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The Little Prince

Term Definition
The Little Prince

The Little Prince is a novella written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943 and features the story of a pilot stranded in the desert with a young prince.

Setting and themes of The Little Prince

The Little Prince is a novella written but French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Not only was he an author, but a poet, aviator, and aristocrat. The Little Prince was published in 1943 and was Saint-Exupéry’s most famous work.

Powerful and poetic, the story begins when a stranded pilot finds himself in the desert accompanied by a young prince, fallen to the earth from an asteroid. The story is undeniably philosophical and offers a social criticism of the adult world. It is often called an adult fable and is styled as a children’s book. It makes several insightful observations about human nature and is thought of as an allegory for the author’s life. Saint-Exupéry’s search for peace within himself and childhood certainties raises questions of the nature of life and humanity.

The style of the book is measured and somber, borrowed from the pilot’s own tones as he recalls his experiences with the prince with remembrance and veneration. When it was being written, Saint-Exupéry was distressed over the state of the world and the book accurately reflects his loneliness, confusion, and despair. 

Core theme

A major theme of The Little Prince is the questioning of human nature. It raises several philosophical questions about human motivations and existence. In one story told by the little prince, for example, the prince meets a fox who tells him that it is important to see with our hearts rather than just our eyes, warning against acting coldly and greedily, without empathy or compassion. 

Relation to author's experiences in life

In the story, the narrator tells a story about when he was a young boy, he drew a picture of a snake who had an elephant in its belly. But as he showed the picture to adults, he was dismayed when everyone thought it was a hat. He would try to correct them, and was then told that he should be doing something more practical. 

Now himself an adult, he has become a pilot and suffers a plane crash one day in the Sahara desert. He is greeted by a boy he calls ‘the little prince’. The pilot shows the prince his childhood drawing of a snake and the prince interprets it correctly. After failing several times to draw a convincing sheep, he instead draws a box and tells the boy that a sheep is inside the box. To his surprise, the prince is delighted. The pilot spends the next eight days repairing his plane while the prince recounts the stories of his life. He notes that the prince will never answer his question directly, and when the prince expresses his plans to leave, the pilot is upset. The next day, the prince is gone, and the pilot ends the story asking anyone who has seen a small man who will not answer questions to contact him right away.

The Little Prince is the third most translated book in the world and, in France, has been voted the best book of the twentieth century. It has been translated into over two hundred and fifty dialects and languages and has sold over one hundred and forty million copies worldwide at a rate of two million per year. Needless to say, it is one of the best-selling books to ever be published.

During WWII, Saint-Exupéry was exiled to North America, where he wrote a huge portion of the works for which he is remembered today. In this time of waning health and personal turmoil, he wrote tales of love and loss, of friendship, loneliness, and a young prince. He is thought to have been inspired for the outer-space element of the play by his experiences in aviation in the Sahara Desert. The book has been adapted into countless art forms, including plays, film, television, radio plays, opera, and even ballet.

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