The Little Prince as a Moral Tract

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Parashat Vayigash 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: I heard that the book, The Little Prince (by French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), is full of Christian messages, hence it should be avoided. Answer: Not so. It includes moral lessons of value to all mankind. This work is read all over the world. It has been translated into 180 languages and dialects, and has been ranked number four on the list of the world’s best books from the last hundred years. It success derives from its having been written in a simple, endearing style suited to children. Its messages are profound, and are expressed in the form of symbols meant for adults.
Moreover, it encourages the adult to go back to the child within him and not to lose the innocence of childhood. It contains criticism about the illogical manner in which adults behave, in that they forget the simple truths:
“That's the way they are. You must not hold it against them. Children should be very understanding of grown-ups. But, of course, those of us who understand life couldn't care less about numbers!”
The Little prince travels through the world, looking for a personality of true worth. Yet he encounters only laughable types, trapped in their loneliness: The king, who rules over an imaginary kingdom, ordering everybody to do things that they do anyway, and who treats the little prince as a subject.
The egotist, who views the little prince as an admirer, and whose ambition it is to be admired by all. Yet he lives all alone on his planet.
The alcoholic, consumed with shame due to his alcoholism, who keeps drinking in order to forget his shame, caught in a vicious cycle.
The businessman, who never ceases counting the stars, thinking they belong to him, and who plans on using them to buy other stars.
The streetlamp lighter, stuck in his own world of meaningless, automatic behavior. His job is to turn on the streetlamp at the start of the night, and to turn it off in the morning. Yet his planet revolves faster and faster until he is turning the streetlamp on and off without pause, and he has no time left for himself.
The geographer, who is busy producing thick roadmaps, but never encounters anything outside of himself. When he wants to document the world of the little prince, the little prince tells him that on his planet there is a beautiful rose. Yet the geographer explains to him that is unfamiliar with roses. The little prince is shocked that the geographer deals with life’s externals, and is missing out on the important things like the rose, which symbolizes man’s search for his true help-mate. The little prince looks for a life of meaning and finds empty worlds. Particularly disturbing is the image of three gigantic baobab trees holding the little planet with their roots and threatening to blow it up. All this happens because the seed of the baobab tree resembles that of the rose, hence it is related to complacently and no one sees its inherent danger, so they neglect to weed it out. This is an allusion to all kinds of evil forces which seem friendly at first, but if one falls asleep at the watch and doesn’t strike them immediately, they develop into monsters. This hints at Nazism and fascism, which at first seemed friendly as a rose. The depiction of the baobab trees is very frightening, as a warning of the terribly urgent need to deal with them. Obviously, the same thing applies to all the seeds of evil in every generation, in every country and society.
The little prince is busy endlessly weeding the baobab roots, which are trying to take control over his planet, as well as with sweeping the craters of the three dormant volcanoes on his planet – even dormant volcanoes have to be watched carefully. We learn that the author’s invitation to us to rediscover the child in us – “All the grown-ups were once children, although few of them remember it” – is not just entertainment, but a very serious, responsible task, hidden within innocent childhood. The third thing on the little prince’s planet is a rose, the ideal mate he longs for. Yet here, again, disappointment awaits him. The rose is truly very lovely, but it has its thorns: it is arrogant, coquettish and demanding. It truly has thorns.
Moreover, in his search for true friendship, he comes upon a garden of roses, discovers that his own rose isn’t the only one, and becomes very miserable. Then he meets the fox, who at first seems very odd to him, but ends up teaching the meaning of deep friendship, and teaching him how one forges a true bond. The fox says, “One only understands the things that one tames”… “It is the time you have wasted for your rose, that makes your rose so important for you”… “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
After much searching, the little prince goes to see the sunset, but his planet is so small that it suffices for him to move his chair several meters: there’s no need to go far to gain contentment. It’s here.