An Examination Of How Adult Lives Are Rendered Meaningless In Le Petit Prince, Through The Lens Of Different Theories

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Exploration and Evaluation

An Examination of how adult lives are rendered meaningless in Le Petit Prince, Through the lens of Psychoanalytic, Binary Opposition and Affective Stylistic Theories

In this world, the adults are the absurd ones, going nowhere quickly and persisting stubbornly in mindless pursuits, even when they no longer have any idea of why they pursue them. And it’s from the little prince, his journey and friends, that we get any sense of wisdom, of what is and is not important, and of the questions that are worth asking. The classic children’s novel, ‘The Little Prince’ written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is a tale of the importance of creativity and perspective with is lost in the later years of life. It is centred around an aviator, the narrator, recounting the story of young boy from another world that he met in the middle of the desert. The narrator believes that adults are obsessed with the wrong things: money, ambition, facts and figures. He finds it impossible to relate to them, and as a result, leads a lonely life. He believes that children have a keen insight into and understanding of the truly important things in life, which are imagination and beauty and friendship. He writes: “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”. It is this central belief presented in the story, the way it is enforces and what it reviles about the reader and society that will be investigated through Psychoanalytic, Binary Opposition and Affective Stylistic Theories.

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Psychoanalytic Theory

Psychoanalytic criticism adopts the methods of ‘reading’ employed by Freud and later theorists to interpret texts. It argues that literary texts, like dreams, express the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author. Freud himself wrote, ‘The dream-thoughts which we first come across as we proceed with our analysis often strike us by the unusual form in which they are expressed; they are not clothed in the prosaic language usually employed by our thoughts, but are on the contrary represented symbolically by means of similes and metaphors, in images resembling those of poetic speech’ (Freud in Tyson, 2015). Like psychoanalysis itself, this critical endeavour seeks evidence of unresolved emotions, psychological conflicts, guilts, ambivalences, and so forth within what may well be a disunified literary work. The author’s own childhood traumas, family life, sexual conflicts, fixations, and such will be traceable within the behaviour of the characters in the literary work. This theory can be used to analyse the base text as the main character is continual doing wrong and Anderson still presents him as a hero.

Throughout the novel the two main characters hunger for both for adventure (exploration of the outside world) and for introspection (exploration within himself). It is through his encounter with the lost prince in the lonely, isolated desert that the friendless narrator achieves a newfound understanding of the world. But in his story of the little prince’s travels, Saint-Exupéry shows that spiritual growth must also involve active exploration. The narrator and the prince may be stranded in the desert, but they are both explorers who make a point of traveling the world around them. Through a combination of exploring the world and exploring their own feelings, the narrator and the little prince come to understand more clearly their own natures and their places in the world.

This novel could be thought of as the spiritual journey of a man reconnecting with his childhood self. The prince and the characters from his story would represent different parts of the ‘pilots’ psyche.

In this concept the little prince is the id. The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state anxiety or tension. For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink.

The narrator would be the ego. The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification—the ego will eventually allow the behaviour, but only in the appropriate time and place.

And the adults within the little prince’s story are the superego. There are two parts of the superego: The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value, and accomplishment. The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments, or feelings of guilt and remorse. The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles. The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious.

The fox would have to be the ero. Sometimes referred to as sexual instincts, the life instincts are those which deal with basic survival, pleasure, and reproduction. These instincts are essential for sustaining the life of the individual as well as the continuation of the species. While we tend to think of life instincts in term of sexual procreation, these drives also include such things as thirst, hunger, and pain avoidance.

The snake is the Thanatos. The concept of the death instincts was initially described in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in which Freud proposed that “the goal of all life is death.” Freud believed that people typically channel their death instincts outwards. Aggression, for example, arises from the death instincts. Sometimes these instincts towards destruction can be directed inwards, however, which can result in self-harm or suicide.

And finally, the rose is the libido. This is a term used by in psychoanalytic theory to describe the energy created by the survival and sexual instincts. According to Sigmund Freud, the libido is part of the id and is the driving force of all behavior. While the term libido has taken on an overtly sexual meaning in today’s world, to Freud it represented all psychic energy and not just sexual energy.

Binary opposition

Binary oppositions are a key feature in short stories and fairy tales. This text theory focuses on the fact that there are, “two ideas, directly opposed, each of which we understand by means of its oppositions to the other.” (Tyson, 2006, p.213). This effects the way in which the story is read and the invited reading present to the reader. We often encounter binary oppositions in cultural studies when exploring the relationships between different groups of people, for instance: upper-class and lower-class, black and white, or disabled and able. On the surface, these seem like identifying labels, but what makes them binary opposites is the notion that someone cannot be both. In binary oppositions “one term in the pair is always privileged, or considered superior to the other” (Tyson 2006, p. 254). The problem with a system of binary opposites is that it creates boundaries between groups of people and leads to prejudice and discrimination.





Narrator and Railway Switchman





Narrator and Railway Switchman

King, Vain Man, Drunkard, Businessman, Lamplighter, Geographer, Salesclerk






The above table highlights the invited readings that can be determined.

TLP characterizes narrow-mindedness as a trait of adults. In the very first chapter, the narrator draws a sharp contrast between the respective ways grown-ups and children view the world. He depicts grown-ups as unimaginative, dull, superficial, and stubbornly sure that their limited perspective is the only one possible. He depicts children, on the other hand, as imaginative, open-minded, and aware of and sensitive to the mystery and beauty of the world. These invited readings challenge the predetermined invited reading of society. As it is usually the adults teaching the children and providing with the ‘knowledges of life’. In this case, the story teaches that the truly important thing in life can be overlooked as adults. As people age, they gain experience. Adults are more in command of their faculties, thoughts, and desires. But somehow, they lose sight of the effortless ability to appreciate the world in full without judgement or limitations.

In the story’s opening pages, the narrator explains that grown-ups lack the imagination to see his Drawing Number One, which represents a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, as anything other than a hat. As the story progresses, other examples of the blindness of adults emerge. As the little prince travels from planet to planet, the six adults he encounters proudly reveal their character traits, whose contradictions and shortcomings the little prince then exposes. This depiction of closeminded, lacking adults first establishes the main binary of the novella. The reader is then introduced to the little prince, who represents the open-mindedness of children. He is a wanderer who restlessly asks questions and is willing to engage the invisible, secret mysteries of the universe. The novel suggests that such inquisitiveness is the key to understanding and to happiness. This binary is further enforced by the adults which are introduced throughout the novel.

As the prince travels he meets many people on lots of different planets. Each adult is very different but each seems to be leading a meaningless existence. All the adults present different negative aspects of lacking an openminded. First the king who claims to rule the entire universe. While not unkindly, the king’s power is empty. He is able to command people to do only what they already would do. This empathises the fact that adults have to assert power over everything. The second is a vain man who is lonely and craves admiration from all who pass by. He is happy because being alone is he assured of being the richest and best-looking man on his planet. This highlights the vanity and superficialness of adults. The third, is a drunkard, who spends his days and nights lost in a stupor. The drunkard is a sad figure, but he is also foolish because he drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking. This present the stupidity of adults and their lack of meaning in their actions. The fourth is a Businessman. Too busy even to greet his visitor, the businessman owns all the stars. Yet he cannot remember what they are called and contributes nothing to them. This reinforce the king and adds that adults only care about the worth of something. The fifth and most complex figure the prince is the lamplighter. At first, he appears to be yet another ridiculous character with no real purpose, but his selfless devotion to his orders earns him the little prince’s admiration. Even though he has positive attributes he still presents that adults don’t really care for reason or meaning in what they do. The sixth and final character the little prince encounters before he lands on Earth it the geographer. Although he is a well-read man, he refuses to learn about his own planet, saying it is a job for explorers. This depicts adults as putting themselves into category’s and never bothering to question or leave them.


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