Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, Chapitre I

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Lorsque j’avais six ans j’ai vu, une fois, une magnifique image, dans un livre sur la Forêt Vierge qui s’appelait « Histoires Vécues ». Ca représentait un serpent boa qui avalait un fauve. Voilà la copie du dessin…

On disait dans le livre: « Les serpents boas avalent leur proie tout entière, sans la mâcher. Ensuite ils ne peuvent plus bouger et ils dorment pendant les six mois de leur digestion ». J’ai alors beaucoup réfléchi sur les aventures de la jungle et, à mon tour, j’ai réussi, avec un crayon de couleur, à tracer mon premier dessin. Mon dessin numéro 1. Il était comme ça…

J’ai montré mon chef d’œuvre aux grandes personnes et je leur ai demandé si mon dessin leur faisait peur. Elles m’ont répondu: « Pourquoi un chapeau ferait-il peur? « Mon dessin ne représentait pas un chapeau. Il représentait un serpent boa qui digérait un éléphant. J’ai alors dessiné l’intérieur du serpent boa, afin que les grandes personnes puissent comprendre. Elles ont toujours besoin d’explications. Mon dessin numéro 2 était comme ça…

Les grandes personnes m’ont conseillé de laisser de côté les dessins de serpents boas ouverts ou fermés, et de m’intéresser plutôt à la géographie, à l’histoire, au calcul et à la grammaire. C’est ainsi que j’ai abandonné, à l’âge de six ans, une magnifique carrière de peinture. J’avais été découragé par l’insuccès de mon dessin numéro 1 et de mon dessin numéro 2. Les grandes personnes ne comprennent jamais rien toutes seules, et c’est fatigant, pour les enfants, de toujours leur donner des explications.

J’ai donc dû choisir un autre métier et j’ai appris à piloter des avions. J’ai volé un peu partout dans le monde. Et la géographie, c’est exact, m’a beaucoup servi. Je savais reconnaître, du premier coup d’œil, la Chine de l’Arizona. C’est utile, si l’on est égaré pendant la nuit.

Quand j’en rencontrais une qui me paraissait un peu lucide, je faisais l’expérience sur elle de mon dessin no. 1 que j’ai toujours conservé. Je voulais savoir si elle était vraiment compréhensive. Mais toujours elle me répondait: « C’est un chapeau.  » Alors je ne lui parlais ni de serpents boas, ni de forêts vierges, ni d’étoiles. Je me mettais à sa portée. Je lui parlais de bridge, de golf, de politique et de cravates. Et la grande personne était bien contente de connaître un homme aussi raisonnable.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, (1943), Chapitre premier.


Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger de Saint-Exupéry (June 29, 1900, Lyon – July 31, 1944 disappeared in flight) was a French writer and aviator. His experience as an aviation pioneer and war pilot will give him all the legitimacy to deliver his main message: it is by surpassing oneself that one becomes a Man. If it is not entirely autobiographical, his work is largely inspired by his life as an airmail pilot, except for Le Petit Princ e – probably his most popular success – which is rather a poetic and philosophical tale.
The little Princewas published in New York in 1943 and, for technical reasons, the « watercolors of the author » reproduced in the French versions which followed were only reprogramming of the American edition, which led to a significant loss of quality . In addition, some designs had been modified slightly. The recently published Folio edition was apparently the first to provide illustrations conforming to the original edition, of much better technical and artistic quality despite a smaller format (printing techniques have also made progress since 1943).
Even if we don’t know that Saint-Exupéry was 43 years old when he wrote The Little Prince, we immediately learn that he is no longer « six years old »: we thought so,
Because the captivating charm of the first two pages is due to a subtle fusion between naivety and humor, on the one hand, and insight and gravity, on the other. This mixture, accentuated by the presence of the drawings, did Saint-Exupéry really leave the world of children to become a « big person » among all the others?

I. An opening marked by humor and naivety

1. The expression of humor

The drawings are inseparable from the text, since Saint-Exupéry makes several allusions and references to them: « Here is the copy of the drawing », « my first drawing » « My drawing number 1 », « I asked them if my drawing frightened them » …
Humor is born from the gap between what we want to suggest and the result.
Drawings 1 and 3 evoke the confrontation (the heads are represented in opposite directions). Now the boa looks like a bowler hat and the elephant of a toy under a blanket in the drawing, hence the need for an explanatory legend because without it, we would understand nothing.
Drawing 1: for the child, it is a mysterious, horrible struggle, a frightening symbol of domination. However, the beast with the raised eyebrows and the small brushed mustache resembles a mouse as much as an adult.
For the child, digestion lasts six months, the beast is swallowed whole (this is the message of the book « Lived Stories »). For adults, the open or closed boa has something dry and definitive like a can.

2. The manifestation of naivety

The naivety, delicious, accentuates the effect of shift or phase shift.
The passage looks like a tale for a child, told by a child, but it is Saint-Exupéry who speaks of and for the child that he is no longer.
It thus creates a fresh and charming duplication (we find a little the same effect in Candide by Voltaire).
The child does not play with synonyms: when the word is correct, he often repeats it « snake boa », « swallows a beast », « magnificent ».
The child also uses spoken language: « he was like that », he often says « I » because the child considers himself a bit like the center of the world, he is talkative and does not condense by the essential « to understand », « Always », « heaps … ».
He handles the dialogue which is more alive than an abstract presentation would be and uses juxtapositions: « I showed my masterpiece to grown-ups and I asked them … »; “My drawing did not represent a hat. It represented a boa snake … « .
Here, the tone suggests a gentle and serious child, he expects to impress: he has a memory, a taste, precocious, for « Lived Stories ». He manifests a desire for domination and the art of gesture. Very educational, the child shows, draws, questions (« I asked them if … ») and resumes (« grown-ups » « always need explanations »).

Transition : Now, to this child fascinated by the struggle of big cats, we observe that a hat « does not scare »! One can imagine his dismay in front of these grown-ups who never understand anything the first time. And one realizes that laughter is born precisely from the incomprehension of the two worlds: that of childhood and that of adults. It takes the tender humor of Saint-Exupéry to make people think about data seen with insight and gravity.

II. A philosophical tale full of insight and gravity

1. Insight into the eyes

The insight is that of the look of Saint-Exupéry.
The child is eager to understand. A slow maturation takes place at his place, he shows seriousness and makes efforts. He experiences the intoxication of knowledge and creation. He is anxious to approach the world of grown-ups and to make himself known to it, even if it is frightening. The child establishes dialogue.
The grown-ups seem sharp, cutting, serious. They do not know or do not take the time to see: « it did not represent a hat ». The grown-ups do not continue the dialogue, speak one way, « advise » and tire out the best wishes « it is tiring ».

2. Gravity of tone

This is serious: a real gap is created in adolescence.
Misunderstanding leads to abandonment (« I gave up »), discouragement (« I had been discouraged »).
He expresses a need for explanation and questions himself. Can’t we understand without words? He wants to know if his drawing is really understanding.
This is why he gives up talking about his dream as revealed by the triple repetition of the negation  » neither « : « I did not speak to him either of serpents boas, nor of virgin forests, nor of stars ».
It manifests a search for the useful: the abstract terms evoke the serious learning of difficult concepts: « geography », history « , » calculation « . We cannot not cite the very serious passage from Terre des Hommes in which Saint-Exupéry speaks of the « Mozart that we assassinate ».
What is the example set by adults? what interests them is « bridge », « golf », « politics » and « ties ». What is so powerful there compared to « boa snakes », « virgin forests », « stars »? Is it exciting for children watching?

Transition : So in these pages where gravity takes so much importance, one is struck once again, by the « gap » between the beginning and the end of the text. The first part has three drawings and six paragraphs as opposed to the second part of the text which has only four paragraphs and no drawing. The door that opens onto the adult world is heavy, it would be heavy, at least, if Saint-Exupéry did not give us the key.

III. A text marked by the author’s experience

1. What could make you unhappy

Saint-Exupéry is himself a happy child, a sort of « Little Prince » as he recalls in Terre des Hommes. But here, he chooses to evoke the difficult moment of the farewell to childhood.
He evokes what could make unhappy:

– a “gray” world (without painting or drawings),
– frustrations (failures and criticisms),
– docility (“I gave up”, “I therefore had to”, “I learned”), l
– the concession (he decided to learn what interests them, since they do not understand it.

So is the lesson of the little guy in colored pencil that of renunciation

2. The importance of humor

Certainly not, because if Saint-Exupéry warns us of what could make a child unhappy, he knows how to smile, as he knew how to escape.
Do adults seem formidable? He calls them « funny species ». Saint-Exupéry behaves like an ethnologist « I have lived a lot with older people », « I have seen them up close ». His message is simple: do not be influenced too much by them.
We must spare them, test them, and leave those that are not « lucid » or « understanding ».
But adults are not useless: sometimes they give good advice. Better a good pilot than an average painter! And geography can always serve: « And geography, that’s right, has served me a lot ».
Adults are not very bad if you know how to « put themselves within their reach ». They even have a certain naivety: good meetings make them very happy: « And the grown-up is very happy to know such a reasonable man ». This reassures and comforts them.

3. The importance of poetry

This permanent humor of Saint-Exupéry is not without poetry.
From the little child fascinated by beautiful images to the grown-up who can contemplate them « for real » from his plane « I have flown all over the world »: from China to Arizona. This is the beautiful of the Histories Lived books.
He sometimes had sometimes worrying adventures: « lost during the night ».
He kept his drawing as a talisman, a kind of key to orient himself in the adult world.
He knew how to preserve at the bottom of his heart this world of which he has not forgotten any detail. But this treasure is reserved for the initiated only.


In conclusion, the reader cannot remain indifferent to this « magnificent » story.
All the prestige of the tale is found in this text: drawings, dreams, trials, conquests, victories.
In addition, the author adds his particular mark thanks to the humor of a perhaps disenchanted smile: « It did not improve my opinion too much » writes Saint-Exupéry towards the end of the text. It is 1943, this difficult period probably explains their disenchantment.
So this text reflects the quiet malice of an experience that has learned to live « by pretending » that it was that of an adult, while keeping the freshness of a child

Du même auteur Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, Résumé



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