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"On Matters of Consequence: A Detailed Description of The Little Prince Project"

Page history last edited by Joanna Macapagal 15 years, 4 months ago

Final Essay by Joanna Macapagal

On Matters of Consequence:  A Detailed Description of The Little Prince Project

 

 

By Joanna Macapagal of The Little Prince Project Team

 

 

 

 

On Matters of Consequence

 

A Detailed Description of The Little Prince Project

 

            The University of California Santa Barbara offered an English course called Media and Information Culture: Literature+during its Winter 2009 quarter.  The students who enrolled into this course were required to select a literary work which they were familiar with and represent it in a project utilizing models, maps, websites, text analysis tools and other modes of research that are more commonly employed in other disciplines.  A group of these students formed together to create The Little Prince Project Team.  The members of this team collectively elected to research the children’s novella The Little Prince because it is very popular and well esteemed in many countries all over the world.  Additionally, because the project requirements called for an integration of models, maps and the like, the project team felt that there was a huge potential for creating a map or model of the Little Prince’s journey.    The members of the team are as follows:

 Avram Baer, Psychology Major

Christian Borneman, Global Studies Major

Joanna-Paula Macapagal, English Major

Courtney Preston, English Major.

            The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was published in 1943.  It tells the story of a Little Prince who lived alone on a planet where a beautiful rose one day mysteriously bloomed.  As soon as the Little Prince noticed the rose, he fell in love with her.  Naturally, the Little Prince lovingly tended to her every need.  However, the rose’s overly demanding behavior eventually made the Little Prince unhappy.  This unhappiness prompted him to leave his planet and to venture off on a journey to other places.  On his journey, the Little Prince visited several planets and met a number of interesting characters, each deeply symbolic and rich with allegory.  Considering the suggestion of a lonely geographer, the Little Prince ended up visiting the planet Earth where he met the narrator of the story, a pilot stranded in the Sahara desert after crashing his plane.  The Little Prince and the narrator formed a very close friendship.  Through this friendship, the narrator learned many things about life.  The story is told by him six years after the Little Prince left Earth to go back to his planet.     

Although The Little Prince is presented as a children’s book, the story’s profound symbolic and allegorical implications appeals to a much vaster audience.  In fact, it has been translated into over 180 languages.  What makes this literary work so appealing was one of the questions the project team wanted to answer.  They were aware of the fact that the characters in the story were inspiring and insightful due to their symbolic and allegorical nature.  For instance, the character of the Tippler (Drunkard) shows the absurdity of alcoholism and circular reasoning and the character of the King illustrates the absurdity of wanting to control people.  What the project team was not aware of until they conducted their research, was how the life experiences of the author influenced the writing of his book and how much of his soul was actually put into its penmanship.  Objectively speaking, the book is just a simple tale of a Little Prince on a journey.  However, because it was written from the heart by someone who lived such an electrifying and unapologetic life, the book, through its profound characters, became a transcendental and introspective experience for those who read it.  Because of this story’s widespread appeal, the project team is confident that their project will be useful to many people. 

The Little Prince Project Team represented this well esteemed classic through an interactive website.  The project team aimed for their website to be an informative source for anyone who had an interest in learning about or studying The Little Prince.  The team also wanted the website to clearly highlight the major themes of alienation, friendship, love, duty and death because the members realized through their research that these themes were a significant part of the story. 

The project team titled their website “Matters of Consequence.”  Several characters in the story said this phrase to describe or justify their behavior to the Little Prince.  However, these characters had problematic ideas about what in life was a true matter of consequence and what was not.  One of these characters was the character of the Business Man who spent all his time counting, recounting and managing the stars because he considered them to be his property.  He wholeheartedly believed that what he did was a matter of consequence. Obviously, counting stars is not a matter of consequence.  Therefore, the Little Prince Project team decided to use the phrase “matters of consequence” for their title, not just because it alluded to the story, but it helped to emphasize the fact that their project focused on the important aspects of the book.

On the home page of the website (www.littleprince.webs.com), the project team provides a brief description of what their website offers.  An excerpt of this description says the following:

The Little Prince Project takes an interdisciplinary approach combining character perspectives, psychoanalysis, text analysis and meta-structural framing to explore the novella's characters and gain insight into how Saint-Exupéry's life experience and beliefs shaped his work.

Because the team members come from different educational backgrounds, they considered it to be a good proposal to do an interdisciplinary study of the book.  Therefore, each team member’s portion of the project is a reflection of their respective major.  The different levels of analysis executed by each project team member will be explained in further detail shortly. 

            Below the brief description described in the preceding paragraph, The Little Prince Project Team provided a model that serves many purposes.  For one, it is a visual representation of the Little Prince’s journey.  It shows the order which the Little Prince visited each character and how each character is isolated on their own individual planet.  This visual representation of the isolation of the planets, thus the characters, illustrates the theme of alienation which is prevalent in the book.  Furthermore, the planets have differences in size and color which is a representation of the characters’ significance in the story.  For example, the Rose’s planet is of a different color and size than the rest of the character planets because she was a significant part of the Little Prince’s life and an important part of the story.  Also, the Lamplighter’s planet is slightly larger than the other blue planets because he was the Little Prince’s favorite character out of the characters he visited.  The Earth is the largest planet on the model and it is located at the top because this is the planet where the narrator meets the Little Prince.  This is also the planet where the story begins and ends.  The model also functions as a simple map of the pre-described journey which the team created for their online visitors to assist them in navigating through the website. 

The pre-described journey is a linear representation of the voyage the Little Prince embarked on in the story.  Once the visitor clicks on the “Start Journey” link on the model, they are taken through each character’s planet in the order they appear on the model, thereby being taken on the same journey the Little Prince took in the story.  At the bottom of every page on the website, there are navigational links that guide the visitor through the journey.  They simply click a link to move on to the next planet of the pre-described journey.  At the end, the journey culminated in the life and times of the fascinating author, Antoine de Saint- Exupéry, and discussed the actual events and people who might have influenced his writing.  Although the team pre-described a journey through their website for their visitors, they also offer them the freedom to custom-tailor their own experience by allowing them to click on any character planet of their choosing.   Each of the character planets are linked to that character’s page.  By clicking on the planet, the visitor can learn about that particular character at their leisure.  Using the convenient navigational links found on the bottom of every page on the website, the visitor can then navigate easily back to the model (solar system) and click on another character planet of their choosing.

Character pages contain research information derived from the team’s various levels of analysis.  Each character page is provided with the following information (as noted on the website):

Character synopsis: Briefly describes the character and their interaction with the Little Prince.

Mental Diagonosis: Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Forth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), a preliminary mental diagnoses of the characters is provided. 

Character Perspective: Through a Combination of dialogue text analysis and their preliminary mental diagnosis, each character's page will have a perspective section that imagines their point of view.  This is to give each character a voice describing their world view and how they might have perceived their experience with the Little Prince.  It gives a view from inside the planet as opposed to examining it from the outside.

In-Depth Dialogue Analysis:  Each character's dialogue has been filtered through several computer-aided text analysis tools on an experimental basis. In most cases, the resulting data obtained adds to the depth and breadth of the study of each character. 

Saint-Ex: The Man Himself: The journey will culminate in the life and times of Saint-Exupéry and the events and people that inspired the writing of The Little Prince.

Each member of the project was responsible for one of the above levels of analysis listed above.  As previously mentioned, their respective section reflects their educational background. 

Joanna Macapagal, an English major, provided the Character Synopsis and produced a Character Perspective for each character.  Based on the story and also the information gained from the other modes of research, Macapagal creatively composed a blog-type monologue that thoughtfully imagined the point of view of the character.  The purpose of this was to give the characters a voice and an opportunity to share their point of view regarding their visit from the Little Prince, which was actually more like an intrusion for many of them.  These perspectives are a 1st person account of who the character is, what they are like and what they thought of the Little Prince.  Furthermore, the character perspectives complement the other modes of research used in the completion of this project.  The mental diagnoses and text analysis approach the study of the character from an outside point of reference, whereas the character perspective delivers a point of view from inside the planet.  Doing so provides a more complete representation of the character.   In the story, the narrator learned about the Little Prince a little bit at a time through the several anecdotes which the Little Prince shared with him about his journey.  Similarly, on the pre-described journey created by the project team, the online visitors learn about the Little Prince little by little through the character perspectives.  Analogous with the narrator, the visitors of the site learn about the Little Prince through stories about his interactions with other characters.  This also explains why the project team chose to make the Little Prince’s character page the last one of the journey. 

Avram Baer, a Psychology major, took a psychological approach to analysis by attempting to diagnose each character with a mental ailment.  There was a general consensus in the team that this approach would be very useful because the characters in the story seemed to suffer from a variety of psychological problems. Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), Baer provided a mental diagnosis for each character.  Although the use of psychoanalysis in the discourse and study of literature has a long history, diagnosing fictional characters can be problematic.  This is because when dealing with actual people, further tests and interviews are usually conducted in order to confirm a preliminary diagnosis. Because these characters are fictional, further interviews and tests on them are impossible.  Nonetheless, through close reading of the story and the scrutiny of each character’s dialogue, Baer diagnosed each character with a mental malady that they were likely to be suffering from.  Each diagnosis is color coded to represent the strength of the diagnosis.  Although these diagnoses are not professional or clinically valid, they present to the visitors of the website another view of the character and another level of analysis.

Courtney Preston, another English major, analyzed the dialogue of each character using the following computer-aided text analysis tools:

            Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) (http://liwc.net/liwcresearch07.php)

            Tag Crowd (http://tagcrowd.com/)

            Online Text Analysis Tool (http://www.online-utility.org/)

In spite of the fact that the use of the tools was experimental in the beginning and that there were no concrete ideas as to what the goal was in using them, the results from analyzing the dialogue through computer-aided text analysis tools proved to be invaluable to the project team’s goals.  The use of these tools showed Preston what the most frequently said words and phrases were by each character, and also the type of words they said often.  For each character, she provided the tables and graphs of her research.  At the top of each page of her analysis, she listed what the data showed and the inferences she was able to make from them. Although Preston was able to derive important information for some of the characters through this level of analysis, there were some characters that did not have enough dialogue for her to put through these tools.  Thus, the results for these characters did not produce significant information about them.  Regardless of a few setbacks such as the lack of dialogue, Preston was able to add depth to the understanding of each character through her analysis of the text.  The findings of her research are on a separate website which is conveniently and easily linked to the main website. 

            Christian Borneman, a Global Studies major, researched the life of the author and the historical significance of when the book was first published in 1943.  Through his research, he learned that many of the themes and the characters found in the story were inspired by Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s life experiences and philosophies.  On the last page of the pre-described journey, Borneman provides a historical framework of the story’s thematic elements of duty and responsibility and exile and alienation and also discusses the inspiration for some of the characters.  Borneman’s research is valuable to the project because not only did it clarify how the book became so popular, but it also discussed the gestation of The Little Prince.  Additionally, most people who have read this book and consider it to be one of their favorites probably are not aware that it was greatly autobiographical.  Providing this information helped to make the project all the more insightful and informative.

            The Little Prince Project team struggled in the beginning with the completion of their project.  Nonetheless, in the end the group succeeded in giving a professional presentation of their project and completing a well-rounded and interdisciplinary study of The Little Prince. They are confident that their project will be useful to those who have an interest in learning about this beloved classic.  They are also pleased with having developed a new way of analyzing a character that integrated different levels of analysis including character perspective, psychological evaluations, dialogue analysis and meta-structural framing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Works Cited

 

Baer, Avram; Borneman, Christian; Macapagal, Joanna and Preston, Courtney.  Matters of

            Consequence.  Webs.com.  13 March 2009.  English 149. 16 March 2009 <http://

            www.littleprince.webs.com>.

Preston, Courtney.   The Little Prince Extended Text Analysis.  Webs.com.  13 March 2009.

            English 149.  16 March 2009 <http://149text.webs.com/thelittleprince.htm>.

 

 

           

                        

 

 

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