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Language and Communication
Whenever I met one of them [the grown-ups] who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:
“That is a hat.”
Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. (1.10-12)
The narrator ends up using his drawing as a friendship test for new people he meets. Although the narrator doesn’t know it yet, he’s asking people to see the drawing in the same way that the fox tells the prince to see the world: with the heart, not the eyes. Do you agree?
My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. (1.6)
Usually, it would be the adults who say kids need to “see” more “clearly” in order to understand how things are. Instead, here we have a young person who thinks the adults are the ones who “need to have things explained.” What do you think is different between the way the young narrator and the adults see the world?
As each day passed I would learn, in our talk, something about the little prince’s planet, his departure from it, his journey. The information would come very slowly, as it might chance to fall from his thoughts. It was in this way that I heard, on the third day, about the catastrophe of the baobabs. (5.1)
This shows us how the prince communicates. Instead of spilling his guts out, he reveals information about himself slowly. Why do you think this is? Because he doesn’t trust words? Because he doesn’t like talking about himself?
“Do you really admire me very much?” he demanded of the little prince.
“What does that mean—‘admire’?”
“To admire means that you regard me as the handsomest, the best-dressed, the richest, and the most intelligent man on this planet.” (11.13-15)
Hm. The prince doesn’t know the meaning of the word “admire,” but when the conceited man explains it to him, he doesn’t quite explain it correctly, does he? Pay close attention to how he defines it: ““To admire means that you regard me as the handsomest, the best-dressed, the richest, and the most intelligent man on this planet.” Is that really what the word “admire” means? Would you define it differently?
“Kings do not own, they reign over. It is a very different matter.” (13.26)
The king does not really own anything. He says he has absolute authority and “reigns over” everything in the universe, but as we come to see, his authority means nothing. So is he just consoling himself by claiming that he “reigns over” everything when in fact he, too, recognizes that the word sounds fancy but really means nothing?
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…” (21.37)
When the fox is teaching the prince how to tame him, he has to use words at first in order to tell the prince what to do. The prince won’t understand him unless they use words. Yet, during the actual taming, the fox wants the prince to avoid talking at all, because “[w]ords are the source of misunderstandings.” To build up trust and love, words are useless—it’s your actions that count.
“Perhaps it was because of the anniversary?”
The little prince flushed once more. He never answered questions—but when one flushes does that not mean “Yes”?
“Ah,” I said to him, “I am a little frightened—” (25.43-5)
Like the fox, who wants to communicate without words, the narrator reads the prince’s expressions in order to figure out what’s going on with his friend. He interprets the flush (which is like a blush) as a “yes.” So, the prince answers the narrator’s question, perhaps, without realizing it.
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! (27.8-9)
At the end of The Little Prince, the narrator puts the burden of interpretation on us readers. That’s a fancy way of saying that from this point on, it’s up to us to figure out what has happened in answer to these questions. In other words, the narrator asks us to finish the story. When we “look up at the sky,” what do we see? Is it a happy ending or a sad one? The other thing to remember is that not everybody will “understand” our answers or their significance—especially not grown-ups.
Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back. (Epilogue 2)
Of all the things that show the little prince to be himself (golden hair, laughing, and so on), one of the key ones is his “refus[al] to answer questions.” Why do you think this is an important characteristic of the prince?
This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world. It is the same as that on page 88, but I have drawn it again to impress it on your memory. It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared. (Epilogue 1)
One more time, the narrator relies on images instead of words to make us understand. He thinks we’ll get a better understanding of the landscape if we look at the pictures he drew, rather than just reading what he has to say about it. Why do you think he’s more confident about the pictures than about the description he builds with words?
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