What are the themes in The Little Prince?Antoine Saint-Exupery's Le Petit Prince

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery isread as both a child's fantasy tale and as an allegory for adults that reaffirms the importance of friendship, altruism, love, and imagination.  The main theme of an individual's responsibility to another is illustrated in the narrative of the little prince from planet B 612, whom a pilot meets when he crashes in the desert.  The prince has fled the asteroid where he has lived because of the tyrannical love of his only companion, an animate rose.  Before coming to earth, the prince has traveled to six other planets where he has had various experiences.  His narrative of these experiences, while delighting children, also catalogs human weaknesses and failings, thus illustrating Saint-Exupery's themes of altruism and imagination.   For instance, in Chapter IV, the motif of the importance of the imagination is illustrated as the Turkish astronomer discovers asteroid B612, but his discovery is ignored because of his strange clothing.  Years later, when he presents his discovery again, wearing European clothing, it is accepted.  In another example, the three-petaled flower of Chapter XVI, who has spent its life in the desert, assumes that Earth is populated by very few people.  Even in the first chapter, Saint-Exupery depicts children as much more open-minded and creative in their thinking than adults.

To exemplify the theme of altruism, Saint-Exupery portrays the prince learning through his travels that he has a responsibility to the rose, and it is that, rather than any intrinic characteristic of the rose, such as beauty or goodness, that makes her special to him.  So, he returns by having a snake bite him.  For, it is only by spirit that he can make the journey back to his asteroid.

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priyanshjain | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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Major Themes

In The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry explains the importance of seeing the whole truth in order to find beauty. He believes that visible things are only shells that hint at the real worth hidden inside. He points out that man has not learned to look beneath the surface, or perhaps, has forgotten how to do so. Because adults never look inside, they will never know themselves or others.

All his life, Saint-Exupéry thought that grown-ups cared mostly about inconsequential matters, such as golf and neckties. When they talked about important matters, they always became dull and boring. They seemed afraid to open up their hearts to the real issues of life; instead, they chose to function on a surface level.

In the book, the fox teaches that one can see only what is important in life by looking with the heart. Because of this lesson, Saint-Exupéry leaves the desert as a different person. He has accepted the Little Prince's thought that “'the stars are beautiful because of a flower that cannot be seen.” In essence, the fox’s lesson is about how to love, a most important lesson for everybody to learn. The fox points out that it is the time that one “wastes” on someone or something that makes it important. The fox also tells the readers that love can overcome existentialism: “One only knows the things that one tames.... Men buy things already made in the stores. But as there are no stores where friends can be bought, men no 
longer have friends.” A human must earn a friendship, not buy it.

Finally, Saint-Exupéry explains how all joy and pleasure must be earned, not given or received. As an example, he shows the joy that the Little Prince and the pilot feel when they taste the water from the well. Its sweetness comes from their journey under the stars and the work of the pilot’s arms making the pulley sing. In the end, the Little Prince again experiences a new joy. Leaving his “shell” behind, he has gone to the most beautiful place he can imagine -- his star, which is his love; he has returned to his own little heaven.

Minor Themes

Saint-Exupéry scorns man’s obsession with the wrong things, such as wealth, power, and technology; he uses the King, the Businessman, and the Lamplighter to highlight this theme. The king puts a great deal of importance into being obeyed, even though he orders only what would happen anyway. The businessman takes great pride in owning all the stars, but he is too busy counting them to gain any pleasure from their beauty. The Little Prince tries to teach him the pointlessness of his “property.” The Little Prince also scorns the Lamplighter’s fascination with science and technology. He is so caught up in the importance of lighting his lamp, that he misses what is important in life.

The need to have faith is another minor theme in the book. The Little Prince arrives on the Earth during a spiritually troubled phase and stays until he has resolved his confusions. During his stay, he teaches the narrator the importance of having faith and belief. Many critics have called the Little Prince a Christ-figure, for he is described as being free of sin. He also believes in a life after death. At the end of the book, he returns to his star, his heaven. 

 

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