The Little Prince
Disguised Imperfections: Human Nature in “The Little Prince,” “The Mirror Maker,” and “The Nose”
Imperfection, like mortality itself, is an integrated aspect of being human. Most people, however, try to mask theirs through self-importance and ambition. Self-importance and ambition help to promote self-confidence and the illusion of perfection in an imperfect world. The three narratives–The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, The Mirror Maker by Primo Levi, and The Nose by Nikolai Gogol–provide evidence to prove how imperfections are hidden by ambition and self-importance.
In The Little Prince, the narrator describes his meeting with a little prince from another planet. The little prince is a peculiar child whose non-stop talking and unique perspective of life made the reader questions grown-ups everywhere. In this book, one of the imperfections that the author focused on was vanity. One of the first examples of vanity we were presented with was the case of the discovery of Asteroid 325. The astronomer who first discovered it was dismissed because of the way he was dressed. A few years later, “the astronomer repeated his demonstration…wearing a very elegant suit. And this time everyone believed him” (Saint-Exupéry 10). Saint-Exupéry showed us that people hide behind beautiful clothing and accessories to make themselves feel more important. The astronomer’s discoveries did not change between the years. Only his clothing changed and somehow that provided others with ample evidence to support his claims. The first garment seemed too ridiculous to them and therefore, if they had accepted his findings, they would also be labeled as ridiculous. People are vain but they prefer to refer to it as protocol to add a bit of confidence and power behind their choices. It is still vanity as the author presented it but most people would never see it as such. Instead, they would agree that they are making the world better by imposing dress codes and protocols. In reality, they simply want to feel more powerful and perfect.
Another imperfection we could find in the story was laziness. Both the lamplighter and the geographer that the little prince visited can be placed in that category. They both stayed in one place for their entire lives but attempted to hide it with ambition. They both believed that they were doing an important job and if they continued, they will eventually have a better life and make the world a better place. As the little prince remarked, neither had the will needed to actually move and do something else with their lives. They were stuck in that one spot and decided to embellish it by enlarging their self-worth.
Likewise, Primo Levi’s The Mirror Maker exposed people’s imperfections under their mask. Timoteo is a mirror maker who loved to create new types of mirrors. He invented one that could distort the human body. He gifted his fiancée with one but it did not make the impression he was aiming for on her. That was the story’s first approach into human’s perception on his own imperfection. After Timoteo gave the mirror to his fiancée, “Agatha saw herself transformed into a stork-woman, with shoulders, breast, and abdomen compressed into a bundle balanced on two extremely long, sticklike legs; … The story ended badly. Agatha broke mirror and engagement” (214). Even though Agatha knew the reflection she was staring at was not truly hers but a distorted version, she refused to accept it. She did not want to have something that would give the faintest hint that she may not be perfect.
Then, came Timoteo’s most controversial mirror. He invented a metaphysical one that could bend the rules of physics. It was supposed to show the viewer the way the other person viewed him. This mirror was not well received by the population. First, Timoteo tested it on his family and friends. When he tried it with Agatha, “the image of himself that he saw, as on a small video screen, was not very flattering” (215). He immediately left her afterwards because he suddenly realized he no longer had feelings for her. Yet, when he presented the mirror to Emma he “saw a marvelous Timoteo” (215). That was when he was aware of his profound love for her. Timoteo’s feelings changed from one instance to the next, not because the women did any great acts but because he was able to see their perception of him. In Agatha’s mind, he wasn’t flattering while he was the handsomest in Emma’s. It was his pride that decided who he loved at the end. He found someone who saw him as perfection rather than a flawed man. She boosted his ego.
Finally, Timoteo opened his invention to the rest of the world. It did not receive the attention he thought it was going to receive, however. The author wrote, “all the salesmen agreed in reporting that customers satisfied with their image as reflected on the brow of friends or relations were too few” (216). This statement provided with yet another example of people not being able to accept their imperfections. Most other people around a person such as their friends and family will without a doubt see the imperfections in the person. They will never see the person as perfect. The only person who can trick himself into thinking that he is perfect is the person himself. The others will see what he is lacking or what he possesses in too large amount. That was the fact that the people could not handle. They refused to accept the imperfections that their own friends and family saw so they blamed the mirror.
Lastly, there is The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. The main character in this short story was Kovalev who was the epitome of vain and self-absorbed. Gogol emphasized Kovalev’s traits by writing almost a page description of his rank and importance at the beginning of his story. As soon as Kovalev noticed the missing nose, his mind immediately went to his fellow collegiate and his ranking contacts. He was engrossed by the class ranks and where he stood in them. He wanted to elevate himself so “to give himself more nobility and weight, he never referred to himself as a collegiate assessor, but always as a major” (305). The title revitalized his self-esteem which was his primary reason for working hard and worrying so much about the missing nose.
Consequently, Kovalev’s most prominent imperfection was his inflated self-importance in society. As intended, Gogol’s character illustrated the disgusting part of society which it had hidden behind beautiful words and ambition. From a broad perspective, Kovalev gave the air of a hard-working young man who deserved to have his best wishes met. Yet, the amount of obsession he revealed throughout the story showed that the ambition was mainly a front to undermine his feeling of superiority. The social rank that society had established gave more room for battle of superiority versus inferiority between the people. When Kovalev met his nose, he was never nervous to approach him because of the status quo standing between them. He questioned himself, “How shall I approach him? … By all tokens, by his uniform, by his hat, one can see he’s a state councilor” (307). He didn’t want to go meet the nose for fear of coming of as impertinent to someone with a higher rank than him. Even the nose had inherited Kovalev’s self-importance. It was reluctant to talk to him because it believed itself to have a higher status than him.
Undoubtedly, the nose is the most prominent feature of a person’s face. It almost leads the face hence when it becomes detached, it left with that sense of predominance. Combined with its master’s ambition, it gained the authority that Kovalev had always craved. Nevertheless, Kovalev and the others around him never noticed his nor its nose’s manners as insubordinate or fallacious. On the contrary, they were well received because they are similar to the ones they also possessed. Everyone is obsessed with the rank they are currently in and how to level it. Societies with no ranking can see the narcissism that this type of system had spread within the people. That same ambition that it induced is what had created the distrust between the people. For example, when Kovalev realized that his nose was really gone and he could not get it back, he immediately settled for blaming others. According to the narrator, “it would hardly be unlikely if the blame were placed on none other than Podtochina, the staff officer’s wife, who wished him to marry her daughter” (316). The staff officer’s wife wanted to secure a bright future for her daughter by helping her to marry well with someone with reasonable rank but that motherly affection and ambition caused her to be the recipient of Kovalev’s anger. He believed that she was looking for a way to persuade him into marrying her daughter so she used witchcraft to remove his nose from his face. His belief was found to be false, nonetheless, there still withstand that element of distrust among the people of the same society because there is the possibility that it may have been true. Anyhow, the people circulate this distrust as ambition regardless of the outcome.
Human beings are never perfect, either in life or in literature that aspires to reflect human truths. We are not created to be perfect beings but none of us like to be reminded of that fact. As it was proven in the three literary works – The Little Prince, The Mirror Maker, and The Nose – we go through great length to try to disguise them.
Gogol, Nikolai. “The nose.” n.d. PDF File. 30 November 2016.
Levi, Primo. “The Mirror Maker.” n.d. PDF File. 30 November 2016.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine De, and Richard Howard. The Little Prince. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. Print.
Matters of Consequence in “The Little Prince”: Comparing Childhood and Adulthood
In Antoine de Saint Exupery’s short narrative “The Little Prince”, the division between adults and children is clearly defined through their use of imagination. The typical adult perspective is irrational and close minded. Adults fail to recognize the importance of relationships and imagination because they are obsessed with what they perceive to be “matters of consequence” (Exupery 135) and are incapable of change. As children grow into adults they mature along the way. With maturity typically comes responsibility. “The Little Prince” explores different aspects of responsibility. Exupery does this through the perspectives of the adults and children. Adults believe responsibility to be about overseeing and caring for possessions, whereas children believe responsibility to be about nurturing relationships.
Through the little prince and the narrator, readers learn that we have a responsibility to nurture, and value our relationships with others, and to not lose sight of what is truly important. The narrator of the story is an adult, but he is not categorized with the rest of the grown-ups because he still has an imagination and understands that money and “figures are a matter of indifference” (Exupery 142). To adults, numbers are essential. It is the only way in which they can understand things. As an example of this, the narrator explains that if you were to describe the beauty of a house to an adult, they would not understand you, but if you said to them “‘I saw a house that cost $20,000’” (Exupery 142), they would understand that it is a beautiful house. Numbers are a way of sharing information that is not open to interpretation. Numbers are factual and impersonal. Exupery therefore is suggesting to readers that the reason adults are only interested in figures is because they have no imagination or original thought.
Along with the adults’ interest in figures, Exupery uses the picaresque narrative of the little prince’s journey from his planet to Earth, to reveal to us the other negative traits which adults possess. The first adult that the little prince meets on his journey is the king. The negative personality trait which the king represents is a need for authority. They need to feel as if they are in control, even if this is a false sense of control. The king has no subjects to rule over, yet he claims that he reigns over everything. Adults wish to feel, like the king does, that their “rule [is] not only absolute: it [is] universal” (Exupery 154). Exupery explains to readers that the king is trapped by his own need for control and he does not realize that he has no meaningful relationships with other people.
Following his meeting with the king the little prince visits a second adult, the conceited man. Readers learn from this encounter that “to conceited men, all other men are admirers” (Exupery 157). Exupery explains to us that the irony in being conceited is that it makes a person lonely however, they need other people to confirm that they are “the best dressed, the richest, and most intelligent” (Exupery 158). The only way for a vain person to be sure that they are the best, is for them to have nobody around for them to compare themselves to, yet to confirm that they are the best, they require praise from another person. After this second encounter with an adult, readers begin to notice the contradictions adults live with along with their repulsive character traits.
Readers gain more awareness of the flawed character traits of adults when the little prince meets the tippler. The little prince and readers are confused by this character because of his flawed logic. The prince discovers that the man drinks in order to forget he is “ashamed of drinking” (Exupery 159). This character teaches us that adults are likely to ignore important underlying problems, and instead search for quick solutions. They want a quick fix so that they do not need to think about troublesome things. Due to his lack of imagination, the tippler is not able to realize that there is a deeper underlying problem to his drinking habit. The tippler uses drinking as a way to fill a void in his life, similar to the way in which some adults use work to fill a void.
The adult which the prince encounters on the fourth planet is the businessman. This man represents many adults and has a trait which they all possess; preoccupation with work and matters of consequence. He barely has time for interaction with another human being. The businessman represents a phenomenon of modern society where it is common for an adult’s only concern to be money and work. The businessman explains to the prince that he has only been distracted from his work three times “during the fifty-four years that [he has] inhabited this planet” (Exupery 160). Fifty-four years is over half a lifetime, and during this time the businessman has done nothing useful. He has formed no important human relationships or accomplished anything other than accurately counting all his possessions and writing down that number on to a piece of paper. Although this man believes that his work is important, it truly has no significance and by looking at this situation through the eyes of the little prince, the reader can understand how empty life is without human interaction. On the fifth planet the prince visits, he has a brief interaction with the lamplighter. This is the only adult he meets who thinks “of something else besides himself” (Exupery 164). The lamplighter has a devotion to keeping the planet lit, even though his planet now turns so quickly that he must light the lamp every minute. He blindly follows obsolete orders, which in a way is admirable because of his faithfulness, yet this faithfulness also represents adults’ inability to change.
Another man who exemplifies an inability to change is the geographer, who is the last man the prince meets before traveling to Earth. The prince finally believes he has met a man with a “real profession”, however the geographer appears to follow rules which are equally as obsolete as the rules the other adults adhere to. According to this man, “‘the geographer is much too important to go loafing about’” (Exupery 166). The geographer’s rigid belief that he is too important to explore his planet for himself has led to his lack of knowledge about his planet. The geographer does teach the prince one important lesson however, and that is that the flower which the prince left behind on his home planet is ephemeral. To the geographer this means that the flower is unimportant because it will not be around forever, but to the prince this means that his flower is important, and he needs to nurture and appreciate it while he can. From this encounter readers can understand that the flower is symbolic of human relationships, and it is important to spend time caring for other people. The geographer frustrates readers because he follows insignificant rules and is not willing to change.
The reader’s take-away from the prince’s encounters with these adults is that their beliefs are all absurd, irrational, and contradictory. Their lack of imaginations causes them to become obsessed with arbitrary tasks and they have no time to form meaningful relationships. They believe they only have time for things which are important, yet they do not understand that there is more to life than how many things they own, control, or oversee. Some of the adults such as the lamplighter, or the drunk are somewhat capable of seeing the absurdity in their actions however, they are incapable of change. The adults’ main problem is that they are only capable of attaching value to objects which they deem to be commodifiable. Human relationships, knowledge, and imagination are not important to them because they have no obvious extrinsic value.
Exupery, Antoine de Saint. “The Little Prince”. Rpt. in Eng 191. Comp. Maria Mikolchak. St. Cloud, MN: St. Cloud State University, 2015. P. 132-192.