The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
The Little Prince begins with the famous pair of drawings with which the narrator, Saint-Exupéry himself, tests the understanding of adults. The first is of a boa constrictor that has swallowed an elephant. Most adults see only a hat shape; they cannot see beyond the exterior. For them, he draws another boa constrictor, this time in cross-section, so they can see the elephant inside.
After years of loneliness in the world of grown-ups, Saint-Exupéry crashes his plane in the desert. While he is trying to repair his plane, the Little Prince appears and asks Saint-Exupéry to draw a sheep for him. Saint-Exupéry first presents him with the drawing that opens the story, and the Little Prince protests that he does not want an elephant in a boa constrictor. The Little Prince rejects several of Saint-Exupéry’s attempts to draw a sheep before accepting a drawing of a box inside which he can imagine a sheep. This event marks the beginning of the friendship between the Little Prince and Saint-Exupéry.
Saint-Exupéry learns that his visitor comes from a tiny asteroid and that he is sad. The cause of the Little Prince’s melancholy turns out to be the beautiful Rose, who so tormented him with her moods that he left his planet.
The Little Prince tells the story of how he escaped from his planet with the help of a flock of migratory birds. He visited a number of planets, each inhabited by a solitary figure who represented some...
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Simplicity and immediacy are the characteristics that endear this short story to all readers. There is a great deal of dialogue, with many repetitions, especially on the part of the Prince, who as a true child never lets go of an idea once he has taken hold of it. His words reveal him to be a child, yet a child who has the wisdom of unaffected simplicity. The various scenes in which animals, flowers, and people interact with him are brief and to the point. Often satiric of abuses in society, the passages stand on their own, without any need of explanation. The narrator-pilot speaks as an adult, yet as a father figure and friend to the Prince who is so in need of human companionship that he has left his planet in search of people. The use of allegory is direct and unaffected, so that the reader is aware of talking flowers and foxes, but not annoyed. The dialogue between the Prince and the narrator has been interpreted as a mirage, a narcissistic monologue of the author with himself, according to Luc Estang. One can indeed recognize the author in search of his own identity, and in search of the meaning of life in his development of the Prince, whom he has created, however, as a character who lives in his own right.
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One must turn to the Bible and medieval sources to find the direct precedents of The Little Prince. As a parable, the story recalls Biblical style and imagery. The serpent is the symbol of death. The pilot, like the Israelites of old, is lost in the desert. The memory of the Prince will be for the fox like golden wheat fields. About to die, the pilot and Prince seek for water, and find a well, a true fountain of living water. Trees, such as those in the Garden of Paradise, are found throughout the book. The Prince will return home by the light of his star.
The medieval folklore tradition is also present in this short work. It is an allegory, not unlike The Romance of the Rose (1240-1280) or the romances of chivalry. Flowers, trees, and animals act and speak, as in fables. The fox of the famous Roman de Renard (12th century) has the same wit and ruse as his modern counterpart. He may also be inspired by the small desert foxes, known as "fenechs," which Saint-Exupery came to know in his travels. The ancient tale of Icarus also comes alive in the Prince and the aviator who seek to fly. Finally, both Biblical and medieval proverbs live in the words of the Prince, the flower, and the fox: "One sees only with the heart"; "You are forever responsible for what you have tamed"; "The essential is invisible."
Hans Christian Andersen was Saint-Exupery's favorite author when he was a child, and his influence is evident in The...
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Saint-Exupery's works have been popular on stage and screen since he first wrote them. His first major work Night Flight (1932) was made into a film by United Artists in Hollywood, and into an opera Volo di Notte in Florence in 1939, with original music by Luigi Dallapiccola. Southern Mail (1934; Courrier Sud, 1929) became a screenplay by Billom in 1937. The Little Prince has appeared in numerous film versions and adaptations. Most films of The Little Prince fail to transmit the unique style and tone of Saint-Exupery. One of the Hollywood productions (1974) starred Richard Kiley as the Aviator, Steven Warner, Bob Fosse, and Gene Wilder, with a score by Lerner and Lowe. A five-part, animated series for younger children (1986), directed by Jameson Brewer, is recommended by the National Educational Association. Audio recordings of The Little Prince have always been very popular, among the best, Gerard Philippe's interpretation.
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Breaux, Adéle. Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942-1943: A Memoir. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971. Covers the events of the time Saint-Exupéry spent in the United States during World War II. Includes discussion of his work on The Little Prince.
Capestany, Edward J. The Dialectic of “The Little Prince.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982. Searching study presents a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the book, focusing on Saint-Exupéry’s use of myth.
Cate, Curtis. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: His Life and Times. New York: Putnam, 1970. Comprehensive biography describes the author as a passionate pilot, inventor, mathematician, and diplomat. Provides a complete panorama of the times in which he lived and discusses the famous people he knew.
Harris, John R. L. Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupéry’s Pilot Hero: A Study in Mythopoeia. Scranton, Pa.: University of Scranton Press, 1999. Discusses the unique qualities of Saint-Exupéry’s writing and argues that scholars may overestimate the complexity of The Little Prince.
Higgins, James E.“The Little Prince”: A Reverie of Substance. New York: Twayne, 1996. Provides information on the book’s literary and historical contexts, including its critical reception. Offers an interpretation that emphasizes the “eye of...
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