The Process of Recognition in The Little Prince

 

“Self consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.”(Phenomenology of the Spirit  111).

In his Phenomenology of the Spirit Hegel describes consciousness as an independent thing whose independence is only achieved through the acknowledgment of its own dependence on outside objects and the subsequent struggle to negate this “self externality” in order to achieve true independence (Phenomenology of the Spirit  114). He retells this elaborate genesis as a dramatic “life and death struggle”, in the story of the Lord and the Bondsman where each must engage in this struggle in order to “raise their certainty of being” (Phenomenology of the Spirit 113). In both stories one thing is clear: in order to develop a truly independent consciousness it is essential to first acknowledge and be acknowledged by another consciousnesses. In other words, we need the recognition of other consciousnesses — this is the first step to attaining our own freedom.

One of my favorite children’s books, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, seems to describe very well this “process of Recognition” which Hegel writes about (Phenomenology of the Spirit  111). In the story the narrator, a lonely aviator with an identity crisis that has something to do with people not being able to recognize a drawing he made when he was six, crash lands in the desert where he meets the little prince who lives on a lone astroid in space. The little prince recognizes the aviators drawing for what it is, a boa constrictor with an elephant in its stomach and not a hat, which seems to mirror the mutual acknowledgment between the consciousness of the little prince and that of the narrator. At the same time the narrator could represent the Bondsman (who lives on earth among objects and is constantly searching for recognition/connection via his drawing of a boa constrictor) and the little prince the Lord (who lives alone on an astroid in the heavens). In spending time with the little prince the narrator becomes more and more self aware— he sees himself in the little prince. They discuss many things regarding perspective and relationships, like the importance of taming (making connections with other people). The characters on other tiny planets which the little prince met in his travels, the businessman, the king with no subjects, etc., could very well be the seemingly independent consciousnesses which have not yet attained recognition and therefore possess no truth of their own self certainty. “Each is indeed certain of its own self, but not of the other, and therefore its own self certainty still has no truth”(Phenomenology of the Spirit  113). These isolated characters are all very narrow minded and cannot possess any certain knowledge of themselves or the world around them, i.e. a geographer who has never really seen the land he is supposedly mapping. At the end of the book, as is fitting of a life and death struggle between two consciousnesses, the little prince dies (or returns to his astroid in the heavens). He returns due to his great love for the rose which prompted his journey in the first place (a sort of dependence, he lives for the rose). The narrator is both saddened and comforted by the little prince’s departure because he was validated by their meeting but now sees he doesn’t need the little prince to stay. The little prince’s death is essentially the negation of the narrator’s “external self” which according to Hegel, is how the narrator can become a “pure being-for-self” (Phenomenology of the Spirit  117).

Click here to read an article in the New Yorker on the ambiguity of meaning in The Little Prince (which might make my own hegelian interpretation more acceptable) and the interpretation of the book as a war story.

2 responses to “The Process of Recognition in The Little Prince

  1. I read The Little Prince a few years ago, and at the time I didn’t make the connections to consciousness as you have in this blog post. But now that you mention it, it’s definitely an interesting dynamic to think about. The relationship between the narrator and the prince do fit the characteristics of the different roles between the lord and the bondsman. However I think the only inconsistency is that the narrator was already able to acknowledge his own consciousness before having met his other consciousness (the prince), so it doesn’t completely fit with Hegel’s idea that one consciousness needs validation of another consciousness to know that it itself exists. (I’m not sure if I’m interpreting his ideas right though, this is just what I got from it!)

  2. You are right! I just superimposed Hegel’s philosophy over the story of the Little Prince so there are definitely inconsistencies. It made for some fun writing though. I guess I was going for the acknowledgement or validation of the narrator’s creative, childlike part of his consciousness which I felt bound him to others, in that he was always restraining that aspect of himself because of the recognition he was deprived from early on. The story goes like this, when the narrator was six years old he made his Drawing Number One of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Everyone he showed it to mistook it for a hat, so he gave up drawing all together. Even as an adult the narrator would show his Drawing Number One to people in order to test if they were people of “true understanding”. Unable to find anyone who recognizes his drawing he claims to have lived his life alone without anyone he could really talk to. Then he meets the Little Prince who recognizes the drawing immediately… after the prince leaves the narrator takes up drawing and writing again. He also no longer uses his Drawing No. 1 as a litmus test, he is a truly independent consciousness so he no longer needs other people to validate him. So it is a loose connection but I think in many ways the narrator was not able acknowledge his own consciousness (even if only some aspect of it) before he met the Little Prince.

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