The Little Prince has captured the hearts of readers around the world since he first appeared in 1943. Written by pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry while in America, the tale was inspired by his experiences in the French Air Force. The prince addresses a multitude of themes throughout the short story, from loneliness and friendship, to love and loss. Despite its style as a children’s book, The Little Prince makes observations about life, adults, and human nature. Here are some of the moral and life lessons we can learn from this enchanting tale.
A Short Summary
The story follows the narrator, an aircraft pilot who one day crashes in the Sahara desert, with only an eight-day supply of food and water. As he attempts to fix his plane, he is greeted unexpectedly by a curious young boy nicknamed “the little prince.” The prince is characterized by his golden hair, loveable laugh, and his tendency to repeat questions until they are answered. The young prince tells the narrator that he is from a small asteroid named “B 612”.
He also tells of his love for a vain and silly rose that began growing on the asteroid’s surface some time ago. Although the prince fell in love with the rose, he also began to feel that she was taking advantage of him, and he resolved to leave the planet to explore the rest of the universe. Upon their goodbyes, the rose apologizes for failing to show that she loved him.
She wishes him well and turns down his desire to leave her in the glass globe, saying she will protect herself. The prince laments that he did not understand how to love his rose while he was with her and should have listened to her kind actions, rather than her vain words.
The prince has since visited six other planets, each of which was inhabited by a single, irrational, narrow-minded adult, each meant to critique an element of society. These include:
- A king with no subjects, who only issues orders that will be followed, such as commanding the sun to set at sunset.
- A conceited man who only wants the praise which comes from admiration and being the most-admirable person on his otherwise uninhabited planet.
- A drunkard who drinks to forget the shame of drinking.
- A businessman who is blind to the beauty of the stars and instead endlessly counts and catalogs them in order to “own” them all
- A lamplighter on a planet so small, a full day lasts a minute. He wastes his life blindly following orders to extinguish and relight the lamp-post every 30 seconds to correspond with his planet’s day and night.
- An elderly geographer who has never been anywhere, or seen any of the things he records, providing a caricature of specialization in the contemporary world.
Each character is alone and devoted to their “life’s calling,” which amuses the prince. While looking for companionship in others, he realizes how consumed these adults are with themselves. They want to be admired, want to own every crop or store, or want to order others around. However, unlike the little prince, their life calling has nothing to do with passion. After learning from the geographer that flowers don’t live long, the little prince starts to miss the rose he left behind. In the end, we are left to believe that the little prince returns to his planet in search of the rose or love he had all along.
Life Lessons We Can Take From The Book
1. Don’t be too fond of numbers
In the book, figures are all the grown-ups care about. They don’t believe what you say until you’ve established a credible foundation drawn from a credible source with technical results that are all about figures, figures, figures. Grown-ups make themselves seem smart by talking about technical things and take pride in their “logic”.
‘Big people like the numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never question you about the basics. They never tell you, “What is the sound of his voice?” What games does he prefer? Does he collect butterflies? They ask, “How old is he?” How many brothers? How much does he weigh ? How much does his father earn? Then they only think they know him.’Chapter IV
2. A problem starts with a tiny sprout that wasn’t handled immediately
How many of us always dismiss problems that are seemingly harmless to us but later regret them as that tiny sprout of a setback transforms into a giant of trouble? The Little Prince understood this, and every day, without fail, he diligently destroys the apparently benign baobab shoots so that they don’t grow to dominate his small planet and eventually become impossible for him to get rid of.
“It’s a matter of discipline,” the little prince later told me. When you have finished your morning toilet, you have to do the toilet of the planet carefully. It is necessary to regularly bite the baobabs as soon as they are distinguished from the roses to which they resemble very much when they are very young. It’s a very boring job, but very easy. “Chapter V
3. See with your heart what is of utmost importantance
We often are torn between the heart and acquisitiveness when making decisions. Even if your heart made a decision that later proves to fail, you will not regret it as you knew in your heart that it was the right decision even though the outcome may not seem so. In the book, adults have a distorted sense of what is most important. They deem money and fame at the top of the pyramid. These are the tangible things that don’t stay with them as time passes.
For the little prince, the desert is beautiful, because somewhere it hides a well that is invisible to the eye. The appearance is just a shell, empty and hollow and of no importance. This is the lesson the Fox teaches the prince: “What is essential is the invisible to the eye”.
But it alone is more important than you all, since it is she that I watered. Since it was she whom I placed under the globe, since it was she whom I sheltered by the screen. Since it is she whose caterpillars I have killed (except the two or three for butterflies). Since it is she whom I have listened to, complaining, or boasting, or even sometimes silent. Since it is my rose. “
And he returned to the fox: “Adieu,” he said.
“Good-bye,” said the fox. Here is my secret. It is very simple: one sees only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.Chapter XXI
4. Your loved ones can never, ever be replaced
When the little prince found a garden of roses just like his, he was in disdain because he thought that his rose was the only rose in the entire universe. But he later recovers and realizes that it didn’t matter that his rose was not one of a kind because it was the only rose he cared about and would die for.
“The men of your house,” said the little prince, “cultivate five thousand roses in the same garden, and they do not find what they seek.”
“They do not find it,” I replied.
“And yet what they are looking for could be found in a single rose or a little water…”Chapter XXV
“And he felt very unhappy. Her flower had told him that she was the only one of her kind in the universe. And there were five thousand, all alike, in one garden!”Chapter XX
The prince learns that just because there are other roses in the world, no rose is like the one he loves. It is the same with our loved ones. Nothing can replace the seat in your heart reserved for that person.
5. Be an explorer
Many would assume risk to be dangerous, but few know the truth: the comfort zone is more dangerous. It manipulates you into thinking you’re okay sitting on the sofa and watching TV, and that you don’t need the thrill of life when you can be comfortably cooped up in the “safe zone”.
“That’s right,” said the geographer, “but I am not an explorer. I absolutely lack explorers. It is not the geographer who will count cities, rivers, mountains, seas, oceans and deserts. The geographer is too important to stroll. He does not leave his office. But he receives the explorers there. He interrogates them, and takes note of their memories. And if the memories of one of them seem interesting to him, the geographer makes investigate the morality of the explorer.Chapter XV
Challenge your limits. Try everything! Do the things that scare you. Be an explorer. Not a geographer.
6. Be open-minded like a child
The best lesson The Little Prince could teach a reader is that being an adult comes with a lot of difficulties. And with that comes the loss of your innocence. What the prince teaches us is to retain a little bit of our childishness.
“The grown-ups advised me to leave aside the drawings of boa constrictors from the outside or the inside, and to interest myself instead in geography, history, calculation, and grammar. Thus, at the age of six, I abandoned a magnificent career as a painter. I had been discouraged by the failure of my first drawing and my second drawing. Grown-ups never understand anything on their own, and it is tiring for children to always have to give them explanations.”Chapter I
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella has retained its important life lessons for 80 years now, and will for hundreds more. If you’ve never had the chance to read the book, watch the movie, or listen to one of the hundreds of audio versions, please do. I promise you it’s more than a children’s book.
For more on The Little Prince, click here!