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The Little Prince: Portrayal of Adults vs. Children

Littleprince

 image credit – wikipedia

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry emphasises from the very beginning, the difference between adults and children, and his not very flattering opinion of the former.

In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.

[Kindle Location 60]

Saint-Exupéry’s opinion and portrayal of adults does not improve throughout the book. Adults are dull, imagination-less creatures. They are literal, and the only truth is the truth they see with their eyes, trapping them within their self-made limitations.

But in his portrayal of adults, it also feels as if he is calling them out on their fear. The truth, the kind of truth that children see, is threatening to their orderly world. The adults are only interested in what they want to hear, in things that do not challenge their established conventions, and the narrator learns as he grows older to pretend, though he never sees himself as a part of that grown-up group.

I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.

[Kindle Location 60]

The narrator has seen the truth since he was a child. He never grew out of it, and perhaps Drawing Number One which he still used as a test to judge whether someone was a “person of true understanding” [Kindle Location 60] was his tether to that truth. It was his way to not start believing in the lies of the grown-up world.

Both the narrator and the little prince go through their personal journeys, while helping each other. They, an adult from earth and an alien child, find more to relate in each other than they found in their own worlds. They reinforce each other’s belief that it’s through child’s eyes that truth is to be found. The little prince’s journey is physical, through many worlds, but his destination is the inner truth, and he discovers it and passes it onto the narrator. “…the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…” [Kindle Location 1087]

By accepting the little prince’s journey and the lessons he’s learned as the truth, the narrator maintains his true perspective too, instead of letting it be coloured by the sheen of grown-up viewpoint.

Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes….And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance! [Kindle Location 1259]

In this little book, which at a glance may seem like a story of children, Saint-Exupéry packs the punch of much larger themes. Perhaps it’s more a book for adults rather than children. Children would embrace it as it is, for its truth and story, but perhaps it is the adults who need to examine their narrow-mindedness, and learn to see in the Drawing Number One the elephant inside a boa constrictor, rather than a hat.

 

 

Is Literature Necessary?

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 image by auntiep

I was changed by literature, not by cautionary or exhortatory literature, but by the truth as I found it in literature. I recognize the world in a different way because of it, and I continue to be influenced in that way by it. Opened up, made more alert, and called to a greater truthfulness in my own accounting of things, not just in my writing, in my life as well. It did that for me, and does that for me, and no one touched by it in this way should have any doubt of its necessity.

– Tobias Wolff

I have felt the power of literature, as Wolff described above, and I continue to feel it. Books can be mere pass time, they can be a distraction, they can be so many little things….and so much more.

Literature is both a representation and an extension of our reality.

Books that touch us are the ones that resonate with us, and they do so, usually by showing us some kind of truth. It might be a truth about ourselves, about our world, or about our faiths and beliefs. It doesn’t necessarily jump out at us from every book, highlighted and ready for a moral lesson of the day. Sometimes it does, but most of the time, it’s just a quiet recognition that settles down within us. Literature, therefore, is a force of truth as a representation of our reality.

As an extension of our reality, literature enriches our minds, nourishes our souls. From good books, we learn about places we have never seen, and people we have never met. We feel the emotions that we’ve felt many times, and some that we have never felt. We can see the depth and range of humanity – at its best and its worst. We can see, finally, the gossamer strands of complicated layers that make up our world. Layers that are made of societal rules, individuality, people in our lives, internal and external influences, and so many other things that we may not even be aware of. Things that like a pebble thrown into calm waters, could create far-reaching ripples in our lives. Literature shows this. It shows us our lives, more clearly, than we can ever understand when we are caught up in living it.

It expands our horizons. It doesn’t matter where we were born, or what our circumstances are once we have an access to the library. Suddenly, many new worlds are open to us, and it is up to us what we make of them. There are no rules binding us, nothing to stop us from exploring as far as we want. Literature gives us an opportunity to feed our mind. It gives us an opportunity to expose ourselves to all sorts of ideas and thoughts which might throw us into utter confusion at first, make us question everything we thought we knew, and then guide us, slowly but surely, to find our own way, to affirm our own beliefs, and our view of the world.

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.

– Helen Keller

Is Literature Necessary? 

That question should not even need to be asked. It is unfortunate that it does need to be asked, because literature is not valued in our modern age as it should be. The concept of “learned men” is lost. We take literacy for granted, but we have forgotten why it’s so valuable. 

Literature, particularly great literature, gives us guidance to be great. It challenges our beliefs, and yet reaffirms others. It broadens our horizons, yet can take us home where we truly belong. It can bring untold joys and show us the ugliness that resides in the world, and in the hearts of men. Literature is the mirror of our society and our aspiration. 

Literature is not just necessary, it is essential.

The only way to protect it, the only way to ensure that it survives, is to use it.

Enjoy the literature, make the use of it, and the more we use it, the longer it will last – through each one of us.