How the Little Prince Can Help You Overcome Loneliness

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

"No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he is unique in all the world."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

In 1935, for almost a week, author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was lost in the Arabian desert. Rapid dehydration, hallucination, and looming death, yet somehow Saint-Exupéry survived — saved by a Bedouin on a camel. Then World War II, and Saint-Exupéry was once again in the air.

During a break in North America, Saint-Exupéry was urged by the wife of his publisher to write a children's novel to calm his nerves. In 1943, The Little Prince was published, and Saint-Exupéry became a French national icon. In 1944, while on a military reconnaissance mission, Saint-Exupéry's plane disappeared. It was later discovered in the Mediterranean, where it was presumed Saint-Exupéry had died. This is eerily similar to the ending of The Little Prince where the main protagonist, the prince, is presumed dead, but the reader is never sure.

Lived experience informed much of Saint-Exupéry's work: his time in the desert, the loneliness of the cockpit, the isolation of war, and the death of his younger brother François. During World I, while the two were away at school in Switzerland, François died of rheumatic fever. Not only his brother but François was Saint-Exupéry's closest friend. His death left Saint-Exupéry deserted. These memories were later crafted into the emotional ending of The Little Prince.

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

On the surface, The Little Prince is a book about an aviator who crashes in the desert and meets a little boy. Under the surface, The Little Prince is a meditation on loneliness. When one is alone, functions become friends. Life lessons become characters. Ordinary obstacles become beautiful experiences. And effort, even utterly futile effort, is praiseworthy. Not because of utility but because it uses our time. Without conditions, everything becomes worthwhile. When one is lonely, when one realizes that life is absurd, then one is free to look to the abstract for happiness and meaning.

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
— Jacobus Johannes Leeuw

It is within this context that this passage from The Little Prince comes to life:

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. ‘Please–tame me!’ he said.

’I want to, very much,’ the little prince replied. ‘But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.’

’One only understands the things that one tames,’ said the fox. ‘Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore. If you want a friend, tame me...’

’What must I do, to tame you?’ asked the little prince.

’You must be very patient,’ replied the fox. ‘First, you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day...’

The next day the little prince came back.

’It would have been better to come back at the same hour,’ said the fox. ‘If for example, you came at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites...’

’What is a rite?’ asked the little prince.

’Those also are actions too often neglected,’ said the fox. ‘They are what make one day different from other days, one hour different from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.’
(The Little Prince | Netflix)

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near —

’Ah,’ said the fox, ‘I shall cry.’

’It is your own fault,’ said the little prince. ‘I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you...’

’Yes, that is so,’ said the fox.

’But now you are going to cry!’ said the little prince.

’Yes, that is so,’ said the fox.

’Then it has done you no good at all!’

’It has done me good,’ said the fox, ‘because of the color of the wheat fields.’ And then he added: ‘Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.’

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

’You are not at all like my rose,’ he said. ‘As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he is unique in all the world.’

And the roses were very much embarrassed.
(The Little Prince | Netflix)

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

’You are beautiful, but you are empty,’ he went on. ‘One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you — the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.’

And he went back to meet the fox. ‘Goodbye,’ he said. ‘Goodbye,’ said the fox. ‘And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’

’What is essential is invisible to the eye,’ the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

’It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.’

’It is the time I have wasted for my rose —‘ said the little prince so he would be sure to remember.

’Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose...’

’I am responsible for my rose,’ the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

If we pay too close attention, the world makes us want to turn away, we uncover all its hypocrisies. That we have always been alone. That we may not exist, like the prince, a mirage in the desert. Yet Saint-Exupéry is urging us to look again at this mad world, that it's still okay. Life's not meant to be solved but meant to be lived. We no longer need to be burdened with certainty, for there is none.

Saint-Exupéry's French contemporary Albert Camus writes in The Myth of Sisyphus:

Within the limits of nihilism it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism ... it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.

It is when we expect less that calm appreciation can flourish. When we release all attachments is when we are free. It is in giving ourselves permission to be happy in loneliness that we ever discover happiness. When we can enjoy our own company is when being alone does not bear loneliness (and nihilism gives way to Zen). What must be tamed is ourselves.

Context, it gives experience new life and shines light on the invisible. The antonym for context: isolation. Without context, experience dies, and what is essential is taken for granted. The qualities we live in are bound within the contexts of our minds, or the isolation from it.

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

(The Little Prince | Netflix)

When the little prince found peace within his loneliness, he disappeared from the desert. Life imitates art: just as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry seemed to find peace, he too disappeared...

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