There’s another interesting section in “The Little Prince” that caught my attention. This is from chapter 8, where the Little Prince explains how he came to meet his rose and their falling out. The falling out occurs after she appears on his planet and reveals herself to him in her full radiant beauty.
So, too, she began very quickly to torment him with her vanity–which was, if the truth be known, a little difficult to deal with. One day, for instance, when she was speaking of her four thorns, she said to the little prince:
“Let the tigers come with their claws!”
“There are no tigers on my planet,” the little prince objected. “And, anyway, tigers do not eat weeds.”
“I am not a weed,” the flower replied, sweetly.
“Please excuse me . . .”
“I am not at all afraid of tigers,” she went on, “but I have a horror of drafts. I suppose you wouldn’t have a screen for me?”
“A horror of drafts–that is bad luck, for a plant,” remarked the little prince, and added to himself, “This flower is a very complex creature . . .”
“At night I want you to put me under a glass globe. It is very cold where you live. In the place I came from–“
But she interrupted herself at that point. She had come in the form of a seed. She could not have known anything of any other worlds. Embarassed over having let herself be caught on the verge of such a naïve untruth, she coughed two or three times, in order to put the little prince in the wrong.
“I was just going to look for it when you spoke to me . . .”
Then she forced her cough a little more so that he should suffer from remorse just the same.
So the little prince, in spite of all the good will that was inseparable from his love, had soon come to doubt her. He had taken seriously words which were without importance, and it made him very unhappy.
“I ought not to have listened to her,” he confided to me one day. “One never ought to listen to the flowers. One should simply look at them and breathe their fragrance. Mine perfumed all my planet. But I did not know how to take pleasure in all her grace. This tale of claws, which disturbed me so much, should only have filled my heart with tenderness and pity.”
And he continued his confidences:
“The fact is that I did not know how to understand anything! I ought to have judged by deeds and not by words. She cast her fragrance and her radiance over me. I ought never to have run away from her . . . I ought to have guessed all the affection that lay behind her poor little strategems. Flowers are so inconsistent! But I was too young to know how to love her . . .”
I find the story of the rose’s cockiness quite interesting because unlike many people, the Prince has some sense of that deep affection drives the rose’s apparent delusions of grandeur, or the notion that she can take on the fiercest of creatures. In fact, many find it off-putting I think, when a woman shows a man her claws or otherwise postures in a threatening way. In essence, she seems to be say, “Bring it on! I am strong. I have no need of you.” (except, perhaps, to protect her from a draft).
It is when the claws come out, however, that we know there’s something at stake. To allude to the previous dog metaphor, she’s shown you her soft spots and what this tough talk likely is, is an expression of her own sense of vulnerability as opposed to representing any true assessment of her own strengths. In fact, her seemingly delusional notion of the extent of her strength probably has a direct relation to the size of the threat she suddenly realises she faces, and that’s because you’re gotten under her skin.
What might it mean to get under another person’s skin? Interestingly, in the “Divided Self,” R.D. Laing wrote a lot about the defensive measures that schizophrenics will employ to keep others at a distance or to stop this from happening. His hypothesis is that like most people, schizophrenics crave love and acceptance, but that they also fear losing themselves in relations with others.
What could it mean to lose oneself to another, however, and why might this be bad? Don’t we often use expressions such as “she lost herself in her art” which seems to have a positive connotation? Laing describes how disconnected a lot of patients feel from their everyday activities. They feel that their behaviour is mechanical, which, in reality, much of the “pleases” and “thank you’s” we issue in everyday life are. These are not typically genuine or spontaneous expressions, but are rather ritualised forms of behaviour we use to satisfy other people’s expectations. It is a form of self-control, not self-expression, or so it might seem to someone who is barely restraining the impulse to behave in a completely contradictory manner. What is it that effects this control? The desire for approval from others. Due to the desire for this approval then, some many behave in inauthentic, mechanical or ritualised ways which only serve to further alienate them from their true selves or genuine ways of being in the world. As a result, for many patients the true self becomes something that must be preserved and protected from others as the gaze of love that could potentially comfort it also threatens to devour the self. In other words, someone gets under our skin and we lose part of self when we internalise their perspective of ourselves such that this operates as a constraint on our own actions and behaviour.
I would suggest that there is a similar logic behind the show of claws in more mundane relations with others. That is, instinctively we know that someone who has the power to make us feel delight by seeing us in a positive light, can also cause us pain if they censure us or judge us harshly. This implicit understanding, however, could effectively tempt one to behave in ways that she knows will guarantee a positive assessment from him whose love she craves. A show of thorns then, can be seen as her way of protecting her genuine self by showing her dark side and finding out quickly whether another has the capacity to accept this side of her. If not, then she probably knows that she either faces a deadened and inauthentic way of being in the world if she is to hold onto his love or the pain of losing that love. Both such outcomes, moreover, can threaten selfhood. This first way, as I’ve shown, comes about when one ceases to act in ways that are in harmony with, or which spring from, her deep self. Secondly, if she ends up losing the love she craves, then, and I have seen this acted out both by both myself and others, often she will blame her Self and judge her Self harshly. In other words she comes to direct those little thorns in on herself and while they might not appear such a threat to the world at large, four little thorns can do a lot of damage to one little rose.
Now, I confess, I am writing here from long years of experience whereby I once habitually flaunted my thorns in front of every man who has ever gotten close to me. As I note in my journals from these times:
“I have the uncanny ability to take all the wonderful aspects of love and romance, twist them up together into a sharp point and stab myself with them repeatedly in the chest.”
Perhaps then, in the event that a rose shows you her claws, my dear readers, you might take pause and consider if she is not testing you to see if you are wise enough or strong enough to protect her from herself.