Meghan Reha (Tiskilwa, Ill., junior math major)
“The Little Prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house. He owned three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. He also owned a flower, unlike any flower in the galaxy, of great beauty and of inordinate pride. It was this pride that ruined the serenity of the Little Prince’s world and started him on the interplanetary travels that brought him to Earth, where he learned, finally, from a fox, the secret of what is really important in life.”
I first read The Little Prince for a 9th grade English class. During discussion the teacher said outright—this quotation is the meaning of this book: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” I still don’t get it in exactly the way he meant for us to understand. This particular quotation does not resonate with me at all. I have some vague, academic theories about its meaning, but frankly, I don’t much care any more that I don’t get it. In the process of trying to crack the hidden meaning of that particular quotation, I have found different parts of this story to resonate deeply with what I have experienced and believe about life. Mostly, the Little Prince has taught me deeply about friendship.
First this: “You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.” The fox, mentioned above, was wild when the Little Prince first encountered him and therefore they could not play together. But the fox explains that if the Little Prince tames him, by establishing ties with him, the fox will become unique in all the world, and then they can play together. The prince complies, and they spend their days together. The Little Prince is, however, a traveler and must move on. This quotation, “You are responsible forever for what you have tamed,” is something the Fox says to the prince as he departs. It is a statement about the prince’s relationship to the fox and also to the flower left behind on the prince’s planet, the flower who causes him so much grief.
There are times in a person’s life—times in my life—when strong friendships disintegrate for poor reasons. Maybe it was because someone moved away and the distance was too much. Maybe someone else got in the way. Maybe it was because of a misunderstanding, maybe just because there wasn’t enough time to keep things going. Maybe there is no good reason to point to. There have been two really heart-wrenching times of this very thing since I’ve been in college. Both times I found myself understandably bitter and hurt. In trying to understand and heal in those times, these words have come back to me. “You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.” They remind me that I cannot just write off people that I have loved because our relationship doesn’t meet my needs and whims anymore. The Little Prince reminds me that it is no friendship at all when I deny the love that I poured into someone else.
“I am responsible forever for what I have tamed.” I don’t mean chase them around like a love-sick puppy trying to make things like they used to be, but to retain the dignity and affection that made that friend “unique in all the world.” Even if one of my most treasured friendships collapses with a whisper, The Little Prince reminds me that bitterness does not belong in the same place as all the great memories I have. The fox tells the prince, “It has done me good because of the color of the wheat fields.” And if you want to know what that means, you’ll just have to ask the Little Prince.
The Little Prince, written and illustrated by Antoine de St.-Exupéry (Harcourt Inc.: 1943)