Here is our analysis of The Little Prince, the story for children which makes everybody cry and has sold at 175 million copies around the world.
The Little Prince – Story analysis – Chapter I – The narrator’s childhood
“Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal.”
Reading pact: writing at the first person, I, the author thus asserts himself from the first line as the narrator of his book, but as in the dedication, it is firstly as a child that he stages himself. This narrative strategy here again creates a privileged, equal-to-equal relationship between the author and his reader.
Genre: the artwork, which is going to prove being mostly a tale for children, yet starts as an autobiographical story written by a grown-up.
Structure: this initial sentence makes the exposition of the Act I of this plot.
The author-narrator (from now on we will simply call him “the narrator”) then tells how he took inspiration from this boa to draw his own version, a boa which swallows an elephant. The narrator showed his drawing to the adults, who can see nothing but a hat in it.
Structure: this deception makes the catalyst of the plot. The narrator is the Hero, his goal is to get understood by the adults, who, since they do not understand his drawing, thus become his Antagonists.
“I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained.”
Structure: Act II develops; passing by, the goal becomes explicit.
Pattern repetition: the sentence about adults who always need to have things explained sounds humorous and feeds this privileged relationship with the child that the narrator obviously seeks, since he sets himself on the same side as his reader, against adults portrayed as, let’s say… dummies, unable to understand what is obvious to a child. Those critics against adults will come back again and again across the text as a leitmotiv. With an acute sense of paradox and with irony, the author will yet make us, adult readers, fall in love with a character of child who always demands explanations to pretentious, absurd and silly adults… teaching us to be remain humble, somehow.
The narrator then draws a new picture, which shows the elephant very visibly included inside the boa. Unfortunately for him, adults still do not understand and they even advise him to get back to his schoolworks. The narrator concludes: “So then I chose another profession, and learned to pilot airplanes.”
Structure: the new picture, and the negative attitude of adults, form the Act III, with the crisis and climax of this mini-plot of exposition, and the negative answer to the dramatic question.
Themes: the profession of airman, in 1943 as today, makes people dream, especially little boys. Among italian fascists or german nazis, as well as among the french, english or american democratic youth, plane pilots were the object of a popular adoration, and played the roles of Hero in all sorts of styles of propaganda for opposite political regimes. After the space exploration of the 70’s, this popular figure of the manly, heroic airman was replaced in our collective psyche by cosmonauts and astronauts… still used as Heroes and sandwich boards for their respective ideologies.
The narrator briefly evokes his travels in plane around the world, when he met “a lot of serious people”, which did not improve his opinion about grown-ups. He showed them his first picture, the one with the elephant eaten by a boa, but the adults could still only see a hat. The narrator thus learnt to speak about “serious” matters, silencing any poetic evocation, which made him look like a “sensible man”.
Structure: while we could believe this mini-plot was over, it continued with a second Act III made of a crisis (the Hero tries again to make his picture understood) + climax and a new negative answer to the dramatic question (this fails again, and the Hero definitively renounces his goal).
The comment about matters of consequence and the sensible men appreciated by grown-ups sounds with irony and, here again, builds a strong complicity between the narrator and his young audience.
Read our full analysis of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and improve your writing skills