What is the main lesson of The Little Prince as an allegory?
One of the notable characteristics of The Little Prince is that it invites many different meanings and interpretations. One interpretation is that The Little Prince is an allegory about growing up and the importance of retaining a sense of child-like wonder about the world into adulthood. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggests that the curiosity and open-mindedness of children are often replaced by an obsession with mundane facts, practicalities, and superficial judgments in adulthood. He explores this idea through characterization, primarily the little prince himself, who symbolizes and embodies the curious spirit of childhood. The little prince asks questions about the world and is constantly learning and growing from his experiences, and he is prepared to learn something from each new encounter. For example, when the little prince sees thousands of roses that are identical to his own he realizes that his own rose is unique and valuable due to the effort and time he has invested in its growth.
The inquisitive nature of the little prince can be contrasted with the adult characters in the text, who come across as narrow-minded and pedantic. This contrast emphasizes the fact that children often lose their open-mindedness as they grow up. For example, the little prince meets a businessman who is obsessed with the stars due to their numerical value, saying "I count them and then count them again." The businessman continues his monotonous pursuit, living a life of boredom as he fails to appreciate the beauty of the stars he is counting. In addition to this character, other adults in the book, such as the vain man, the drunkard, and the geographer, represent the various impoverishments of adulthood. As the narrator states: "I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them." The author suggests that the qualities that the little prince embodies are valuable but are sadly often lost when one transitions into adulthood.
Following this, the author suggests that adults do not ask the right questions when meeting people and instead focus on mundane details. In one of many comparisons made between adults and children in this book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggests that adults are seemingly obsessed with numbers, while children are curious to discover what really drives people:
Grown-ups are very fond of numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask you the kind of questions that should be asked, such as: “What kind of voice does he have?” “What are his favorite games?” “Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they ask: “How old is he? How much money does his father earn?” They really do imagine this is the best way to discover what sort of person he is!
Here, the author suggests that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, a person stops being interested in mystery and beauty and instead becomes fixated on mundane practicalities.
Again, this idea is represented when the narrator tells us about a picture he drew when he was a child. Although he intended the drawing to be of a snake digesting an elephant, adults interpreted it in a literal sense, seeing a floppy hat. Here, we see how the adults have lost their sense of imagination and no longer look beneath the surface. Compounding this, the adults even tell the young narrator to give up the idea of being an artist in favor of more practical pursuits like mathematics and geography. This is an illustration of the main lesson in the book, which is that “children quite naturally see with the heart, the essential is clearly visible to them.”
Overall, the lesson of this allegory is to value childhood and the sense of curiosity and enthusiasm that children naturally have: "All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it.” Despite the fact that adults often forget they were once children and are jaded by the harsh realities of the world, the author maintains the importance of remembering one's childhood and one's roots, much as the little prince remembers his home in the story.