting happened once, in telling the story I will claim that it happened “at least five times.” If a number (there are those pesky numbers again) can be exaggerated, then I will elaborate and embellish. It’s fun to tell stories and to be dramatic. I guess, according to The Little Prince, I’m just lying!
Overall, the little book reminds us that “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes” (p. 63). This is one of those truths we all know, but we forget. We have all had experiences that remind us of the importance of people over things, but we lose sight of that and get caught back up into our busy and commercialized lives. Perhaps reading and rereading good books, such as The Little Prince (and for me, my scriptures), can help to remind us of what’s most pressing, most valuable, and most worth our time and attention.
Here are some of the other great quotes and thoughts from The Little Prince.
“Vain men never hear anything but praise” (p. 34).
“It’s also lonely with people” (p. 51).
“But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends” (p. 60).
“But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. . . . Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose” (p. 63).
“But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart” (p. 71).