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Antoine De Saint Exupery Essay, Research Paper

An Author’s Last Message

Antoine de Saint Exupery died in1944. His death was and still is, to a certain extent, a mystery. Some say that enemy forces shot down the plane he was flying while he was on a reconnaissance mission. Others speculate that he was simply too old and out of shape to handle the newer, more advanced military aircraft. “His voluntary return to action at an age when he was too old to fly fighter planes and too fat to squeeze into the cockpit without difficulty marked his own escape from his own planet B-612” (Economist 104). One very possible hypothesis is that Antoine crashed his plane on purpose in order to escape the confines of this world. His last book, The Little Prince, supports this idea in many ways. The closer it is examined, the more it seems like a last testimony by Antoine, explaining the causes for his “suicide.” The cause of or reason for his death may never be known. However, treasure hunters have recently uncovered fragment of what they think may be his wreck (Economist 104). Perhaps in time this mystery will be solved. Until then it is left to speculation as to the causes of the death of Antoine de Saint Exupery.

In order to understand the motives and experiences that are involved in all of his books, an understanding of some of Antoine’s background is required. Born of aristocratic parents, Antoine lost his father as a small child and watched his brother die as

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a young teenager. As a young man he adored his mother, who spoiled him frequently. Through the years he kept in touch with her by writing letters, which portrayed the love

of her that he kept. Growing up, he often caused mischief and pulled pranks on classmates. His teachers often commented on how immature Antoine was, even through his teens. He was obsessed with aviation from an early age, and joined the French Air Force in 1921 but later dropped out to become a commercial pilot (Current 393). Many of his books were solely about flight and were written while he was working for the airmail services of South Africa. Being a party animal, he entertained his comrades with card tricks, piano recitals using oranges instead of fingers, crafty chess strategies and readings from the drafts of his latest novels. Antoine, six foot two and heavy set, seemed to love an audience, but when alone his world was private, accessible only in the prose he so fastidiously worked and reworked until it held the beauty he felt (Kunitz 613). And thus he lived in the Sahara, said to be his happiest days. In turn he received a sense of duty, of purpose, but most preciously to him, he received a family of friends. While in the desert he tamed numerous wild animals, but had some degree of difficulty while attempting to tame a fox. He married a young widow by the name of Consuelo Suncin in 1931. A drawn out fight between them interrupted his happiness, and Antoine moved to New York. There he stayed with a mistress, writing The Little Prince during the nights. When World Two broke out, Antoine rejoined the Air Force and flew reconnaissance missions for France. His plane was shot down and never found.

To understand Antoine’s point of view, one must realize that the people of our world, for the most part, lack an understanding of the truly important parts of life. Some

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may understand the deeper meanings in all of life’s nuances, but most people don’t even take the time to stop and consider them. Oftentimes people become wrapped up in

worldly concerns, which inhibit the sight of qualities that lie below the trodden surface of things. People may become “blind” to their surroundings. The important aspects of life such as memories and sentiments can be kept with a person forever, but worldly objects cannot and will not last. For example, some friendships that are built on trust and companionship last a lifetime. Conversely, those built on social or political gains may only last until the gains are no longer available. Such instances often lead to unneeded conflict and turmoil. Antoine had many “fake friendships,” mainly out of social and political necessity, but one friend of Antoine’s was true enough to dedicate a book to. Leon Werth was said to be his only true friend. Leon was the only person that Antoine felt understood him, and so he dedicated The Little Prince to him.

…this grown-up understands everything, even books about children. …I will dedicate the book to the child from whom this grown-up grew. All grown-ups were once children—although few of them remember it. And so I correct my dedication: TO LEON WERTH when he was a little boy. (Dedication)

On his journeys, The Prince met a very intelligent fox. The fox told The Little Prince a great secret while he was on earth; “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”(Exupery 87). This statement by the fox is supported by The Prince’s statement, “What makes the desert so beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well…”(93). The fox meant that what makes things truly beautiful

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cannot be seen by the human eye. It is the memories and sentiments that are attached to objects that give them their greatest value. When the prince tamed the fox, he knew that

he would carry a part of the fox with him in his heart forever, and he understood why it is important to have real friends to spend quality time with. In allusion to his own Sahara plane wreck, Antoine stated that there was no other passenger onboard his airplane (6). In real life there were other passengers on the plane, but Antoine must have felt that since none of them really understood him it was as if he were alone.

Most people are more concerned with worldly things than anything else. For example, most people value money over things such as friendship or family, some to a greater extent than others. In The Little Prince, when adults saw the picture of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant that Antoine drew, they thought that it was a picture of a hat (4). This shows the emphasis put on objects by adults. The Prince however, when shown the picture of the boa constrictor, exclaimed that he did not want a boa constrictor.

No, no, no! I do not want an elephant inside a boa constrictor. A boa constrictor is a very dangerous creature, and an elephant is very cumbersome. Where I live, everything is very small. What I need is a sheep. Draw me a sheep. (9)

This begins the parallel between Antoine and The Prince. In their quest to be accepted by society, adults lose track of the important, unworldly things in life. They seem to be ashamed of having the same kind of understanding that children do and often refer to the idea negatively as “immaturity.” The perpetuation of this idea may forever plague the

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human race, inhibiting the important qualities of imagination and creativity that are vital to the technological and artistic advance of our cultures.

The connection between The Prince and Antoine started with the recognition of the boa constrictor by the prince. The pilot was startled to find someone who saw the truth in his drawing. At that particular point in the book it is unclear whether or not the pilot is actually seeing the little man before him or if he is in fact hallucinating. When reflected upon, it is possible to conclude that the whole story told by the pilot could have been a result of severe trauma or even heat stroke. However, whether or not the pilot was hallucinating has no affect on the apparent “moral” to the story. The pilot in The Little Prince obviously represents Antoine, as he wrote the book with himself as the narrator. The pilot’s crash is also very similar to Antoine’s. In real life, Antoine and his crew tracked through the desert for three days before they were rescued much like the journey of The Prince and the pilot (Kunitz 613). The Little Prince may represent Antoine’s child self, with the child like insights that Antoine may have been losing as an inevitable result of living in our society. This leads to another possible reason for a suicide by Antoine; he was becoming like the very people that he criticized. Antoine stated that ever since adults mocked his drawing of the boa constrictor and told him to draw useful things, he lost the inspiration to draw (4). He may have resented this fact because he went on to say that he might have become a great artist if it were not for adults (4). Furthermore, both The Prince and the pilot dropped down from the sky and were trying to find their way home. The Prince’s home planet may have represented heaven to Antoine. The Little

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Prince talked about the flower that he had left throughout the book, conveying a sense of loss and remorse. In real life, Antoine had been separated from his wife and longed to

return to her. “The rose was perhaps his estranged Guatemalan wife and the little lost prince was no doubt in large part the author” (Village 81).

The Prince’s rose represents Antoine’s wife and conveys his feelings about her. Just as The Little Prince left the rose on bad terms, Antoine left his wife after they had fought. Both The Prince’s flower and Antoine’s wife were very beautiful, but were only concerned with their appearance and other worldly things. When The Prince leaves the rose, she tells him that she has been foolish and stingy with her love (40). This may represent what Antoine hopes that his wife felt when he left her. When The Prince stumbled upon a rose garden, he was shocked. He had thought that his rose was the only one of its kind in the whole universe because that is what it led him to believe. When The Prince met the fox, however, he found out that his rose was in fact unique because he had “tamed” her. All of the other roses looked the same, but he only had a special connection with his rose. In all reality, Antoine was staying with a mistress in New York (Economist 104). He may have realized what made his wife so special in the same way that The Little Prince did.

Antoine most likely found most adults to be foolish in most of the things that they did, just as The Little Prince did on his journeys. The experiences of The Prince may have represented the experiences that Antoine had with many adults in his lifetime. The Little Prince visited many planets on his journeys, but a foolish adult inhabited almost every planet that he visited. For example, The Little Prince visited a planet inhabited by

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a man who owned all of the stars. When The Prince asked him what he did with the stars the man replied that he simply owned them (55). After many attempts at trying to find out what good it would do to own the stars if the man did not do anything with them, The Prince came to the conclusion that the man was very peculiar. On one planet he found a lamp lighter who lit a lamp and then put it back out every few seconds simply because it was his job. The Little Prince thought that that job was noble because the lamp lighter lit the lamp for a good reason, yet fruitless and tireless. This could represent the views that Antoine had about all of the different occupations in the world. He may have found the work of laborers to be noble but fruitless because the work never stops, and the work of most others such as lawyers and landowners to be foolish and pointless.

The Little Prince suggests that Antoine may have in fact wanted to die to escape this world. In The Little Prince, The Prince had a snake bite him so that he would die and could then go back to his planet. Said the snake, “I can carry you farther than any ship could take you” (72). This may symbolize Antoine’s want to die and go to heaven, where he may feel at home. The Prince’s getting home by means of death somewhat parallels the death that Antoine faced upon the crash of his plane (Current 393). Antoine might have felt like death was his only escape because he can’t relate to anyone that he knows. Nobody understood his picture of the boa constrictor, and most people are concerned with vanity while Antoine concentrated on less worldly matters. In the story, The Little Prince was “strange,” unlike anything else around him.

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Antoine’s many airplane crashes might have been indications to those feelings that he was having. He may have been trying to commit suicide directly by crashing on purpose, or indirectly due to the fact that he was a horrible pilot and crashing was a likely event for him. He kept on flying, one crash after another. The numerous crashes before

the final one may have been failed attempts at death in which he couldn’t bring himself to die. He may have needed to write this book in order to feel like he had enough peace of mind and fulfillment to die in peace, for fear that his life would be a waste and the very problems of society that he despised would go unchecked. Furthermore, the fact that he kept flying suggests a strong liking of the sky, which reinforces the hypothesis that both the pilot and The Prince represent Antoine (Encyclopedia 417).

The Little Prince was most likely an explanation to the world of why Antoine felt that he needed to die. Since most people could not understand Antoine, he might have felt that a book would be the only way to get his message through. Also, a book is a much more eloquent way of stating ones reasons for departure than a letter or last testimony. The relation of Antoine to The Prince indicates that the book was a personal statement in which his ideas were conveyed through The Prince. Antoine was similar to The Prince in their personalities and their circumstances. Both The Prince and Antoine crashed to the earth from the sky. Both of them wanted to get “home.” They also shared an understanding of the most important aspects of life, which most people grow to forget. The similarities are seemingly never ending and somewhat startling when thought about. Almost every aspect of The Little Prince shows a similarity between the two on some level. Throughout the book, Antoine employed indirect criticisms of adults and their

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behaviors (Village 81). The numerous follies of adults are portrayed and glorified through The Prince’s encounters. They are criticized directly by Antoine as both the pilot and as The Prince.

Through many instances of direct and indirect criticism and symbolism, Antoine portrayed his feelings of this world and his life through The Little Prince. This is evident through examination of the similarities of him, the pilot and The Prince as well as the criticisms and overtones presented in The Little Prince. Examination of the book reveals all too possible and often startling revelations as to the disposition and mood of Antoine de Saint Exupery. A strong connection can be seen between the events portrayed in his books and the events of his life. The Little Prince gives reason for Antoine to escape this world in which he was a misfit among men.

Current Biography. H.W. Wilson Company. New York: 1971.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century. 4 vols. Michigan: Farmington Hills. 1999.

“France’s Superboy.” The Economist December 1998:104.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, ed. Twentieth Century Authors. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company. (No Date).

Saint Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jonovich, 1971.

“Shortlist: Words.” Village Voice July 2000: 81.

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