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