The Little Prince: Novel Summary :Section I
Text: The Little Prince, Written and Illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Translated by Richard Howard, Harcourt, 2000.
(The book is divided into sections without titles, like a short story.)
Summary of Section I
The adult narrator speaking in the first person tells of an incident when he was six years old. He saw a picture of a boa constrictor in a book about the jungle, called True Stories. The book says that boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, so he draws a picture of a swollen up snake that had just eaten. He shows the drawing to grown-ups and asks if they are afraid. They say, why should we be afraid of a hat? As we see the drawing in the book, the outline does roughly look like a hat, but the snake has a head with an eye in it. The boy is disappointed because they don’t understand that the snake has swallowed an elephant, so he draws the inside of the boa constrictor, showing the elephant hidden in his belly. The grown-ups do not respond and advise him to study geography and arithmetic instead. He chooses a different career than art and becomes an airplane pilot.
He claims that traveling all over the world, he has had dealings with plenty of serious people, and it has not impressed him. Any time he meets a grown-up who might understand something, he brings out his drawing of the boa constrictor. If the person says it is a hat, he switches the topic to something on a simpler level, like golf and politics.
Commentary on Section I
Immediately, the narrator divides all people into two groups: children who have not yet lost their imagination, and grown-ups who have been dulled by the world. Though the first section is humorous, it is also “serious.” The word “serious” is used here and several times in the story to denote unimaginative grown-ups, or the majority of the population. The little boy that the narrator used to be did as he was told. He did study geography, and he jokes that it helps him to fly his airplane, for it has been a big help to “tell China from Arizona at first glance” (p. 2).
The book is dedicated to Saint-Exupéry’s friend, Leon Werth, whom he claims is still enough of a child to enjoy the story: “this grown-up can understand everything.” By dedicating the book to the child Werth once was, he effectually dedicates the book to the lost child in everyone. The book immediately is a surprise in that a child’s point of view becomes the norm against which everything is tested. The book of jungle tales is called True Stories, and the drawing of the boa is, in the boy’s estimation, the truth as well. Just because the elephant is invisible to the adults doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This idea of the visible being the only reality is shattered by the end of the story. The boy is disappointed when he has to draw what is hidden inside the boa for the adults. They can’t “see” beyond the hard surface of things. They interpret everything by appearance.