Antoine de Saint_ Exupery (1900-1940).
To a child, the grown-up world can be perplexing. What is this “work” they always claim to have? Why do they refuse to run around in fields and find shapes in clouds? And why do they assume that children know nothing? Anyone who remembers her child self will probably remember being completely confused by this adult world that seemed so important, so grand, and yet, so painfully boring.
Although I spent the majority of my childhood reading Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, and later J.K. Rowling, a little novella from 1943 gave me the greatest gift of all: a literary character I could identify with above all the rest, even Matilda. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince taught me an important lesson back then: My lack of understanding about adulthood wasn’t because I was unintelligent or a silly kid. It was because grown-ups are confusing and weird and spend far too much time preoccupied with numbers and rules and mirrors.
Looking back, The Little Prince — its 80 pages of magic that have sold more than 140 million copies worldwide — was full of lessons that prepped us for adulthood. And, reading it now, the pages still ring true; it doesn’t just teach kids about being grown-ups, it teaches grown-ups about how to be better grown-ups.
Remember to look beyond the surface.
When the narrator draws a boa constrictor digesting an elephant, all the grown-ups around him see is a hat. Their interpretations are dull and lifeless; their imaginations long gone. Feeling defeated, the little prince abandons a “magnificent career as an artist” — all because adults refused to see or feel.
Once the little prince begins hinting at his plans to explore new planets, his flower — whom he has nurtured and cared for — claims not to need him and to be self-sufficient. And so, the little prince abandons her, even though he “ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions.”
On the first planet he visits, the little prince meets a king who encompasses the entire population of the planet, and claims to reign over everything. Though the little prince can’t fathom what it is he actually does, the king teaches the hero that judging yourself is far more difficult, and at times far more important, than judging others. It is only through judging ourselves that we can grow as individuals.
On the second planet, the little prince meets a vain man who spends his time admiring himself, and seeking the admiration of others. But living for the admiration of others is to never live for oneself. And living for only oneself is to never love or care for another.
Drinking to forget is a vicious and ultimately feeble endeavor.
The drunkard drinks to forget he is ashamed. The drunkard is ashamed because he drinks. To the little prince, it seems very strange for a man to spend his days in such a manner when he could be doing far more exciting things (like planting flowers). But to us grown-ups, its a reminder of a vicious cycle, and one that only ever ends in more sadness and despair.
The little prince meets a businessman who counts all the stars in the galaxy so that he can own them. “I manage them. I count them and then count them again. It’s difficult work. But I’m a serious person.” But being too serious has landed him a monotonous life, a lonely life, and a life in which he does not even appreciate the beauty of the stars he owns.
Don’t forget to enjoy your life — take a moment and take it all in.
It is the lamplighter of the 5th planet who gains the little prince’s respect, for he follows his orders dutifully to switch the lamplight on and off through the day. But because his planet revolves once a minute, he never gets a moment of rest. A month goes by in a minute. And a lifetime in a few days.
When the little prince meets a geographer who refuses to explore his own world because he is too busy researching far-off lands, we learn that it is far too easy to fall into the trap of investigating into the places we wish to explore, but never actually going anywhere.
Foxes are often depicted as tricksters or villains, but this fox simply needed companionship — friendship. And it is the fox who bestows upon the little prince three important life lessons.
- “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
- “It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important.”
- “You become responsible for what you’ve tamed.”
Even amidst a garden of beautiful roses, the little prince cannot escape thoughts of his own rose — he just can’t replace her. “One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered.”
Even though the narrator — a lonely and stranded pilot — has come to know and love the little prince; he knows that to keep him on Earth would be to hurt his friend. Before the little prince leaves, he tells the pilot, “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the night sky.” Sometimes you have to let people go, because to keep them would be to trap them. But letting them go can be the truest demonstration of love there is.