Children's Literature Archive

The cover of The Little Prince  

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Real Little Prince

© 2010, Jessica Anelli, Samantha East, Sarah Kesler, Max Kopanygin, Maayan Ziv

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Little Prince. Illustrated by: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943.

The Little Prince is a juvenile and emotional story about a lonely boy who lives on a small planet which he meticulously cares for. His adventure begins when he discovers a beautiful rose. After tending to the flowers needs and feeling misused by her, he leaves his planet in search of others. After exploring several astroids to his disappointment he comes upon Earth where he meets a pilot, stranded in the desert. Building a relationship with this pilot and other animals, the Little Prince soon meets his fate.

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry is the author of this beloved children's story. Internationally read and renowned, the story contains important poetic symbolism and social contextualization entertaining both children and adults. Saint-Exupéry's playful approach to The Little Prince remains popular decades later and touches the inner-child in all of us, yet not much is known about the author who brought the story to life through his words and illustrations.

Author Biography

Antoine Marie Reger de Saint-Exupéry was born on June 29th, 1900 in Lyons France. In 1904 his father died leaving behind his mother and five children. When he was young, his family would holiday near an aviation field; it was there that he first became interested in flying. He first took to the skies at age twelve, when a local pilot gave him his first ride - this solidified his dream to become a pilot.

In 1919 he graduated from the Collége de Fribourg in Switzerland and was sent to Naval School where he was refused admittance. It is suspected that he failed the entrance exam purposefully so he could instead join the Air Force, which he did later in 1921.

In 1926 he became a commercial pilot. He worked for the French postal company and was responsible for flying the Toulouse, France-Dakar and West African routes. In 1928 he wrote his first novel Courrier Sud ("Southern Mail"). In 1931 he married Consuelo Gomez Carrillo and his published his second novel Vol de Nuit ("Night Flight").

In 1936 he attempted a long-distance flight from Paris to Africa however his plane crashed-landing in the desert. He was stranded there for three days. It is thought that this experience influenced his 1943 children's book Le Petit Prince ("The Little Prince"). He continued on to author other books and essays but Le Petit Prince remains his only work for children. It is also distinct because Saint Exupéry illustrated the book himself. It has since become a classic in children's literature and has been translated into dozens of languages.

In 1944, Saint Exupéry was flying on a reconnaissance mission for the French Air Force when he disappeared over the Mediterranean. It is hard not to draw a mysterious parallel between his vanishing and how the Little Prince himself disappeared at the end of his novella. In 2004 his wreckage was discovered proving that had been shot down by an enemy German plane.

Saint-Exupéry & Geography

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's pilot expertise and critical relationship of geography reflect his writing, which often contains vivid representations of landscape and place. His protagonist in The Little Prince witnesses the earth much like an airborne observer, and his writings contain a distinctive 'geography from above' in which places are culturally constructed and myths about various 'others' are reproduced (Daley, 2009). These notions reflect Saint-Exupéry's aviation career, in which he helped to open airmail routes to French colonies in North Africa and South America during the 1920s and 1930s (Bunkse, 1990). Such heavy imperialism led him to develop a contempt for the geographer's craft. He felt it dehumanizes landscapes and is irrelevant to humane values and spirituality. His critique of geographers is evident in an entire chapter of The Little Prince, where "the geographer" is depicted as one concerned only with matters of consequence and never leaves his desk to explore for himself. The authors interest in exploration is reflective in the protagonist, who is much an explorer himself. Many characters that the Little Prince meets represent the bureaucratic-like mannerism Saint-Exupéry felt geographers, and most adults in general, of his time possessed. The flower - which the prince sees as being the most beautiful thing on his planet, is seen by the geographer as irrelevant. This lack of spirituality and sense of wonder seem to be antagonistic themes in the novella, reflecting the detached, emotionless observers Saint-Exupéry depicted geographers to be. Being a part of such strong colonial developments led the author to also challenge ideas of ownership and taming in the story.

Historical Context

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's aviation career guided his writings; his ordeals in the field and sky are prevalent throughout his work (Schiff, 1993). He began writing The Little Prince following the German invasion of France during World War II. As he was pressed to leave his home country, and migrate to New York, his departure from home roots and his career influenced Saint-Exupéry to include fragments of home and aviation in The Little Prince (Quinn, pg. 26). In a previous work from 1939 by the title, Wind, Sand and Stars, he tells the story of his plane crashing in the Sahara desert. Due to dehydration, Saint-Exupéry experienced vivid hallucinations (Quinn, pg. 26). His imagined brush with a fennec (a specie of desert fox) draws similarities to the fox character in The Little Prince. Evidently, Saint-Exupéry merged himself with the characters he created. The narrator in the story is a pilot, much like Saint-Exupéry, who also crashes in the Sahara desert and comes to many realizations. For example, the Little Prince learns from the Geographer that he should cherish people; an analogy made apparent by the symbolic significance of leaving the rose earlier in the novel. On the other hand, the Little Prince - also a boy who explores the skies - is more representative of Saint-Exupéry's idealistic views on life. This is shown through the juvenile approach the Little Prince has to serious issues. Further, Saint-Exupéry is insistent upon having the reader engaged in his work - a common quality among traditional French literature (Schiff, 1993). Unquestionably, The Little Prince and other works by Saint-Exupéry have inherent qualities associated with his life and views, pertaining to his experience with the war. Yet, Saint-Exupéry is able to work with such influences in a unique and creative form, writing a work that remains relevant to readers today.


Saint-Exupéry was always very fond of illustrating, even if his images were small doodles on the corner of a page. For The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry combines watercolor with a casual sketchy style as his chosen medium and technique in illustrating his story. Although very simply drawn, Exupéry's illustrations are essential in understanding The Little Prince, as his drawings are crucial to his textual work.

In addition to portraying text in a visual manner, a key feature of The Little Prince is Saint-Exupéry's ability to communicate directly with his audience by use of his images. Saint-Exupéry's illustrations are not simply visual representations of his written story but key elements, creating a unique dialogue with the text and his readers. Many of the discussions between the pilot and the Little Prince are about the way in which something is drawn, or how it is visually perceived. Such is the case when the pilot tries to draw the perfect sheep for the Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry's simple images of the sheep, which float alongside the text, are imperative in creating interest and understanding. The Little Prince would not be the same, or at all a cohesive story without the aid of Saint-Exupéry's illustrations. Such visual playful elements are unique in Saint-Exupéry's work as well as in children's literature.

As an artist Saint-Exupéry was very self conscious and meticulous about his illustrations. Exupéry's life experiences are incorporated in The Little Prince, specifically his love for exploration. We can see this in his playful drawings of asteroids, space and the many stars that surround the Little Prince's world. His image of the baobab trees that overgrow an asteroid is the largest illustration in the book.

Saint-Exupéry's illustrations are also self-reflexive. In addition to juvenile captions under images, the way in which the pilot speaks of his own illustrations to the reader point to Saint-Exupéry's self consciousness as well as dedication and meticulousness to what he was illustrating. As blunt and naive as a child, Saint-Exupéry points out this truth about himself in the pages of his work. This self reflexivity is embedded in the pilots discussions with the Little Prince about the elephant inside the snake.

Such drawings also introduce Saint-Exupéry's idealization of childhood perspective; depicting things clearly and with vivid, playful imagination. The narrator within the "The Little Prince" admits to giving up drawing at the age of six as he had a hard time getting adults to understand his drawings; by placing such imaginative images within his book, Saint-Exupéry's illustrations become symbols of (lost) innocence.

Symbols & Motifs

The Little Prince is filled with symbolic characters and motifs that at the time written, allowed Saint-Exupéry to make remarks about life and his personal philosophies. As the Little Prince comes in contact with such characters as the fox, the snake, and the rose, Saint-Exupéry writes out his themes. The fox, which teaches the Little Prince of taming, speaks to Saint-Exupéry's beliefs of how true relationships are built. Unlike the simple contact that the Little Prince makes with several men on different planets, the meaning of the world is enriched to the fox, since he and the Little Prince have the emotional connection needed to create a true relationship. The snake in the story alludes to death and sacrifice; in receiving the snake's venomous bite, the Little Prince sacrifices his material body to be reunited with his beloved rose. Although it is not clearly written what actually happens to the Little Prince in his disappearance, the concept of suicide and sacrifice is implied. An idea only adult readers would read into. One may also interpret the rose in The Little Prince as a metaphor for Saint-Exupéry's wife, who, after long aviations away, would return to. As Saint-Exupéry writes himself into his work, the immense love the Little Prince has for the rose can be read as a parallel to the author's own love life.

The Little Prince is not a traditional children's book nor is it strictly a fairytale as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes with the innocence of a child, yet speaks of concerns with the seriousness of an adult. His poetic symbolism, philosophical themes, and the sacrificial death of his hero, put Saint-Exupéry's work into a unique position of both juvenile and adult genres, writing at levels attractive to both. For children, The Little Prince offers a perspective of the ridiculousness of the adult world, a lovable hero, and talking animals. For the adult reader, Saint-Exupéry brings in to question the world of men, their simple, single mindedness, egocentric ideologies, and critiques their ideas of power and ownership. Saint-Exupéry clearly sides with children, depicting them as hopeful, open-minded and imaginative beings. In sharp contrast, grown-ups are depicted as dull, unimaginative and narrow-minded. Ultimately, The Little Prince is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's vision of hope during the dark time it was written. It is a lighthearted, cheerful invitation to both children and adults, as well as a commentary on the realities of society and little pieces of Saint-Exupéry's own life.

Select Bibliography

  • Bunkse, Edmunds V. "Saint-Exupéry's Geography Lesson: Art and Science in the Creation and Cultivation of Landscape Values." Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 80.1 (1990): 96-108. Jstor. Web. 16 Oct. 2010
  • Burns, Tom. "The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry." Children's Literature Review. New York: Gale Cengage, 2009. 148-151. Print
  • "The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry " Children's Literature Review. New York: Gale Cengage, 2009. 142: 148-65. Print
  • Commire, Anne. "Saint Exupéry." Something About the Author, Volume 20. Detroit Michigan 48226: Gale Research Book Tower; Detroit, Mi, 1980. 154-163. Print
  • Daley, Ben. "Writing from above: representations of landscapes, places and people in the works of Antoine de Saint Exupéry." Journal of Cultural Geography 26.2 (2009): 127-147. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.Web. 16 Oct. 2010
  • Des, Valliéres Nathalie., Roselyne De. Ayala, and Anthony Zielonka. Saint Exupéry: Art, Writings and Musings. New York: Rizzoli, 2004. Print
  • Fay. Eliot G. "The Philosophy of Saint Exupéry." The Modern Language Journal. 31.2 (1947): 90-97. Jstor. 15 Oct. 2010
  • Mitchell, Bonner. ""Le Petit Prince" and "Citadelle": Two Experiments in the Didactic Style." The French Review 3.5 (1960): 454-61. JSTOR. Web. 14 Oct. 2010.
  • Quinn, Judy. "'Prince' and the Revolution." Publishers Weekly 2000: 26
  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943. Print
  • Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo De., and Esther Allen. The Tale Of The Rose: The Passion That Inspired The Little Prince. New York: Random House, 2001. Print
  • Schiff, Stacey. "A Grounded Soul: Saint-Exupéry in New York." New York Times Book Review, 1993. Print
  • Wagenknecht, Edward. "The Little Prince Rides the White Deer: Fantasy and Symbolism in Recent Literature." College English. 7.8 (1946): 431-37. Scholars Portal. Web. 16 Oct. 2010
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