The Little Prince: Metaphor Analysis
Drawing of the Boa Constrictor
The narrator begins with his story of why he did not become an artist. The grown-ups could not decipher his drawing of a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant. They thought it was a drawing of a hat. He has to draw it again for their prosaic understanding, showing the inside of the boa constrictor with an elephant. Thereafter, he used the drawing as a test of a person’s imagination. If the person says it is a hat, then he goes on to speak of “bridge and golf” (I, p. 3). Only when the narrator meets the little prince in the desert, does he meet someone who immediately knows the boa constrictor is not a hat. It is swelling with bulges because it has swallowed an elephant whole!
The drawing is a metaphor for the different perceptions of life. Those who have no poetry or imagination in them (most grown-ups) will be fooled by appearances. The little prince, like the narrator pilot, sees beyond the surface. The pilot’s drawings become the bridge between the two, a way for them to share a deep friendship. “Please . . . draw me a sheep” is the first request of the little prince (II, p. 3). The drawings are an imaginative language that allow the narrator to learn about the prince and his planet. Thus, they speak of only the important things. The sheep is urgent to the little prince, because he needs a sheep to eat the baobabs that are taking over his little planet. The pilot takes the prince’s need for a sheep seriously, as he wanted his drawing to be taken seriously when he was the little prince’s age. It is accepted between them that the drawing is real and has an impact on the outcome of the little prince’s life. The narrator is not condescending and pretending but fully engaged in the imaginative world of the child, even though the reality of his broken airplane and the prospect of dying of thirst in the desert nags at him.
Good Plants and Bad Plants
The little prince discusses the problems of his planet with the pilot. He needs a sheep to eat the baobabs, the giant trees, before they become big and crowd out all the other beings. In the ground one cannot tell good seeds from bad seeds. Once they begin to sprout, however, “if it’s the seed of a bad plant, you must pull the plant up right away, as soon as you can recognize it” (V, p. 14). Symbolically, the plants represent the good or bad tendencies, in oneself, or in one’s world. The little prince tries to keep his world in order, and the baobabs, the trees that take all the ground and water for themselves, are the sort of wrong or selfish desires that could destroy the planet, if not kept under control. His special and unique rose, on the other hand, is the good plant. He nourishes and gives love to the rose, and she gives love back to him. She makes his life beautiful. His whole quest for wisdom is on account of her, for he wants to love her correctly. The rose poetically implies both something internal and external. She is the beauty the little prince sees around him, but is also that precious essence inside himself that he tries to preserve and cultivate. The pilot says what moves him about the little prince is “his loyalty to a flower—the image of a rose shining within him like the flame within a lamp” (XXIV, p. 69).
Flowers also represent what is most delicate and “ephemeral” in life. The Geographer says he doesn’t “record flowers” in a geography book, because they are “threatened by imminent disappearance” (XV, pp. 46-47). This is the moment the little prince feels regret for leaving his flower unprotected. The ephemeral, though not physically eternal, is what gives meaning and joy to life.
Water has special meaning in a desert setting. It is the source of life. The pilot calculates according to how many days of water he has and worries about fixing his plane before the water gives out. It is clear that it has another meaning as well in the story. The little prince says, “Water can also be good for the heart . . . “ (XXIV, p. 67). Both the pilot and the little prince thirst for the essence of life, the hidden treasure beneath the surface. They are on a quest to find what they don’t have but need in order to continue. The little prince and the pilot find the well together and share the water. They begin walking and walking looking for a well in the middle of a desert, the pilot skeptical that they will find it, but the child believing they will, and they do “at daybreak” (XXIV, p. 69). This occurs just before the two separate. It is not ordinary water they share. The little prince says, “We’ve awakened this well, and it’s singing” (XXV, p. 69). The pilot remarks that “I understood what he’d been looking for” (XXV, p. 71) when the little prince drinks the water. “It did the heart good, like a present” (XXV, p. 71). The water contains the meaning of life for them, which can only be expressed through love and poetic statements about the water as “born of our walk beneath the stars, of the song of the pulley” (XXV, p. 71). The water they both thirsted for was love, friendship, meaning, feeling at home. Finding and sharing this together satisfies their physical and spiritual thirst.
The little prince comes from the stars, like an angel or saint from a purer world. The stars represent the mystery of life, and the spiritual nature of life. The businessman on the fourth planet visited by the little prince believes he owns the stars because he can count them. He thinks he can put the stars in a bank, and the prince is amused at his illusion. When the pilot understands the little prince is going to die in order to go back to his star, his place of origin, he is sad. The little prince consoles him by telling him to look up at the stars at night: “you’ll have stars like nobody else” (XXVI, p. 77). The little prince puts his laugh into the stars to make the pilot feel his presence whenever he looks at them. The pilot can hear the stars after that like “five-hundred million little bells” (XXVII, p. 81). The stars represent what is eternal and lasts beyond death. It is never said whether one goes to heaven, but the image of the stars, and the little prince still tending to his own planet among the stars, makes the pilot feel that he still lives.