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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
At the heart of The Little Prince is
the fox’s bold statement that “[a]nything essential is invisible
to the eye.” All the characters the little prince encounters before
coming to Earth eagerly and openly explain to him everything about
their lives. But the little prince finds that on Earth, all true
meanings are hidden. The first character to greet him on Earth is
the snake, who speaks only in riddles. In subsequent chapters, the
narrator and the little prince frequently describe events as “mysterious”
and “secret.” This choice of words is crucial to the book’s message.
To describe the mysteries of life as puzzles or questions would
imply that answering them is possible. The fact that events on Earth
are cast as mysteries suggests that they never can be resolved fully.
However, this idea is not as pessimistic as it might seem. The novel
asserts that, while many questions in life remain mysteries, exploration
of the unknown is what counts, even though it does not leads to
The narrator’s illustration of his story emphasizes Saint-Exupéry’s belief
that words have limits and that many truths defy verbal explanation.
The narrator places drawings into the text at certain points to
explain his encounter in the desert, and although his illustrations are
simple, they are integral to understanding the novel. Saint-Exupéry
defies the convention that stories should be only text and enriches
his work by including pictures as well as words.
The drawings also allow the narrator to return to his
lost childhood perspectives. He notes that he uses his Drawing Number
One to test adults he meets. The drawing is actually of a boa constrictor swallowing
an elephant, but to most adults it looks like a hat. Whether or
not a character recognizes the drawing as a hat indicates how closed-minded
he is. The narrator notes several times in his story that drawing
is very difficult for him because he abandoned it at age six, after
finding that adults were unreceptive to his drawings. Therefore,
his decision to illustrate his story also indicates his return to
the lost innocence of his youth.
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 meet the prince, but are too stuck in their
routines to establish proper ties with him. 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. In contrast, the businessman
cannot even remember what the stars he owns are called.
The concept of “serious matters” is raised several times
in the novel, and each time, it highlights the difference between
the priorities of adults and children. To adults, serious matters
are those relating to business and life’s most basic necessities.
For example, the businessman who owns all the stars refers to himself
as a “serious person,” an obviously ridiculous claim since he has
no use for and makes no contribution to his property. Even the narrator
expresses an understandably desperate claim that fixing his engine
is more serious than listening to the prince’s stories. However,
the narrator soon admits that the engine troubles in truth pale
in comparison to the little prince’s tears.
Saint-Exupéry clearly sides with children, represented
by the little prince, who believe that serious matters are those
of the imagination. For the little prince, the most serious matter
of all is whether the sheep the narrator has drawn for him will
eat his beloved rose. As the story progresses, the narrator’s understands
the importance of the little prince’s worry. The narrator responds
with compassion to the prince’s concern about the sheep from the
beginning, setting his tools aside and rushing to comfort the prince
in Chapter VII, when the little prince cries out that the question
of whether his sheep eats his rose is much more important than the
narrator’s plane. However, in his final comment, the narrator says
that the question of the sheep and the flower is so important that
it has changed his view of the world, revealing that he has understood
the question’s importance himself.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Little Prince!