The Little Prince is a fantastic work of fiction, particularly in the genre of children’s literature. Through the illustrations and apt descriptions of the French aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the reader discovers that the most valuable things in life rarely take material form.
This statement is not just the novel’s thesis, it is a philosophical argument that commands serious investigation. The Little Prince’s labyrinth of meaning is often simplified to moral lessons. For example, we know that The Prince takes care of the environment.
That leaves the interpretation that The Little Prince has a pro-environment message. Whilst such readings are tempting and even correct, it is important to not simplify the power of The Little Prince.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Whilst The Little Prince is a book of wisdom, it does not act as a solution to the problems of life. That’s because having true wisdom means understanding that life’s problems have no easy remedy. The most remarkable philosophical voices embrace suffering, unhappiness and heartbreak as keys to our very soul. Philosophy must not present a cure to eternal strife.
If such philosophy did, then it is build on lies. Philosophical art has a duty to reveal truth among the deception. A long criticism of children’s literature is that it moralises, as opposed to revealing the complexity of situations. In Snowy Fiction’s positive review of Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmatians, an argument presented was that the moralising of Smith weakened the book.
Although the book is a classic, it does not reach the literary heights of The Little Prince. And that is because of one text having a nuanced approach to philosophy and morality that the other lacks.
Many parents and educators defend the practice of moralising because of a child’s mind’s inability to handle moral ambiguity. And that is an attractive argument. This is partially because it is true.
However, it is dishonest to present a simplistic world to children. People with simple worldviews often produce simple reasoning and action. Rather, over time, children should develop their own rich philosophy.
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
You accomplish this by embracing the truth, not obstructing it. Also, parents should not scare their children into a nihilistic spiral. Instead, children should develop skills in reflection and independent thinking. Often, academics promote ‘critical’ thinking. And that makes sense, as critical thinking can surely assist in today’s turbulent world.
However, before a child can approach critical thinking, they must be an apprentice to independent thought.
A child capable of thinking and reflection is wiser than any adult that falls to fashionable beliefs. As adults grow older, they may struggle to assert themselves in social and professional situations. That is for an understandable reason.
If you told your boss how you really feel about working overtime, you may get punished. Adults also understand the impact of their actions better, mainly because of a more sophisticated grasp on emotion. (Although not always).
Children often voice their frustrations and opinions with great liberty. Often, what they say is the truth. When a child blurts out ‘I’m hungry’, they are making an honest statement. What is remarkable about The Little Prince is the honesty of the primary character. He is fully aware of his emotions, desires and thoughts.
“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
More than that, he is true to them. He does not lie to himself, even if he is unaware of the significance of his world. Therefore, The Little Prince argues that adults should not suppress the truth inside of them, which presents itself through their childhood selves.
A richer life awaits, bursting with meaning, for those who do not detach themselves from their emotions, no matter how bizarre and scary they are.
Part of the genius of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s writing is that he does not tell the reader how to behave. Free from the chains of moralisation, The Little Prince instead encourages the reader, as opposed to giving a lecture.
The best philosophical texts do not tell us what to think. Nor do they tell us how to act. Real philosophy must have a sophisticated understanding of life and its nuances. In The Little Prince, the Little Prince dwells over a sweet rose. The novel later reflects that the time spent thinking about the flower means that is important.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Although there is no material manifestation of love and care, the reader understands that what matters is what our hearts can see. The eyes we have can only see what is physical. Because of that, The Little Prince is an argument for meaning.
We can find ‘meaning’ in what matters to us. That may be a person, an object, a building, an artwork or an activity. In French history, the Notre-Dame of Paris had ‘meaning.’ For many French people, the Notre-Dame embodied part of their soul and their national consciousness. When the tragic fire happened in 2019, swarms of people donated money, or sang hymns outside the cathedral. And it’s not just the French who felt sorrow that April day.
All across the world, people shared stories about the Notre-Dame, and / or their associations, some religious, with it.
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
However, not everyone understood the importance or significance of Notre-Dame burning. Many were quick to moralise the mourners as not caring about other world events, such as Flint, Michigan, not having clean water, or the fires in the Amazon. Not only is that a frustrating ‘what about…’ argument, but it is also clear that ‘meaning’ is difficult to comprehend.
To some, the Notre-Dame was just a place of worship. They could not see the magnificence, the history, the Catholicism or the literature. It was just a building. That’s why in The Little Prince, it may seem even strange for the Prince to care so much about a rose. But because the rose has meaning, it matters. And because of that, it justifies the Prince in caring for it, and spending time on the Rose.
“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.”
The Little Prince encourages us to form meaning in our own lives. It argues for a deep and nuanced philosophy, for adults and children alike. That is the ultimate philosophy of The Little Prince: that you don’t need physical sight for something to exist or matter. Not only does that encourage deep discussion about symbolism and how humans craft meaning, but it also suggests honesty and truth.
That is a powerful sentiment, and one we must remember.