The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince as Allegory
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The Little Prince is an allegory, you say? What does that mean, exactly? Well, let’s dig deeper and find out. (By the way, this is exactly what the fox would want us to do: to look beyond the obvious and get to the essential!)
First, let’s figure out what this word means: “allegory.” An allegory is a story that has two levels of meaning. First, there’s the surface of the story and this has the plot, characters, and so on. Then, there is a second deeper or symbolic meaning which hints at a philosophy or belief system. According to Shmoop’s Literature Glossary, allegories are like massive metaphors that are told through stories. Let’s look at how this plays out in The Little Prince.
This story of the little prince and all the odd people he meets on his travels has charmed the socks off kids for decades. Children love the characters and the story and the drawings. So, generally, the surface level of this story is what appeals to kids.
However, many, many adults have also fallen in love with The Little Prince over the years, probably because it reminds them to pay attention to tiny, everyday pleasures and beauty, and to make time for friends, and not to worry too much about ambition and fame and money. Adult readers, then, have mostly enjoyed it for its deeper, symbolic meaning.
There: We have our two meanings! Throughout our analysis, we’ve seen how various elements of the narrative and characters function on a dual level in this book. But what about the prince himself? What does this oddly-dressed boy represent?
If you’ve heard of Christopher Booker, you know that this dude said that all stories fall into one of seven plot types. The Little Prince would be what Booker called a “Quest” plot. Here’s the “quest” in one sentence: A hero leaves home in search of something, has many adventures, and returns home.
So, on a story-level, we can see how this fits. The little prince leaves home, has adventures, and (we assume) returns home to his flower. But on a deeper level, what kind of philosophical quest is he on?
The prince has always been a good kid, but he has lived a lonely life on his planet. When the flower shows up, he doesn’t quite know what to do with her or how to talk to her—in other words, he is a little clueless about how to cultivate a relationship.
See what we did there? We used the word “cultivate.” Get it? But this is not our own wit at work, so we can’t take credit for it—it’s Saint-Exupéry’s idea to portray a relationship as a delicate, beautiful, and difficult plant that must be carefully cared for and cultivated.
And the prince, for all his sweetness and goodness, was happy when he lived alone on his asteroid. It was only after the flower appeared that he became inclined to really feel the powerful emotions on display in rock ballads.
So his quest is also an emotional quest in which 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. (Remember the fox’s lessons?) 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. Luckily, he does the hard work for us. We at Shmoop are not fans of applauding conceited men or traveling via snake bite!