Dissecting The Visual Elements In Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince

Here we decode the messages behind the visual imagery in the French classic novel The Little Prince

The Little Prince is a storybook that understands the vulnerability of being a child very emphatically. It is immensely loved across the world because it evokes nostalgia and poignancy that makes it a comfortable novel for all ages. Its verbiage and visual content are gracefully designed to provide succor to its readers and offer them spiritual enrichment. A writing format that is accompanied by a kaleidoscopic array of pictures not only provides a sense of integration to this experience but also makes it more attractive and engaging for the primary target audience - children. 

An interesting aspect to think about from the novel is the visual content that accompanies the main story. The representation of the little prince resembles that of an adult. He is often seen wearing a scarf, or a bow tie, and his hair is scattered like a rebellious teenager. This enables the child reader to connect with the author of the novel since they feel like they are reading a work that considers them at par with adults.

little prince; french; children's book; books for children
Source: New Yorker

Accompanying a fantastical story with visual content also helps children understand the dimensionality of ideas by seeing them represented visually. For example, the large baobab tree that is powerful enough to 'split up an entire planet' is reminiscent of the powerlessness of the individual in the face of oppressive systems that govern our socio-economic systems. 

baobab; smallness of individual
Source: Exploring your mind

The small planet of the young boy is evocative of the small and simple world of children. The pictures of the stock characters - the businessman, the lamplighter, the king, the geographer and the others - are drawn such that they reflect the qualities and nature of who they represent. The King wears a huge gown, which covers the entirety of the small planet on which he lives. It symbolizes the pervasiveness of the power figures in a child's life. The geographer is wearing green to represent geology. He looks very aged and experienced, even though his work is irrational and insincere. From a child's perspective, the paradoxes of the adult world make them appear as unconscious cartoons dictated by concepts and rationalities out of their control. The visual caricatures contribute to heightening this absurdity.


The visual content in The Little Prince also reminds the reader that there is an element of Truth in human experience that the written word conceals. For example, the author uses his picture of the boa constrictor to 'test' the closeness of the people in his life to this unexplainable Truth. The driving force to attain closeness to this Truth appears to be empathic imagination that connects each individual to every other. In their article on 'The Humanism of Saint-Exupéry', critic L.A. Triebel comments, "Terre des Hommes states the truth of man's relation to the machine and his fundamental quality of responsibility to others (and also to himself) for his own share of the life-force." This humanist message is emphasized via the use of imagery - not only in the visual content but also in the rich metaphors present throughout the novel. 

The little prince's commitment to the rose underlies the essential difference between the world of the child and that of an adult - children care about being responsible for what gives them meaning, whereas adults derive meaning from the universal 'life-force' and collective rationalities (like concepts of money, political power, and academic endeavors) without seeking to add to them. Without the element of responsibility, liberty is shallow and a recipe for social disaster. Until there are people in the world who avoid responsibility while still feeling entitled to liberty, there will be perpetual conflict.

Children will be vulnerable, sad, and confused, and their helplessness will be appropriated by adults unwilling to understand them and the sense of responsibility they inherently feel by the virtue of not being 'corrupted' by society's entitlement. "Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has - yes or no? - eaten a rose…"

This sums up the conflict created for the responsible Child, who wants to protect its rose at all costs, by the irresponsible Adult, who gives the sheep and the muzzle to the Child without a thread to hold it tight. It's a 'mystery' because one does not know when the response will be able to carry the burden of the irresponsible on its shoulders.

rose; little prince; love
Source: Medium
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