Le petit prince (The Little Prince)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The following entry presents criticism of Saint-Exupéry's Le petit prince (1943; The Little Prince).
Although renowned in his native country for his reflective, humanistic stories of the early days of aviation, Saint-Exupéry is best known in English-speaking countries for The Little Prince. Considered both a fantasy for children and a philosophically sophisticated allegory for adults, this story has attained the stature of a classic fairy tale, praised for its poignant story, poetic language, and whimsical illustrations.
Saint-Exupéry was born into an aristocratic family in Lyons, France. From 1917 to 1919 he attended the Ecole Bossuet and the Lycee Saint-Louis, both naval preparatory schools, and later studied at a school for air cadets at Avord. He served in the French Army Air Force from 1921 to 1926 and became instrumental in the dangerous task of establishing mail routes across the African deserts and over the Andes mountains in South America, recounting his experiences during these treacherous flights in such works as Courriersud (Southern Mail), Vol de nuit (Night Flight), and Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand, and Stars). By 1934 he was serving as a publicity agent for Air France, and beginning in 1935 he served as a foreign correspondent for various newspapers. While flying for the French Air Force during World War II, Saint-Exupéry was shot down over enemy territory and escaped to the United States, where he became a lecturer and freelance writer as well as an important force in the French Resistance. It was also during this period that he wrote The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry returned to active duty and flying in 1943; he was reported missing in action and presumed dead in July of the following year.
Plot and Major Characters
Written amidst the horror and confusion of the war, The Little Prince is widely viewed as a reaffirmation of Saint-Exupéry's belief in the importance of friendship, altruism, love, and imagination. The story is narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert and is attempting to repair his plane before his supplies run out. A child abruptly appears, and, as the two spend time together, the pilot learns the story of the boy, a prince who has come from an asteroid called B 612. Having left his asteroid to escape the tyrannical demands of his only companion there, an animate rose, the prince has visited six planets before coming to Earth, and the narrative of his experiences on those planets forms a catalog of human weaknesses and failings. During his travels, the prince discovers the true nature of his relationship with his rose: that it is his responsibility to the rose, rather than any intrinsic property of beauty or goodness, that makes her special to him. In order to return to his asteroid to be reunited with her, he allows himself to be bitten by a serpent, which will kill his body but free his spirit.
Commentators have noted that The Little Prince contains sophisticated philosophical concepts that differentiate the work from most children's literature. In emphasizing the responsibility of the individual for the well-being of others, for example, Saint-Exupéry created a compelling argument for many of the altruistic activities in which he was involved, while the prince's experiences on other planets are widely viewed as an indictment of the types of behavior that cause society to require such remedies. Critics often focus on Saint-Exupéry's motive for writing the story, analyzing its autobiographical elements and its expression of the author's fears for the fate of Europe under fascism. Although some see such elements as detrimental to its role as children's fiction, The Little Prince is generally acknowledged as a successful allegory which can be enjoyed by children and adults. Maxwell A. Smith has written: "Because of its poetic charm,… its freshness of imagery, its whimsical fantasy, delicate irony and warm tenderness, it seems likely that The Little Prince will join that select company of books like La Fontaine's Fables, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Maeterlinck's Blue Bird, which have endeared themselves to children and grown-ups alike throughout the world."