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 do 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 the 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 a 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.