Friday, January 22, 2016

One Sees Clearly Only with the Heart

This is a really, really neat book.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  I read it over a month ago, and yet the messages within have stayed close to me.  This is a story certainly worthy of reading, but even more so, of an examination into its deeper and very relevant hidden meanings.

Upon first glance, this book is about a boy (a prince, to be exact), on whose planet the author has crash landed.  A friendship blossoms between the author and this Little Prince.  And within this friendship, the Little Prince offers the author a number of oft ignored or forgotten life lessons, which he claims adults tend to disregard or let slip from their minds as the years of their lives wear on.  He calls this a symptom of having grown up.

The Little Prince reminds us that before life taints their impressions as they age, that children often see the unblemished truths of life.  The simple and straight forwardness of what lies both before us and within, and that as adults we usually forget these truths.  They slip away from us.  We overcomplicate, over-analyze, put our values and hearts in the wrong things or thoughts.  And thus, according to the Little Prince, is the human condition.

We often forget the simple yearnings and real necessities of the heart, as well as forget what will truly make us happy (hint: it isn't something you can buy).  We lose sight of this and tend to get lost along the way, with all the distractions and ways we are misled by society and our crossover into adulthood.  Many of us do not even know what we truly want, nor what is actually good for us.  Very often, our choices reflect the opposite.

"The Little Prince" is not only a lesson in life philosophy, but even more so, its a sweeping lesson on  what love really means.  This book points us towards and reminds us of how to love. 

The symbolism in this seemingly simple story is heavy, heart-clearing and very worthwhile to read.

Here are a number of the important themes in the story:

A resounding theme in this book is both blindness and narrow mindedness, which the Little Prince claims plague adults.

The relationship within this book between the Little Prince and his rose is a parable about the nature of real love. The prince’s love for his rose is one of the driving forces behind the story. The prince leaves his planet not only for exploration but also because of the rose; the rose permeates the prince’s discussions with the narrator; and eventually, the rose becomes the reason the prince wants to return to his planet.

“People where you live," the little prince said, "grow five thousand roses in one garden... yet they don't find what they're looking for...

They don't find it," I answered.

And yet what they're looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water..."

Of course," I answered.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince    

In order to have a truly perfect love, we are required, in a way, to become children again and learn to whole-heartedly trust and give all we have to the beloved.  If we care for one another, we deny ourselves for their sake, even if this means we sometimes get hurt. It is worth the risk because the only other alternative is to treat every other person as an object, or to remain at arms length with someone. The cost of not daring to love is to miss the point of our existence entirely.

Chapter 21 is easily the most emotionally moving (or at least, it was for me).  I loved this chapter.  Heart-rending lessons permeate the whole section.  Through the Little Prince meeting a wild fox, he learns that once you tame something or someone, the person/something becomes unique to you in all the world.  As well as you becoming unique to that someone/something.  Uniqueness grows out of relationships. 

Saint-Exupéry’s tale is filled with characters who either should be or have been tamed. The fox explains that taming means “creating ties” with another person so that two people become more special to one another. Simple contact is not enough: the king, the vain man, the drunkard, the businessman, the geographer, and the lamplighter (all characters in the story) all meet the prince, but are too stuck in their routines to establish proper ties with him.  These characters are also parables for the distracted and misled adults that we all become.

The fox is the first character to explain that in order to be truly connected to another, certain rites and rituals must be observed, and two people must give part of themselves to each other. In fact, the process of taming is usually depicted as being more labor-intensive for the one doing the taming than for the person being tamed. Despite the work and emotional involvement required, taming has obvious benefits. The fox explains that the meaning of the world around him will be enriched because the little prince has tamed him.

Then the fox explains to the prince, who is disheartened, the nature of genuine love.  The object of the Princes affection is a rose, who remains back on his planet (he is currently visiting planet Earth in this chapter, and actually left his rose).  The prince is dismayed because, upon seeing an entire field of roses, he feels like he was duped.  That his rose isn't as special or rare as he once thought.  And that actually, now he sees there are roses everywhere.

Not so, the Fox explains.  There are roses everywhere, but your rose is special, because it is unique to you.  You are the one who has loved your rose, sheltered your rose, cared for your rose, invested in your rose.  Your rose is different because she is your rose, and because of the connection you share, the history between you two.  The little prince realizes now that his relationship with his rose is more important than her outward appearance and her superficial, silly lies she often tells to protect her pride. 

He learns this by exploring and interacting with the fox, by "looking" with his heart at his relationship rather than with his eyes.

The prince learns that relationships are hard work and require immense amounts of patience, but that they are also what give meaning to our world.  He learns that most people (adults, specifically) do not realize this and “quest” after petty things instead, like power and money, which ultimately do not really satisfy them. Each of the characters he meets on his journey emphasizes this fact for him, and represents a particular human flaw in an amplified way.

The prince, then, is our Everyman. He is every one of us—each reader—figuring out truths about life and how to live.

In terms of the nature found on the Little Princes planet, there is much to be analyzed.  One of my own favorite symbolisms related to this particular topic:

The baobabs are giant plants that grow on the prince’s planet. They start off as tiny weeds, but if not uprooted and discarded when they are little, they firmly take root and can even cause a planet to split apart.  On a metaphorical level, the baobabs stand for unpleasant things in one’s nature – if we don’t spot them and weed them out early, they will take firm root and distort our personalities.

Further symbolism runs abound in this book.  Its a short read.  I highly recommend it.  One could likely finish it within an hour or two.  The story is a moving and thought-provoking one.  The Little Prince reminds us of ways to look at life (or, the ways one probably should look at life), ways many of us have forgotten.  And the directions that which, if more of us were brave enough and focused enough to follow, would likely lead to richer lives of deeper satisfaction and joy.

Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she's the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under glass, since she's the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she's the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's my rose.” 
― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

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