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Born in Lyons, France, in 1900, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry considered himself a
pilot above all else. For twenty years, he flew everything from cartography
missions to commercial airlines, and flying occupied a significant place in
his philosophical essays and fantasy writings. The theme of aviation was often
Saint-Exupéry's launching point for more abstract discussions on issues like
the search for wisdom and the meaning of life.
Saint-Exupéry began writing The Little Prince during World War II,
after Germany's invasion of France had forced him to give up aviation and flee
to New York City. In addition to his torturous thoughts of the war in Europe,
having to leave his homeland and no longer being able to fly planes affected
Saint-Exupéry deeply. The novel's nostalgia for childhood indicates both
Saint-Exupéry's homesick desire to return to France and his hope of returning
to a time of peace. This wartime stress undoubtedly contributed to the sense
of urgency in Saint-Exupéry's message of love and compassion.
In its glorification of childlike innocence, The Little Prince is also
an indictment of the spiritual decay Saint-Exupéry perceived in humanity. In
1943, he wrote, "For centuries, humanity has been descending an immense
staircase whose top is hidden in the clouds and whose lowest steps are lost in
a dark abyss. We could have ascended the staircase; instead we chose to
descend it. Spiritual decay is terrible … There is one problem and only one
in the world; to revive in people some sense of spiritual meaning…." By
celebrating a worldview unsullied by the drab restrictions of adulthood, the
novel attempts to revive a sense of spirituality in the world.
Some of the story of The Little Prince uses events taken from Saint-Exupéry's
own life. If the novel's surreal fairy tale feels strangely real and personal,
this effect is achieved, at least in part, by the fact that Saint-Exupéry was
drawing from his own experiences. In Wind, Sand and Stars, his 1939
account of his aviation adventures, he recollects a crash landing he was
forced to make in the Sahara desert. In his wanderings across the desert,
Saint-Exupéry had a number of hallucinations, including an encounter with a
fennec, a type of desert sand fox that bears a striking resemblance to the fox
depicted in The Little Prince.
Saint-Exupéry may have seen himself in his characters of both the narrator
and the little prince. Like his narrator, Saint-Exupéry was a pilot, crashed
in the Sahara, and experienced there a kind of mystical revelation. The
prince, however, represents aspects of Saint-Exupéry as well, and he very
definitely embodies Saint-Exupéry's philosophy and aspirations. The prince's
relationship with the rose could be a reflection of Saint-Exupéry's
relationship with his wife, and the prince is also an explorer and traveler of
the skies—it's one of the first things that the prince and the narrator
share in common. Seen in this light, The Little Prince can be read as a
metaphor of the process of introspection itself, wherein two halves of the
same person meet and learn from each other.
Although The Little Prince was undoubtedly influenced by the tenor of
World War II, Saint-Exupéry aims for a general, apolitical analysis of human
nature. The prevalence of symbols of death and evil in The Little Prince
are often interpreted as references to Nazi Germany, but the book's
universally applicable fairy-tale symbols and the emblems of World War II make
an awkward match. The Little Prince builds on a long tradition of
French parables and fantasy literature, most notably expressed in Voltaire's Candide.
Like Voltaire, Saint-Exupéry urges his readers to participate actively in the
reading process, using their imaginations to assign deeper meaning to
deceptively simple prose and poetry. Saint-Exupéry and his novel were
certainly affected by the historical events of the time, but The Little
Prince aspires to be a universal and timeless allegory about the
importance of innocence and love. Indeed, since it was first published, The
Little Prince has become one of the most widely translated books in the
history of French literature.
The narrator, an airplane pilot, crashes in the Sahara desert. The crash badly
damages his airplane and leaves the narrator with very little food or water.
As he is worrying over his predicament, he is approached by the little
prince, a very serious little blond boy who asks the narrator to
draw him a sheep. The narrator obliges, and the two become friends. The pilot
learns that the little prince comes from a small planet that the little prince
calls Asteroid 325, but that people on Earth call Asteroid B-612. The little
prince took great care of this planet, preventing any bad seeds from growing
and making sure it was never overrun by baobab trees. One day, a mysterious
rose sprouted on the planet and the little prince fell in love with it. But
when he caught the rose
in a lie one day, he decided that he could not trust her anymore. He grew
lonely and decided to leave. Despite a last-minute reconciliation with the
rose, the prince set out to explore other planets and cure his loneliness.
While journeying, the narrator tells us, the little prince passes by
neighboring asteroids and encounters for the first time the strange,
narrow-minded world of grown-ups. On the first six planets the little prince
visits, he meets a king,
a vain man, a drunkard,
a lamplighter, and a geographer, all of whom live alone and are overly
consumed by their chosen occupations. Such strange behavior both amuses and
perturbs the little prince. He does not understand their need to order people
around, to be admired, and to own everything. With the exception of the
lamplighter, whose dogged faithfulness he admires, the little prince does not
think much of the adults he visits, and he does not learn anything useful.
However, he learns from the geographer
that flowers do not last forever, and he begins to miss the rose he has left
At the geographer's suggestion, the little prince visits Earth, but he lands
in the middle of the desert and cannot find any humans. Instead, he meets a snake
who speaks in riddles and hints darkly that its lethal poison can send the
little prince back to the heavens if he so wishes. The little prince ignores
the offer and continues his explorations, stopping to talk to a three-petaled
flower and to climb the tallest mountain he can find, where he confuses the
echo of his voice for conversation. Eventually, the little prince finds a rose
garden, which surprises and depresses him—his rose had told him that she was
the only one of her kind.
The prince befriends a fox,
who teaches him that the important things in life are visible only to the
heart, that his time away from the rose makes the rose more special to him,
and that love makes a person responsible for the beings that one loves. The
little prince realizes that, even though there are many roses, his love for
his rose makes her unique and that he is therefore responsible for her.
Despite this revelation, he still feels very lonely because he is so far away
from his rose. The prince ends his story by describing his encounters with two
men, a railway
switchman and a salesclerk.
It is now the narrator's eighth day in the desert, and at the prince's
suggestion, they set off to find a well. The water feeds their hearts as much
as their bodies, and the two share a moment of bliss as they agree that too
many people do not see what is truly important in life. The little prince's
mind, however, is fixed on returning to his rose, and he begins making plans
with the snake to head back to his planet. The narrator is able to fix his
plane on the day before the one-year anniversary of the prince's arrival on
Earth, and he walks sadly with his friend out to the place the prince landed.
The snake bites the prince, who falls noiselessly to the sand.
The narrator takes comfort when he cannot find the prince's body the next day
and is confident that the prince has returned to his asteroid. The narrator is
also comforted by the stars, in which he now hears the tinkling of his
friend's laughter. Often, however, he grows sad and wonders if the sheep he
drew has eaten the prince's rose. The narrator concludes by showing his
readers a drawing of the desert landscape and by asking us to stop for a while
under the stars if we are ever in the area and to let the narrator know
immediately if the little prince has returned.
The Little Prince - One of the two protagonists of the story. After
leaving his home planet and his beloved rose, the prince journeys around the
universe, ending up on Earth. Frequently perplexed by the behavior of
grown-ups, the prince symbolizes the hope, love, innocence, and insight of
childhood that lie dormant in all of us. Though the prince is sociable and
meets a number of characters as he travels, he never stops loving and missing
on his home planet.
The Narrator - A lonely pilot who, while stranded in the desert,
befriends the little prince. They spend eight days together in the desert
before the little prince returns to his home planet. Although he is
discouraged from drawing early in his life because adults cannot understand
his drawings, the narrator illustrates his own story and makes several
drawings for the little prince. The narrator is a grown-up, but his view of
the world is more like a child's than an adult's. After the little prince
departs, the narrator feels both refreshed and saddened.
The Rose - A coquettish flower who has trouble expressing her love
for the little prince and consequently drives him away. Simultaneously vain
and naïve, she informs the little prince of her love for him too late to
persuade him to stay home and not to travel. Throughout the story, she
occupies the prince's thoughts and heart.
The Fox - Although the fox asks the little prince to tame him, the
fox is in some ways the more knowledgeable of the two characters, and he helps
steer the prince toward what is important in life. In the secret the fox tells
prince before they say their good-byes, the fox sums up three
important lessons: only the heart can see correctly; the prince's time away
from his planet has made him appreciate his rose more; and love entails
The Snake - The first character the prince meets on Earth, who
ultimately sends the prince back to the heavens by biting him. A constant
enigma, the snake speaks in riddles and evokes the snake of the Bible, which
incites Adam and Eve's eviction from Eden by luring them into eating the
The Baobabs - Baobabs, harmless trees on Earth, pose a great threat
to smaller planets like the prince's if left unchecked. They can squeeze whole
planets to pieces with their roots. Although baobabs have no malicious
opinions or intentions, they represent the grave danger that can befall people
who are too lazy or indifferent to keep a wary eye on the world around them.
The King - On the first planet the little prince visits, he
encounters a king who claims to rule the entire universe. While not unkindly,
the king's power is empty. He is only able to command people to do what they
already would do.
The Vain Man - The sole resident of the second planet the little
prince visits. The vain man is lonely and craves admiration from all who pass
by. However, only by being alone is he assured of being the richest and
best-looking man on his planet.
The Drunk ard - The third person the little
prince encounters after leaving home is a drunkard, who spends his
days and nights lost in a stupor. The drunkard is a sad figure, but he is also
foolish because he drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking.
The Businessman - A caricature of grown-ups who is the fourth person
prince visits. Too busy even to greet his visitor, the businessman
owns all the stars. Yet he cannot remember what they are called and
contributes nothing to them. Although the little prince comments on the oddity
of the grown-ups he meets, the businessman is the only character the prince
The Lamplighter - The fifth and most complex figure the prince
encounters before landing on Earth. At first, the lamplighter appears to be
yet another ridiculous character with no real purpose, but his selfless
devotion to his orders earns him the little
prince's admiration. Of all the adults the little
prince encounters before reaching Earth, the lamplighter is the
only one the prince thinks he could befriend.
The Geographer - The sixth and final character the little
prince encounters before he lands on Earth. Although the geographer
is apparently well-read, he refuses to learn about his own planet, saying it
is a job for explorers. He recommends that the little
prince visit Earth, and his comments on the ephemeral nature of
flowers reveal to the prince that his own flower will not last forever.
The Railway Switchman - The railway switchman works at the hub for
the enormous trains that rush back and forth carrying dissatisfied adults from
one place to the other. He has more perspective on life than the unhappy,
thoughtless passengers his trains ferry. He agrees with the prince that the
children are the only ones who appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the train
The Salesclerk - The salesclerk sells pills that quench thirst on
the grounds that people can save up to fifty-three minutes a day if they don't
have to stop to drink. He symbolizes the modern world's misplaced emphasis on
saving time and taking shortcuts.
The Roses in the Rose Garden - The sight of the rose garden first
leads the prince to believe that his flower is not, in fact, unique. However,
with the fox's guidance, the prince realizes that even so many similar flowers
cannot stop his own rose from being unique.
The Three-Petaled Flower - The three-petaled flower lives alone in
the desert, watching the occasional caravan pass by. She mistakenly informs
the prince that there are only a handful of men in the world and that their
lack of roots means they are often blown along.
The Little Prince's Echo - The little
prince's echo is not really a character, but the little
prince mistakes it for one. When he shouts from a mountaintop, he
hears his echo and believes that Earth people simply repeat what is said to
The Turkish Astronomer - The first human to discover the prince's
home, Asteroid B-612. When the Turkish astronomer first presents his
discovery, no one believes him on account of his Turkish costume. Years later,
he makes the same presentation wearing Western clothes, and his discovery is
well received. The scientific community's treatment of the Turkish astronomer
reveals that ignorance propels xenophobia (a fear or hatred of foreigners) and
The Little Prince - The title character of The Little Prince
is a pure and innocent traveler from outer space whom the narrator encounters
in the Sahara desert. Before the little prince lands on Earth, Saint-Exupéry
contrasts the prince's childlike character with different adult characters by
having the prince hop from one neighboring planet to another. On each planet,
the prince meets a different type of adult and reveals that character's
frivolities and weaknesses. Once on Earth, however, the little prince becomes
a student as well as a teacher. From his friend the fox, the little prince
learns what love entails, and in turn he passes on those lessons to the
little prince has few of the glaring flaws evident in the other characters,
and he is immediately shown to be a character of high caliber by his ability
to recognize the narrator's Drawing Number One as a picture of a boa
constrictor that has eaten a snake. Nevertheless, the prince's fear as he
prepares to be sent back to his planet by a snakebite shows that he is
susceptible to the same emotions as the rest of us. Most notably, the prince
is bound by his love for the rose he has left on his home planet. His constant
questioning also indicates that one's search for answers can be more important
than the answers themselves.
The Narrator - The narrator of The Little Prince is an adult
in years, but he explains that he was rejuvenated six years earlier after he
crashed his plane in the desert. He was an imaginative child whose first
drawing was a cryptic interpretation of a boa constrictor that had swallowed
an elephant. Eventually, he abandoned art for the grown-up profession of
pilot, and he lives a lonely life until he encounters the little prince. He
serves as the prince's confidant and relays the prince's story to us , but the
narrator also undergoes transformations of his own. After listening to the
prince's story about the knowledge the prince has learned from the fox, the
narrator himself learns the fox's lessons about what makes things important
when he searches for water in the desert. The narrator's search for the well
indicates that lessons must be learned through personal exploration, and not
only from books or others' teachings.
the narrator and the prince are protagonists of the story, but they differ in
significant ways. Whereas the prince is mystical and supernatural, the pilot
is a human being who grows and develops over time. When the narrator first
encounters the prince, he cannot grasp the subtle truths that the prince
presents to him, whereas the prince is able to comprehend instantly the
lessons his explorations teach him. This shortcoming on the narrator's part
makes him a character we can relate to as human beings more easily than we can
relate to the otherworldly, extraordinarily perceptive little prince.
The Rose - Although the rose appears only in a couple of chapters,
she is crucial to the novel as a whole because her melodramatic, proud nature
is what causes the prince to leave his planet and begin his explorations.
Also, the prince's memory of his rose is what prompts his desire to return. As
a character who gains significance because of how much time and effort the
prince has invested in caring for her, the rose embodies the fox's statement
that love comes from investing in other people. Although the rose is, for the
most part, vain and naïve, the prince still loves her deeply because of the
time he has spent watering and caring for her.
has been written comparing the little prince's relationship with his rose to
the relationship between Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his wife, Consuelo, but
the rose can also be read as a symbol of universal love. In literature, the
rose has long served as a symbol of the beloved, and Saint-Exupéry takes that
image in good stride, giving the prince's flower human characteristics, both
good and bad. Because of the rose, the prince learns that what is most
essential is invisible, that time away from one's beloved causes a person to
better appreciate that love, and that love engenders responsibility—all of
which are broad morals that obviously extend beyond the author's personal
The Fox - While the prince is mourning the ordinariness of his rose
after having come across the rose garden, the fox appears quite suddenly and
inexplicably. When the fox immediately sets about establishing a friendship
between himself and the prince, it seems that instruction is the fox's sole
purpose. Yet when he begs the little prince to tame him, the fox appears to be
the little prince's pupil as well as his instructor. In his lessons about
taming, the fox argues for the importance of ceremonies and rituals, showing
that such tools are important even outside the strict world of grown-ups.
his final encounter with the prince, the fox facilitates the prince's
departure by making sure the prince understands why his rose is so important
to him. This encounter displays an ideal type of friendship because even
though the prince's departure causes the fox great pain, the fox behaves
unselfishly, encouraging the prince to act in his own best interest.
The Snake - Even though the snake the little prince encounters in
the desert speaks in riddles, he demands less interpretation than the other
symbolic figures in the novel. The snake also has less to learn than many of
the other characters. The grown-ups on the various planets are too
narrow-minded for their own good, and the prince and the narrator edge closer
to enlightenment, but the serpent does not require answers or even ask
questions. In fact, the snake is so confident he has mastered life's mysteries
that he tells the prince he speaks only in riddles because he can solve all
riddles. In a story about mysteries, the snake is the only absolute. His
poisonous bite and biblical allusion indicate that he represents the
unavoidable phenomenon of death.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary
The Dangers of Narrow-Mindedness - The Little Prince exposes
the ignorance that accompanies an incomplete and narrow-minded perspective. In
Chapter IV, for example, when the Turkish astronomer first presents his
discovery of Asteroid B-612, he is ignored because he wears traditional
Turkish clothing. Years later, he makes the same presentation wearing European
clothing and receives resounding acclaim. Because the three-petaled flower
described in Chapter XVI has spent its whole life in the desert, it
incorrectly reports that Earth contains very few humans and that they are a
rootless, drifting people.
the protagonists of The Little Prince have their moments of
narrow-mindedness. In Chapter XVII, the narrator confesses that his previous
description of Earth focused too much on humans. In Chapter XIX, the little
prince mistakes the echo of his own voice for that of humans and falsely
accuses humans of being too repetitive. Such quick judgments, the story
argues, lead to the development of dangerous stereotypes and prejudices. They
also prevent the constant questioning and open-mindedness that are important
to a well-adjusted and happy life.
the most part, The Little Prince characterizes narrow-mindedness as a
trait of adults. In the very first chapter, the narrator draws a sharp
contrast between the respective ways grown-ups and children view the world. He
depicts grown-ups as unimaginative, dull, superficial, and stubbornly sure
that their limited perspective is the only one possible. He depicts children,
on the other hand, as imaginative, open-minded, and aware of and sensitive to
the mystery and beauty of the world.
the story's opening pages, the narrator explains that grown-ups lack the
imagination to see his Drawing Number One, which represents a boa
constrictor swallowing an elephant, as anything other than a hat. As the story
progresses, other examples of the blindness of adults emerge. As the little
prince travels from planet to planet, the six adults he encounters proudly
reveal their character traits, whose contradictions and shortcomings the
little prince then exposes.
little prince represents the open-mindedness of children. He is a wanderer who
restlessly asks questions and is willing to engage the invisible, secret
mysteries of the universe. The novel suggests that such inquisitiveness is the
key to understanding and to happiness. However, The Little Prince shows
that age is not the main factor separating grown-ups from children. The
narrator, for example, has aged enough to forget how to draw, but he is still
enough of a child to understand and befriend the young, foreign little prince.
Enlightenment through Exploration - As the critic James Higgins
points out, each of the novel's main characters hungers both for adventure
(exploration of the outside world) and for introspection (exploration within
himself). It is through his encounter with the lost prince in the lonely,
isolated desert that the friendless narrator achieves a newfound understanding
of the world. But in his story of the little prince's travels, Saint-Exupéry
shows that spiritual growth must also involve active exploration. The narrator
and the prince may be stranded in the desert, but they are both explorers who
make a point of traveling the world around them. Through a combination of
exploring the world around them and exploring their own feelings, the narrator
and the little prince come to understand more clearly their own natures and
their places in the world.
Relationships Teach Responsibility - The Little Prince
teaches that the responsibility demanded by relationships with others leads to
a greater understanding and appreciation of one's responsibilities to the
world in general. The story of the prince and his rose is a parable (a story
that teaches a lesson) about the nature of real love. The prince's love for
his rose is the driving force behind the novel. The prince leaves his planet
because of the rose; the rose permeates the prince's discussions with the
narrator; and eventually, the rose becomes the reason the prince wants to
return to his planet. The source of the prince's love is his sense of
responsibility toward his beloved rose. When the fox asks to be tamed, he
explains to the little prince that investing oneself in another person makes
that person, and everything associated with him or her, more special. The
Little Prince shows that what one gives to another is even more important
than what that other gives back in return.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help
to develop and inform the text's major themes.
Secrecy - At the heart of The Little Prince is the fox's bold
statement that "[a]nything essential is invisible to the eye." All
the characters the little prince encounters before coming to Earth eagerly and
openly explain to him everything about their lives. But the little prince
finds that on Earth, all true meanings are hidden. The first character to
greet him on Earth is the snake, who speaks only in riddles. In subsequent
chapters, the narrator and the little prince frequently describe events as
"mysterious" and "secret." This choice of words is crucial
to the book's message. To describe the mysteries of life as puzzles or
questions would imply that answering them is possible. The fact that events on
Earth are cast as mysteries suggests that they never can be resolved fully.
However, this idea is not as pessimistic as it might seem. The novel asserts
that, while many questions in life remain mysteries, exploration of the
unknown is what counts, even though it does not leads to definite answers.
The Narrator's Drawings - The narrator's illustration of his story
emphasizes Saint-Exupéry's belief that words have limits and that many truths
defy verbal explanation. The narrator places drawings into the text at certain
points to explain his encounter in the desert, and although his illustrations
are simple, they are integral to understanding the novel. Saint-Exupéry
defies the convention that stories should be only text and enriches his work
by including pictures as well as words.
drawings also allow the narrator to return to his lost childhood perspectives.
He notes that he uses his Drawing Number One to test adults he meets.
The drawing is actually of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, but to
most adults it looks like a hat. Whether or not a character recognizes the
drawing as a hat indicates how closed-minded he is. The narrator notes several
times in his story that drawing is very difficult for him because he abandoned
it at age six, after finding that adults were unreceptive to his drawings.
Therefore, his decision to illustrate his story also indicates his return to
the lost innocence of his youth.
Taming - Saint-Exupéry's tale is filled with characters who either
should be or have been tamed. The fox explains that taming means
"creating ties" with another person so that two people become more
special to one another. Simple contact is not enough: the king, the vain man,
the drunkard, the businessman, the geographer, and the lamplighter all meet
the prince, but are too stuck in their routines to establish proper ties with
the. The fox is the first character to explain that in order to be truly
connected to another, certain rites and rituals must be observed, and two
people must give part of themselves to each other. In fact, the process of
taming is usually depicted as being more labor-intensive for the one doing the
taming than for the person being tamed. Despite the work and emotional
involvement required, taming has obvious benefits. The fox explains that the
meaning of the world around him will be enriched because the little prince has
tamed him. In contrast, the businessman cannot even remember what the stars he
owns are called.
Serious Matters - The concept of "serious matters" is
raised several times in the novel, and each time, it highlights the difference
between the priorities of adults and children. To adults, serious matters are
those relating to business and life's most basic necessities. For example, the
businessman who owns all the stars refers to himself as a "serious
person," an obviously ridiculous claim since he has no use for and makes
no contribution to his property. Even the narrator expresses an understandably
desperate claim that fixing his engine is more serious than listening to the
prince's stories. However, the narrator soon admits that the engine troubles
in truth pale in comparison to the little prince's tears.
clearly sides with children, represented by the little prince, who believe
that serious matters are those of the imagination. For the little prince, the
most serious matter of all is whether the sheep the narrator has drawn for him
will eat his beloved rose. As the story progresses, the narrator's understands
the importance of the little prince's worry. The narrator responds with
compassion to the prince's concern about the sheep from the beginning, setting
his tools aside and rushing to comfort the prince in Chapter VII, when the
little prince cries out that the question of whether his sheep eats his rose
is much more important than the narrator's plane. However, in his final
comment, the narrator says that the question of the sheep and the flower is so
important that it has changed his view of the world, revealing that he has
understood the question's importance himself.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract
ideas or concepts.
The Stars - As a pilot, the narrator attaches importance to stars
because he depends upon them for navigation. After the narrator meets the
little prince, he finds the stars hold new meaning for him because he knows
that the prince lives among them. The stars in The Little Prince also
symbolize the far-off mystery of the heavens, the immensity of the universe,
and at the end, the loneliness of the narrator's life. The narrator's final
drawing, which accompanies his lament of his loneliness, is of a single star
hovering over the desert landscape in which the prince fell. In this one
image, the presence of the star both highlights the prince's absence and
suggests his lingering presence. The star is also a reminder of the large and
densely populated universe beyond Earth that the prince recounted visiting.
The Desert - The novel is set in the Sahara desert, a barren place
ready to be shaped by experience. The desert is also a hostile space that
contains no water and a deadly serpent. In this capacity, the desert
symbolizes the narrator's mind. Made barren by grown-up ideas, the narrator's
mind slowly expands under the guidance of the little prince in the same way
that the deadly desert slowly transforms itself into a place of learning and,
once the well appears, refreshment.
The Trains - The trains that appear in Chapter XXII represent the
futile efforts we make to better our lot. The train rides are rushed voyages
that never result in happiness because, as the switchman informs the prince,
people are never happy where they are. Also, the trains rush at each other
from opposite directions, suggesting that the efforts grown-ups make are
contradictory and purposeless. Again, it is children who grasp the truth. They
see that the journey is more important than the destination and press their
faces hungrily against the windows as they ride, taking in the scenery.
Water - By the story's end, the drinking of water emerges as a clear
symbol of spiritual fulfillment. The narrator's concerns about running out of
water after he first crashes into the desert mirror his complaint that he has
grown old. Later, when he and the prince find the mysterious well, the water
the narrator drinks reminds him of Christmas festivities. His thoughts of
Christmas ceremonies suggest that his spirit, and not his body, is what truly
thirsts. The salesclerk sells a thirst-quenching pill, but the little prince
reveals that there are no true substitutes for real spiritual food. The pill
may quench one's desires, but it has little to offer in the way of real
nourishment. The prince declares that he would use the minutes saved by the
pill for getting a cool drink of water, the only real spiritual fulfillment
for which one can hope.
But [a grown-up] would always answer, "That's a hat."
Then I wouldn't talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I
would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and
politics and neckties.
The novel's narrator says that when he was six years old, before he became a
pilot, he saw in a book a picture of a boa constrictor devouring a wild
animal. In the same book, the narrator read that boa constrictors must
hibernate for six months after swallowing their prey in order to digest it.
Fascinated by this information, the narrator drew his first drawing, which he
calls Drawing Number One. The drawing, a picture of a boa constrictor
digesting an elephant, looked like a lumpy blob with two flat lines tapering
off to the left and right. But grown-ups were not frightened by the picture,
because they thought it was supposed to be a hat.
To explain his drawing to adults, the narrator drew Drawing Number Two,
an x-ray view of Drawing Number One that showed the elephant inside the
snake. Disturbed by this image, grown-ups advised the narrator to give up
drawing and pursue geography, arithmetic, and grammar instead. Realizing that
grown-ups would always require things to be explained to them, the narrator
decided not to be an artist and became a pilot instead. He admits that the
geography he learned did prove to be useful for flying.
The narrator's opinion of adults never improved. Every time he met a grown-up,
he would test him by showing him Drawing Number One. The grown-ups
would always think it was a picture of a hat. Consequently, the narrator knew
he could talk with the grown-ups only about boring, pragmatic topics like
politics and neckties.
The narrator feels lonely his whole life until one day, six years before he
tells his story, he crashes his plane in the middle of the Sahara desert. As
the situation is beginning to look dire, the pilot is shocked to hear an odd
little voice asking him to draw a sheep. He turns to see the little prince.
The prince looks like a small, blond child, but he stares intently at the
pilot without the fear that a child lost in the desert would have. The pilot
does not know how to draw a sheep, so instead he sketches Drawing Number
One, and he is astounded when the little prince recognizes it as a picture
of an elephant inside a boa constrictor. The little prince rejects Drawing
Number One, insisting that he needs a drawing of a sheep. After drawing
three different sheep that the prince rejects, the pilot finally draws a box
and gives it to the little prince. He says that the box contains exactly the
type of sheep for which he is looking. This drawing makes the little prince
very happy. The prince wonders if the sheep will have enough grass to eat,
explaining that the place where he lives is quite small.
The pilot tries to find out where his mysterious new friend comes from, but
the little prince prefers asking questions rather than answering them. He
questions the pilot about his plane and what it does, and the pilot tells the
little prince that it allows him to fly through the air. The little prince
takes comfort in the fact that the pilot also came from the sky, asking him
what planet he comes from. The pilot is surprised by this question and tries
to find out what planet the little prince comes from. But the little prince
ignores the pilot's queries and admires the sheep the pilot has drawn for him.
The pilot offers to draw a post and a string to tie the sheep to so that it
won't get lost, but the little prince laughs. The sheep will not get lost, he
says, because he comes from a very small planet.
By beginning his story with a discussion of his childhood drawings, the
narrator introduces the idea that perception of an item varies from person to
person. The narrator intends for people to see his drawing as a boa
constrictor eating an elephant, but most adults can't see the hidden elephant
and think the drawing represents a hat. Throughout The Little Prince,
the narrator's drawings allow Saint-Exupéry to discuss concepts that he would
not be able to express adequately in words. Drawings, the novel suggests, are
a way of imparting knowledge that is more creative and open to interpretation,
and thus more in line with the abstract perspectives of children. Because it
must be interpreted, Drawing Number One is an example of a symbol. It
is a picture of a hat that actually signifies a boa constrictor that has
swallowed an elephant, but the viewer must have the imagination to spot that
Chapter II also reinforces these ideas about the power of drawings and the
importance of imagination. Saint-Exupéry suggests that, like the narrator and
the little prince, the reader will have to use his or her imagination to grasp
the real story. The drawings invite the reader to join in the narrator's
encounter with the little prince and to deduce the meaning of the drawings
along with the story's characters. By putting the drawings in the text, Saint-Exupéry
is crediting us with the same powers of imagination as those of the little
prince and the narrator. It is up to us, therefore, to make the book come to
life. We must see the story in the same way that the little prince can see a
sheep living and sleeping in the narrator's drawing of a box.
The way the little prince can immediately see beyond first appearances and
perceive the boa constrictor in the narrator's first drawing and a sheep
hidden in a box shows how different children are from adults. The adult
perspective in chapter I is unimaginative, overly pragmatic, and dull, while
the childish perspective is creative, full of wonder, and open to the
mysterious beauty of the universe. The novel suggests that both adulthood and
childhood are states of mind rather than facts of life. The narrator, for
example, is an adult when he tells the story, but he longs for companions with
the pure perspective of childhood.
The narrator's loneliness at the beginning of Chapter II shows how important
relationships with others are. In the desert, the narrator is stranded from
all human contact, but his isolation allows him to indulge in the most
fulfilling relationship of his life. Forcibly removed from the corrupting
influence of the grown-up world, he is able to embrace the prince and the
lessons his new friend has to offer.
The narrator's constant questioning in Chapters II and III, however, shows
that we cannot hope to have answers simply handed to us. In Chapter III, the
narrator is full of questions, but if the little prince answers them at all,
he does so with oblique, indirect responses. The story suggests that questions
are much more important than answers. Later, both the prince and the narrator
discuss this lesson in greater detail.
From his conversation with the little prince, the narrator realizes that the
planet the little prince comes from is only the size of a house. The narrator
explains that when astronomers discover new planets, they give them numbers
instead of names. The narrator is pretty sure that the little prince lives on
Asteroid B-612, which was first sighted by a Turkish astronomer in 1909. The
astronomer's presentation of his discovery was ridiculed at that year's
International Astronomical Congress because he wore traditional Turkish
clothes. After a Turkish dictator ordered all his subjects to begin wearing
European clothing, the astronomer presented his report again in 1920 and was
The narrator insists that he is telling us these details about the prince's
planet only to satisfy his grown-up readers. He says that grown-ups can
understand only facts and figures; they never wonder about essential qualities
like beauty and love. Grown-ups decide what is beautiful by measuring how old
a person is or how much a house costs. To believe in the existence of the
little prince, grown-ups need more proof than simply being told that the
prince asked the narrator to draw him a sheep. They demand further,
quantifiable proof of the little prince's existence.
The narrator also mentions that he wants his book to be read carefully, as it
has been very painful for him to recollect these memories of his little
departed friend. The narrator worries that he is growing old, and he writes
and illustrates his story so he will not forget the little prince. Drawing the
pictures in particular reminds the narrator of what it's like to be a child.
He acknowledges, however, that he cannot see sheep through the walls of boxes,
because like all humans, he has "had to grow old."
Each day, the pilot learns a bit more about the little prince's home. On the
third day of the little prince's visit, he finds out that the prince wants the
sheep to eat the baobab seedlings that grow on his planet. Baobabs are
gigantic trees whose roots could split the prince's tiny planet into pieces.
The little prince notes that one must be very careful to take care of one's
planet. Since all planets have good plants and bad plants, one must remain
vigilant and disciplined, uprooting the bad plants as soon as they start to
grow. The prince remembers a lazy man who always procrastinated and ignored
three small baobab bushes that eventually grew to overtake the man's planet.
At the prince's instruction, the narrator illustrates the overgrown planet as
a warning to children. He adds that the baobabs pose an everyday threat that
most people deal with without even being aware of it. The narrator states that
the lesson to be learned from the story of the baobabs is so important that he
has drawn them more carefully than any other drawing in the book.
On his fourth day with the little prince, the narrator becomes aware of just
how small the little prince's planet really is. The little prince is surprised
that on Earth, he has to wait for the sun to go down to see a sunset. On his
planet, a person can see the end of the day whenever he likes by simply moving
a few steps. The prince mentions that one day he saw forty-four sunsets and
that sunsets can cheer a person up when he or she is sad. He refuses to tell
the narrator, however, whether or not he was sad on the day he saw forty-four
In Chapter IV, speaking in a confidential tone, the narrator clarifies the
distinctions between the world of grown-ups and the world of the little
prince. By referring to adults as "they," the narrator pulls us onto
his side, so that we feel we share a perspective with the narrator that others
cannot understand. Also, the narrator does not mention the little prince when
he discusses the adult obsession with numbers, stereotypes, and other forms of
quantitative analysis. To underscore the vast difference between the
narrator's conversation with the little prince and the conversations of the
grown-up world, the narrator does not discuss both within the same chapter.
The narrator's discussion in Chapter V of the baobab trees can be read as a
condemnation of Nazi Germany and of the blind eye the rest of the world turned
to the actions of Adolf Hitler. Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince
in New York in 1942 as he watched World War II tear his native Europe apart.
In the novel, the narrator explains that the world contains both good seeds
and bad seeds, and he says it is important to look constantly for the bad
seeds and uproot them because the trees will otherwise grow and crush
everything around them. Yet the narrator points out that on Earth, baobabs do
not pose a problem. It is only on smaller planet's like Asteroid B-612 that
the baobabs are dangerous. Therefore, some see the baobabs as symbols of the
everyday hurdles and obstacles in life that, if left unchecked, can choke and
crush a person. This interpretation explains the narrator's statement that
people wrestle with baobabs every day, often without even knowing it.
Saint-Exupéry stresses personal responsibility as the solution to the problem
the baobabs pose. In doing so, he continues a classic tradition within French
literature that links responsibility to gardening. For example, the final line
of the French author Voltaire's well-known novel Candide states,
"We must cultivate our own Garden … When man was put in the garden of
Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not
born to rest." The metaphor of gardening recurs throughout The Little
"If some one loves a flower of which just one example exists
among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make
him happy … But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it's as
if, suddenly, all the stars went out."
On his fifth day in the desert, the little prince wonders if his new sheep
will eat both bushes and flowers. The pilot, who is trying to repair his
plane, replies that sheep will eat anything, and the little prince asks him
what use a flower's thorns are if they don't protect the flower. The pilot,
frustrated with his engine and worried by his lack of food and water, yells
that he is too busy with "serious matters" to answer the prince's
questions. Furious, the little prince accuses the pilot of acting like a
grown-up instead of seeing what's really important. The little prince argues
that if a truly unique flower exists on a person's planet, nothing is more
important than wondering if a sheep will eat that flower. He then bursts into
tears. Suddenly realizing that his new friend's happiness is the most serious
matter of all, the narrator cradles the little prince in his arms and comforts
him by assuring the little prince that his flower will be fine. He offers to
draw a muzzle for the sheep.
The prince tells the narrator all about his flower. One day, the prince
notices a mysterious new plant sprouting on his planet. Worried that it might
be a new type of baobab, he watches it cautiously at first. The sprout soon
grows into a rose, a beautiful but vain creature who constantly demands that
the little prince take care of her. The little prince loves the rose very much
and is happy to satisfy her requests. He waters her, covers her with a glass
globe at night, and puts up a screen to protect her from the wind. One day,
however, the little prince catches the rose on the verge of making a minor
lie. The rose says to the prince, "Where I come from," even though
she grew from a seed on the little prince's planet and therefore does not
"come from" anywhere. The rose's lie makes the prince doubt the
sincerity of her love. He grows so unhappy and lonely that he decides to leave
his planet. The prince tells the pilot that he would not have left if he had
looked at the rose's deeds instead of her words. He realizes that the rose
actually loves him, but he knows he is too young and inexperienced to know how
to love her.
On the day of the little prince's departure from his planet, he cleans out all
three of his volcanoes, even the dormant one, and he uproots all the baobab
shoots he can find. He waters his rose a final time. As he is about to place
the glass globe over the rose's head, he feels like crying. He says good-bye
to the rose. At first, she refuses to reply, but then she apologizes, assures
the little prince that she loves him, and says she no longer needs him to set
the globe over her. She says she will be fine without him to take care of her.
Urging the little prince to leave, the rose turns away so he will not see her
When the pilot stops repairing his engine to listen to the story of the little
prince and his rose, he affirms the little prince's statement that love and
relationships are the most "serious matters" of all. The literary
critic Joy Marie Robinson writes that the rose "is best understood,
perhaps, in the old literary tradition of the Roman de la rose [a
thirteenth-century French poem], as an allegorical image of the loved
one." Robinson argues that the rose is a general symbol of the beloved
and that the rose's relationship with the prince offers a general, simple, and
direct presentation of the power—and pain—of love.
The nature of the relationship between the rose and the prince is mysterious.
They do not directly express their love for each other until their painful
farewell. Before that, the flower coquettishly hints at her love, but she
never actually states her feelings for the prince until he comes to say
good-bye. Nor is it clear at this point in the story why the prince feels such
love for the rose, who is a vain, foolish, frail, and naïve creature.
However, the prince also shows himself to be a bit foolish. He isn't able to
understand the rose's strange behavior, and he makes the irrevocable, stubborn
decision to leave, which leaves him in tears.
Many critics and biographers consider the rose to be a representation of
Saint-Exupéry's wife, Consuelo. Antoine and Consuelo Saint-Exupéry's
marriage was colorful, passionate, and often troubled. In Saint-Exupéry's
mind, Consuelo appeared vain and difficult to care for, and the rose's
frequent coughing is reminiscent of Consuelo's asthma. Saint-Exupéry was
occasionally unfaithful to his wife, and the prince's departure could be seen
as an allegory for Saint-Exupéry's infidelity. In fact, The Little Prince,
written at a rocky point in the Saint-Exupérys' marriage, could be read as an
elaborate, introspective love-letter from Antoine to Consuelo in which he
demonstrates his love for her and attempts to explain the unrequited
wanderlust and penchant for adultery that so often led him to stray from their
At the beginning of his journey, the little prince finds himself near
asteroids 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, and 330, and he decides to visit them one
by one. On the first asteroid, he encounters a king sitting on a throne and
wearing a magnificent fur cloak. The king, happy finally to have a subject,
begins ordering the little prince around. The king claims to reign over every
star in the universe, but in reality he always tailors his orders to fit the
actions of the person he commands. For example, when the little prince yawns,
the king quickly "orders" him to yawn. When the prince asks the king
to order a sunset, the king replies that the sun will obey him but that it
will have to wait until 7:40 P.M., a time he arrives at
after consulting an almanac.
The king insists that his commands be obeyed, but he is a kindly man and so
always makes them reasonable. The king asserts that it is because he is so
reasonable that he has the right to command. When the prince decides to leave,
the king hastily tries to get him to stay, ordering him to become minister of
justice. The prince finds the request ridiculous, since there is nobody else
on the planet to judge. The king points out that his planet has an old rat,
whom the prince can continually condemn to death, pardon, and then condemn
again. The prince says he has no interest in condemning anyone to death. As
the prince is departing, the king names the prince his ambassador. The prince
comments that grown-ups are strange.
On the second planet the prince visits, he encounters a vain man, who asks the
prince to clap his hands and then modestly tips his hat in acknowledgement.
The prince enjoys the game at first but begins to tire of its monotony. The
vain man asks whether the little prince really admires him, but the prince
does not understand the meaning of the word "admire." The vain man
explains that he wants the prince to say he is the most intelligent,
good-looking, and wealthy man on the planet. The prince points out that such a
request is absurd since the vain man is the planet's sole inhabitant. With a
shrug of his shoulders, the prince says, "I admire you," but he asks
why his admiration means anything to the man. The prince departs, commenting
again that grown-ups are very strange.
The prince visits a third planet, where he meets a drunkard. When the prince
asks the drunkard why he drinks, the drunkard claims that he drinks to forget.
Feeling pity, the prince inquires what the drunkard wants to forget. The
drunkard answers that he is trying to forget that he is ashamed of his
drinking. The drunkard then falls into stubborn silence. Confused, the little
prince continues his journey, observing that grown-ups are very, very strange.
The chapters in which the narrator describes the prince's journey from planet
to planet are an example of a picaresque narrative. Picaresque is a genre of
episodic literature in which a protagonist travels from place to place or has
one adventure after another. In The Little Prince, each of the adults
the prince encounters on the various planets he visits symbolizes a particular
characteristic of adults in general.
The king is a political figure, but Saint-Exupéry's satirizes the king's
personality rather than the political system the king represents. Saint-Exupéry
emphasizes that the king is not a tyrant but simply a ridiculous man who
possesses a petty need for power and domination. The king, like the other
characters the prince encounters, is very lonely. Yet the king's desire to
rule so consumes him that he doesn't treat the prince's visit as an
opportunity to lessen his loneliness. Instead, he tries to fit his visitor
into his own distorted worldview by commanding the prince to serve as his
minister of justice.
Even though the king is a nice man who tailors his commands to suit the little
prince's wishes, the prince objects on principle to the idea of being
commanded. The prince's reaction to the king emphasizes the importance of free
will and taking responsibility for one's actions. The prince refuses to judge
others, and he refuses to do anything he has not willed himself. Since the
king points out that he always pardons the rat, it would be simple for the
prince to please the king by condemning the rat to death. Yet the prince
refuses because the idea of condemnation bothers him. The prince reacts in a
similar way when the king appoints him as his ambassador. The prince remains
silent as he leaves, implicitly rejecting this title. He then continues his
travels on his own volition, not as a representative of the king.
The vain man's sense of self-worth parallels the king's authority in its
meaninglessness. Like the king's authority, the vain man's superiority depends
on being alone. As long as he is the only man on the planet, he is assured of
being the most attractive man on the planet. At the same time, the vain man's
sense of superiority depends on the praise of visitors. These contradictions
underscore Saint-Exupéry's disdain for grown-up life. He argues that adults,
with their limited, unimaginative views, don't know what they truly need in
their lives. The adults the little prince meets are capable of only pushing
companionship away when it presents itself.
Though he is flawed, the drunkard is more sympathetic than the king and the
vain man are. Unlike them, the drunkard seems somehow trapped against his
will. The fact that he drinks to forget that he is ashamed of his drinking is
absurd and irrational, but the fact that "shame" plays such a big
part in his actions indicates his awareness of his life's emptiness. However,
the drunkard shows himself to be just as much of a grown-up as the king and
the conceited man are. The arrival of the prince presents an opportunity for
the drunkard to break the cycle, but instead the drunkard retreats into
silence, as he is too stubborn and unwilling to address his serious problems.
The little prince visits a fourth planet, which is occupied by a businessman
so immersed in numerical calculations that the man hardly acknowledges the
little prince. The little prince, who never lets a question go unanswered,
repeatedly asks the businessman what he is doing. The businessman protests
that he is a serious person and has no time for the little prince's questions.
Exasperated by the little prince's persistence, the businessman eventually
explains that he is counting "those little golden things that make lazy
people daydream," which the prince eventually identifies as stars. The
businessman explains he counts the stars because he owns them.
The little prince thinks that the businessman's logic is as absurd as the
drunkard's, but he accepts that the businessman owns the stars because the man
was the first person to think of claiming ownership of them. The prince asks
what the businessman does with the stars, and the businessman replies that he
notes their numbers and places the numbers in a bank. The prince argues that
such actions do not deserve to be called serious matters. He owns a rose and
three volcanoes, he points out, but he takes care of them. His ownership is
therefore useful, he claims, whereas the businessmen's is not. The businessman
is left speechless by this remark, and the little prince moves on, observing
that grown-ups are truly "extraordinary."
The fifth planet the prince visits is extremely small, just big enough for a
street lamp and its lamplighter. The prince considers the lamplighter to be as
absurd as the others he has met, yet he finds that the lamplighter performs a
beautiful—and therefore useful—task. The lamplighter, who is under orders
to extinguish his lamp during the day and light it at night, frantically puts
the lamp out and then turns it back on. He explains that his orders used to
make sense, but his planet now turns so fast that a new day occurs every
minute. The prince admires the lamplighter's sense of duty and notes that of
all the people he has met, the lamplighter is the only one whom he could
befriend. He advises the lamplighter to walk along with the sunset in order to
avoid having to extinguish and rekindle the light continually. The lamplighter
says what he really wants is sleep. Unfortunately, the planet is too small for
two people, and the prince departs, sad to leave the lamplighter and a planet
that has 1,440 sunsets every twenty-four hours.
On the sixth planet he visits, the little prince meets a man who writes books.
The man explains that he is a geographer, a scholar who knows the location of
all the seas, mountains, cities, and deserts. When the prince asks the
geographer about his planet, the geographer says he knows nothing about his
own planet because it is not his job to explore it. A geographer collects
information from an explorer and then investigates the explorer's character.
If the explorer has a good character, the geographer investigates the
The geographer asks about the little prince's planet. The little prince tells
him about his three volcanoes and his flower. The geographer says that he
doesn't record flowers because they are "ephemeral," which he
defines as "threatened by imminent disappearance." The little prince
is shocked to learn that his rose is in such danger, and he begins to regret
having left her. He asks the geographer where he should go next, and the
geographer tells him that Earth has a good reputation. Thinking of his rose,
the little prince departs for Earth.
Instead of shaking his head and moving on as he does at the first three
planets, the prince takes the time to express his disapproval of the
businessman's way of life. The extra time he devotes to chastising the
businessman shows that the businessman epitomizes the flaws of the grown-up
world more than any other character. The prince astutely likens the
businessman to the drunkard. Both are so preoccupied by meaningless pursuits
that they have no time for visitors. The businessman is so riveted by the idea
of ownership that he cannot, when pressed, even remember that his properties
are known as stars. The prince further demonstrates the shallowness of the
businessman's enterprise by pointing out that the businessman is of no use to
The prince admires the lamplighter's commitment to his work, and he admires
the work itself, which brings beauty into the universe. Nevertheless, the
lamplighter displays some grown-up values. He blindly follows orders that are
obsolete, and he is unwilling to try the prince's suggestion that he take a
break by walking in the direction of the sun.
The lamplighter's actions are suggestive of religious worship. He follows
mysterious orders from an invisible, outside power, which he serves with
humility. His job of lighting and extinguishing suggests a kind of ritual
observance, like the Jewish tradition of lighting Sabbath candles or the role
that candles commonly play in Christian worship. In some ways, Saint-Exupéry
could be celebrating the power of religious observance and of giving oneself
up to a higher power. Certainly, the lamplighter's devotion to his profession
is nobler than the businessman's devotion to his possessions.
Nonetheless, the lamplighter is a tragic figure. Among other things, he is a
victim of circumstance. His planet is too small for other people, so he is
doomed to be without companionship. He is also tired and expresses his great
desire to sleep. The lamplighter's main affliction is his inability to gain
satisfaction from his work. Like many people who observe religious rites, the
lamplighter carries out his lighting rites because he has been told to, but he
never gives them the reflection that is necessary for true enlightenment. In
the world of The Little Prince, sadness is a part of admirable lives in
the same way that the baobabs are an unavoidable danger that is part of the
Like the lamplighter, the geographer's understanding of duty and profession is
flawed. He claims to know everything, but he knows very little because he so
rigidly refuses to explore for himself. The geographer has the means to be a
man of some genuine importance, but his blind adherence to an arbitrary rule
about what geographers are supposed to do makes him as shallow as the other
However, the geographer's lesson about the ephemerality of the rose makes him
a key character. The geographer sees the flower's ephemerality as a sign that
the rose is unimportant, but for the little prince, it makes the rose even
more special. When he realizes how much the rose needs him, the little prince
experiences his first moment of regret. His love for the rose hinges on her
dependence on him, so the pressures of time and death make the prince value
her all the more. Because the rose will one day die, it is all the more
important for the prince that he love her while he can.
The narrator introduces Earth to the little prince, who had never even
imagined such a big planet. The narrator describes the almost two billion
grown-ups the earth contains: hundreds of kings, thousands of geographers,
hundreds of thousands of businessmen, and millions of drunkards and vain men.
The narrator also mentions that before the advent of electricity, Earth held
462,511 lamplighters who would perform a kind of global dance each day,
unconsciously coordinating their movements as the sun swept across the turning
planet. Only the lamplighters at the North and South Poles were not part of
this choreography, since they had to work only twice a year.
The narrator admits that his description of Earth gives a distorted picture
because humanity actually takes up only a very small percentage of the space
on Earth and is not nearly as important as most people think it is.
When the prince arrives on Earth, he is surprised to see no one. He meets a
snake, who informs him that he is in the African desert, where there are no
people. The little prince remarks that it must be lonely in the desert, and
the snake enigmatically replies that it can be lonely among men also. Alluding
to his poisonous bite, the snake suggests that he could send the prince back
to the heavens with one "touch," but then he decides that the prince
is too "innocent" for him to do so. The prince asks why the snake
always speaks in riddles. "I solve them all," the snake says, and
they both fall silent.
Searching the desert for men, the little prince encounters a three-petaled
flower. The flower, who has at one point seen a caravan pass by, tells the
little prince that there are only a handful of men on Earth and that they have
no roots, which lets the wind blow them away and makes life hard for them.
The little prince climbs the highest mountain he has ever seen. From the top
of the mountain, he hopes he will see the whole planet and find people, but he
sees only a desolate, craggy landscape. When the prince calls out, his echo
answers him, and he mistakes it for the voices of humans. He thinks Earth is
unnecessarily sharp and hard, and he finds it odd that the people of Earth
only repeat what he says to them.
The prince eventually finds a road that leads him to a huge rose garden. He is
stunned to find so many flowers that look just like his rose, who had told him
she was unique. He begins to feel that he is not a great prince at all, as his
planet contains only three tiny volcanoes and a flower he now thinks of as
common. He lies down in the grass and cries.
Like the baobabs, the snake the little prince meets in Chapter XVII represents
a force that is harmful. He evokes the snake of the Bible, who causes Adam and
Eve's expulsion from Eden by convincing them to eat the forbidden fruit. The
snake in The Little Prince serves a similar function. He speaks coyly
of his powerful poison and then tantalizes the prince with the idea of sending
him home. Although he cannot strike a creature as innocent as the prince, the
snake suggests that the prince is too weak and frail for this world and
alluringly phrases an offer for a quick trip back to the prince's planet.
Interestingly, the snake seems to need to be invited to kill.
In Chapters XVI and XVII, the narrator switches viewpoints several times. He
initially presents a very matter-of-fact way of looking at the world, focusing
on the exact number of kings, geographers, businessmen, drunkards, and vain
men the world contains. His tone quickly becomes colorful and impassioned as
he describes the global "ballet" of the lamplighters. Then, as
chapter XVII begins, the narrator adopts a confessional tone and admits that
his portrait of the earth has not been entirely truthful, because he has
focused on men, who are not actually such a significant part of the planet.
The narrator's deceit suggests that both the pragmatic viewpoint of adults and
the imaginative viewpoint of children have limits. At the same time, his
deceit shows his fluency with different ways of looking at the world, a sign
that his mind has been opened.
Chapters XVIII and XIX further explore how one's perspectives can be limited.
From a stationary viewpoint, no character can accurately assess the world. The
three-petaled flower has seen only a few men pass by in the desert, so the
flower thinks men are rootless and scarce in number. The prince hears his own
echo, so he thinks that men simply repeat what is said to them. Even a figure
as enlightened and likeable as the little prince cannot help but have his
beliefs shaped by his limited perspective of the world around him.
A change in perspective means learning new things, and the prince's discovery
of the rose garden illustrates how painful some lessons can be. The prince's
discovery that his rose is quite ordinary makes him feel plain and ordinary.
In a way, the prince has lived a life like the vain man's. Alone on his
planet, he was convinced that his was the only flower with any value.
…One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is
invisible to the eyes…. It's the time that you spent on your rose
that makes your rose so important…. You become responsible for what
you've tamed. You're responsible for your rose…"
As the little prince cries in the grass, a fox appears. The prince asks the
fox to play with him because he is so unhappy. The fox replies that first the
prince needs to tame him. The prince does not understand the word tame, and
the fox explains that it means "to establish ties." The fox says
that at the moment, he and the prince mean nothing to each other. However, if
the little prince tames the fox, they will need each other, and each will
become unique and special to the other. The little prince says he thinks he
has been tamed by a rose, and he lets slip that he is from another planet. At
first, this fact excites the fox, but he loses interest when it turns out that
the little prince's planet has no chickens.
The fox explains that his life never changes. He hunts chickens, and people
hunt him. He says that if the prince tames him, he will have footsteps to look
forward to rather than run from. The prince's golden hair will make the fox's
view of the grain fields come alive because the golden wheat will remind him
of his friend.
The little prince is apprehensive at first. He says he does not have much time
and that he is looking for friends. The fox says that if the prince wants a
friend, he will have to tame the fox. The prince asks how such a thing is
done, and the fox coquettishly takes him through the ritual. He explains that
rites and rituals are important because they allow certain moments to stand
out from all the others.
The prince tames the fox, but when the time comes for the prince to go, the
fox says he will weep. When the prince explains that it's the fox's fault for
insisting they become friends, the fox says that he knows and that it has all
been worthwhile because he can now appreciate the wheat fields. The fox tells
the little prince to visit the rose garden again so he can see why his rose is
so special. The fox says he will reveal a secret when the little prince
returns to say good-bye.
At the garden, the little prince realizes that, even though his rose is not a
unique type of flower, she is unique to him because he has cared for her and
loved her. He tells the roses that his rose is like the fox. He has tamed her
and cared for her, and now in his eyes she is the only rose. The prince then
returns to say good-bye to the fox. The fox tells him a threefold secret: that
only the heart can see clearly because the eyes miss what is important; that
the time the prince has spent on his rose is what makes his rose so important;
and that a person is forever responsible for what he has tamed.
The little prince continues his journey and meets a railway switchman (a
worker who changes trains from one track to another). As the trains roar by,
the switchman explains that the trains shuttle people from one location to
another. The prince asks the switchman if people are moving because they are
unhappy, and the switchman explains that people are always unhappy with
wherever they are. The prince asks if the people are chasing something, and
the switchman replies that the people aren't chasing anything at all. He adds
that only the children press their faces against the train windows and watch
the landscape as it rushes by. The prince remarks that "[o]nly the
children know what they're looking for," and he says that children can
make a rag doll so important that when it's taken from them, they cry. The
children, the switchman replies, are the lucky ones.
The little prince then meets a salesclerk who is selling pills invented to
quench thirst. The merchant explains that taking the pills means a person
never has to drink anything, which can save as many as fifty-three minutes a
day. The prince replies that if he had an extra fifty-three minutes, he would
spend them by walking very slowly toward a cold fountain.
The episode with the fox requires a note on Saint-Exupéry's use of the verb
“tame.” In English, this word connotes domestication and subservience. But
the French have two verbs that mean "to tame." One, "domestiquer,"
does, in fact, mean to make a wild animal subservient and submissive. The
Little Prince, however, uses the verb "apprivoiser," which
implies a more reciprocal and loving connection. The distinction between these
two words is important, since the original French word does not have the
connotations of mastery and domination that unfortunately accompany the
The fox's disclosure of his secret neatly sums up a moral that runs through
the novel: that which is secret is also what is most important. Beginning with
the narrator's insistence that the hidden image in Drawing Number One
is the most important one, the significance of secrecy is hinted at throughout
The Little Prince, but the fox's words make it explicit. In 1939,
Saint-Exupéry wrote, "Don't you understand that somewhere along the way
we have gone astray? … we lack something essential, which we find it
difficult to describe. We feel less human; somewhere we have lost our
mysterious prerogatives." This "something essential," and these
"mysterious prerogatives" are the invisible secrets that the fox
urges the prince to value.
The fox's lessons must be learned rather than taught, and when the fox reveals
his secret, he really only confirms what the prince has already learned for
himself in his explorations. The little prince's journey allows him to explore
himself as well as the world around him, but the fox shows that even the
hardiest of explorers need validation. The fox is a mentor figure who points
out the important things the prince has learned and helps him clear his
thoughts. When the fox explains what it means to be tamed, the prince realizes
that he has already been tamed by his rose, even though he didn't know that
the process had a name. The fox urges the prince to revisit the rose garden,
but the prince learns the second part of the fox's secret—that the time he
has devoted to his rose is what makes her unique—on his own.
After stressing in Chapter XXI that devoting time to one another is what
creates the special bonds between different beings, The Little Prince
offers two examples of time poorly spent, where technology speeds people along
at the expense of things that have genuine value. The trains race by at
lightning speed, but only the children are able to appreciate what is
worthwhile about the trip. The switchman points out that all their moving does
not make the grown-ups any happier. The salesclerk with his water pills also
emphasizes time-saving, telling the prince that his pills can save people up
to fifty-three minutes a day. The little prince's retort that these extra
minutes would best be put to use walking slowly toward a cool fountain
undermines the purpose of the salesman's thirst-quenching product.
When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and there was a
legend that a treasure that a treasure was buried in it somewhere. …
But it cast a spell over the whole house.
By the time the little prince finishes the story of his travels, the pilot has
been stranded in the desert for eight days and has run out of water. He is too
worried that he will die of thirst to want to hear any more about the prince
or the fox. The prince replies that it is still good to have a friend, even if
one is about to die of thirst. The prince says he is also thirsty and proposes
that they search for a well. Despite the absurdity of such an endeavor, the
As they walk, the prince and the pilot talk about beauty. The prince explains
that the desert is beautiful because somewhere it conceals a well. Remembering
a boyhood home that was made special for him by rumors of buried treasure, the
narrator is stunned to realize that the source of beauty is always something
secret and invisible. The prince is happy that the narrator agrees with the
fox's lessons and drops off to sleep. The narrator continues to walk with the
sleeping prince in his arms, stirred by the fragile beauty of the little
prince who loves his rose so deeply. At daybreak, he finds the well for which
they have been searching.
The narrator and the prince hoist the water from the well, which looks like a
village well, unlike anything one would expect to find in a desert. As they
drink, the narrator is struck by the sweetness of the water, which revives the
heart like a good feast and which is made special by its setting in the same
way that a Christmas present is made special by the celebration that surrounds
it. He and the prince agree that men on Earth lose sight of those things for
which they are looking. People on Earth raise five thousand roses when they
could find what they really want in a single rose or drop of water. But people
look with their eyes instead of their hearts, the prince remarks.
The prince reminds the narrator of his promise to draw a muzzle for the
prince's sheep. When the narrator takes out his drawings, the little prince
good-naturedly laughs at their primitiveness but says that children will
understand them. As the narrator gives the prince the drawing of the muzzle,
he realizes that the prince has secret plans and guesses that they are related
to the fact that the next day marks the anniversary of the prince's arrival on
Earth. The prince refuses to admit that he has plans, but the narrator can
tell from the prince's blushing that he has guessed correctly. Suddenly, the
narrator feels very sad. He remembers the fox's lesson that tears are the pain
you risk by being tamed.
In Chapters XXIV and XXV, the narrator learns through experience the lessons
that the prince learned while with the fox. The search for the well in the
desert makes it clear to the narrator that people must discover the true
meaning of things for themselves in order for those things to have value. The
narrator finds the well while he is on his own, holding the sleeping little
prince in his arms. Once the narrator has learned this lesson about how the
process of discovery makes the results worthwhile, he takes it to heart and is
able to apply it to the emotions and intuitions of his past, as he does when
he reminisces over the mysterious house of his childhood. Even though the
story shows us all of the prince's discoveries and encounters, Saint-Exupéry
is trying to inform us that we will not truly understand unless we search for
meaning ourselves. Even the narrator, who is a firsthand witness to the
prince's story, needs to learn the fox's lessons for himself through
experience instead of simply being told them.
Before they search for the well, the prince tells the narrator about meeting a
salesclerk who sold thirst-quenching pills. One might think that such pills
are exactly what the narrator and prince need to survive in the desert, but
they never once find themselves wishing for them. When the narrator drinks
from the well, he receives more than simple physical nourishment. The water
also revives his heart, and he finds it more like a Christmas present than
anything else. He says that what makes the water taste so delightful is all
the hard work that went into finding it, emphasizing that relationships,
objects, and experiences are rewarding only when you invest time and effort in
Besides demonstrating important moral lessons, the relationship between the
pilot and the little prince is also very human. The prince gently mocks the
narrator's drawings, and the narrator is struck by a deep concern for the
prince's safety. Their relationship grounds the story, and though their
conversation introduces weighty topics like spirituality and morality, the
friendship between the narrator and the little prince keeps the conversation
The following day, the pilot returns from fixing his plane to see the little
prince sitting on the wall of a ruin beside the well. The prince is discussing
plans for that evening with someone who cannot be seen, and the topic of
poison is mentioned. The prince asks his unseen companion to leave so the
prince can get off the wall, and when the narrator looks down, he sees a
snake. It is the same snake who greeted the prince when he first arrived on
Earth. The narrator draws his gun, but the snake escapes, and the narrator is
left to take care of the prince, who is pale and frightened. The prince
congratulates the pilot on having fixed his plane, and when the narrator asks
the prince how he knows about his plane, the prince says only that he will be
going on a much longer, more difficult journey.
The prince says he will be even more afraid that night and tries to console
the narrator by pointing to the stars and saying they will all have a special,
unique meaning for the narrator now that he knows someone who lives among
them. Then the prince becomes serious again and asks the pilot not to
accompany him that night. The prince cautions that it will look as if he is
dying. Also, he does not trust the snake to stop at just one bite and is
worried that the snake would bite the pilot as well.
That night the little prince sneaks off by himself, but the narrator catches
up and refuses to abandon him. The prince assures the narrator that he will be
fine, that his dead body will just be an empty shell too heavy for the prince
to take to the heavens with him. The narrator is not convinced, and even the
prince grows less certain of his reasoning and finally breaks down in tears.
Growing more frightened, the little prince explains that his rose needs him,
and then falls silent. The snake strikes at the prince's ankle, and he falls
so gently that he does not make a sound.
Look up at the sky. Ask yourself, "Has the sheep eaten the
flower or not?" And you'll see how everything changes.
And no grown-up will ever understand how such a thing could be so
Six years later, the narrator reflects on the fate of his friend. He knows the
prince made it back to his planet because the morning after the snake bit the
prince, he could not find the prince's body. The narrator's friends are glad
to have him back again, and when he looks at the stars, he hears the sounds of
many tiny bells.
The narrator worries, however, since he forgot to draw a strap on the sheep's
muzzle, which means it may eat the rose. He sometimes reassures himself that
the prince would never let such a thing happen, but then he thinks that
accidents can happen, and the sound of bells turns into the sound of tears. He
admits that his emotions are a puzzle, as they certainly are for all of us who
also loved the little prince. All the same, when he looks up at the sky, the
question of whether the sheep has eaten the rose or not has changed the way he
sees everything. He remarks, rather incredulously, that a grown-up will never
understand this concern.
In a short epilogue, the narrator shows the same illustration of the desert
landscape he showed in his final chapter, only he leaves out the prince. He
calls his final picture the saddest and loveliest landscape in the world. He
asks us to keep an eye out for this landscape if we are ever in the Sahara and
to linger under the stars for a while if we do see it. The narrator asks us to
lessen his sadness by sending immediate word if we happen to meet the little
For us, as for the narrator, the story of the little prince ends in mystery.
We are left on our own to figure out whether the prince has managed to save
his rose. At times, the narrator is sure that the prince's life on his planet
is a happy one. Other times, the narrator hears only the sound of tears. The
only thing that is certain is that one of the prince's first questions, about
whether the sheep will eat his rose, has emerged in the end as the most
important question of all.
The narrator does not downplay the deep pain he felt because of his friendship
with the little prince. Although the narrator mentions that he has other
friends, the departure of this one has taken as much from him as it has given
him. The story has no qualms about the fact that losing a loved one is
painful, and its ending offers no consolation that the narrator's wounds will
heal. On one level, these final chapters are an allegory about dealing with
the death of a loved one.
In spite of all this sadness, however, the story staunchly insists that
relationships are worth the trouble. The fox and the narrator may both lose
the little prince, but their world is enhanced nevertheless—wheat fields and
night skies come alive. To emphasize this positive aspect of lost
relationships, the narrator describes his desolate final drawing of the barren
landscape where the prince fell as both the saddest and the loveliest place in
the world. The Little Prince, though it deals with serious and even
upsetting issues, emphasizes the idea that good can be derived from sad
events. The little prince learns that his rose must die, but this knowledge
fires his love for her. The relationship between the narrator and the prince
reaches new levels of intensity only after the prince makes it clear that he
1. But he would always answer, "That's a hat." Then I
wouldn't about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his
level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my
grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person. [Explanation]
2. If some one loves a flower of which just one example exists among
all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when
he looks at the stars. He tells himself, "My flower's up there
somewhere…" But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it's as if,
suddenly, all the stars went out. And that isn't important? [Explanation]
3. "Goodbye," said the fox. "Here is my secret. It's
quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is
invisible to the eyes…. It's the time that you spent on your rose that makes
your rose so important…. People have forgotten this truth," the fox
said, "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible for what you've
tamed. You're responsible for your rose…" [Explanation]
4. I was surprised by suddenly understanding that mysterious
radiance of the sands. When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and
there was a legend that a treasure that a treasure was buried in it somewhere.
Of course, no one was ever able to find the treasure, perhaps no one even
searched. But it cast a spell over the whole house. [Explanation]
5. Look up at the sky. Ask yourself, "Has the sheep eaten the
flower or not?" And you'll see how everything changes…
And no grown-up will ever understand how such a thing could be so important! [Explanation]
Full title - The Little Prince (in French, Le Petit Prince)
Author - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Type of work - Children's story, novella
Genre - Fable, allegory
Language - French
Time and place written - The summer and fall of 1942, while Saint-Exupéry
was living in Long Island, New York
Date of first publication - First published in English translation
in 1943. The first French edition did not appear until 1946.
Publisher - Reynal & Hitchcock, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
(U.S. edition, both French and English); Gallimard (French edition)
Narrator - A pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert, where he meets
the little prince. The narrator tells his story of the encounter six years
after it happened.
Point of View - The narrator gives a first-person account, although
he spends large portions of the story recounting the little prince's own story
of his travels.
Tone - When describing his surreal, poignant encounter with the
little prince, the narrator's tone is bittersweet. When describing the adult
world, the narrator's tone is matter-of-fact and often regretful.
Tense - Past
Settings (Time) - "Six years ago," although the current
date is never specified
Settings (Place) - The Sahara desert and outer space
Protagonists - The little prince, the pilot
Major conflict - The childlike perspectives of the prince and, to
some extent, those of the narrator are in conflict with the stifling beliefs
of the adult world.
Rising action - After he believes he has been spurned by his rose,
the prince travels to neighboring planets and eventually lands on Earth. He
wanders through the desert in search of humans, and he is eventually found by
Climax - The fox teaches the little prince his secret, and the
little prince realizes the value of his rose.
Falling action - The prince meets the narrator, to whom he passes
along the fox's instructions. He is then sent back to the heavens by the
Themes - The dangers of narrow-mindedness, enlightenment through
exploration, relationships teach responsibility
the narrator's drawings, taming, serious matters
stars, the desert, the trains, water
the snake greets the prince, he alludes to his ability to send the prince back
to the heavens, which he does at the end of the novel.
1. Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince in New York as
World War II raged in Europe, and after his homeland had been captured by the
Nazis. Are there any symbols that are particularly evocative of war and exile?
2. What differentiates adults from children in The Little Prince?
Is the distinction simply one of age, or is it based on something else? [Answer]
3. When the narrator and the prince search for a well, the narrator
appears finally to understand the lessons that the prince has related to him.
What does this say about the morals of the novel? [Answer]
Suggested Essay Topics
4. Why does the little prince want to return home? Why isn't his
friendship with the pilot enough to make him stay? Can the way he returns to
the heavens be interpreted as a suicide?
5. Discuss the themes of time and death in The Little Prince.
How does the prince learn to appreciate the time he has with his loved ones
better, and how does it affect his relationships with them?
6. Why do some people see Drawing Number One as a simple hat,
while others think it represents an elephant inside a boa constrictor? What is
the meaning of these different perspectives?
7. Discuss the rose's
behavior. Why doesn't the rose tell the little prince that she loves him? Why
does he continue to love her?
8. Why is the fox so eager to be tamed by the little prince? If he
already knows how to tame himself, why does he need someone else to do it for
9. Symbols and metaphors are present throughout The Little
Prince. Why do you think Saint-Exupéry choose to tell this story in such
1. What is Drawing Number One supposed to depict?
2. Where does the narrator's plane crash?
3. What is the first thing the little prince asks of the pilot?
4. What is the Earth name for the little prince's home planet?
5. Why does the narrator make note of the name and astronomical
history of the little prince's home planet?
6. What drawing does the narrator say he worked especially hard on?
7. Whom does the little prince love?
8. Why does the little prince leave his planet?
9. Why is the rose certain she can defend herself?
10. Whom does the prince meet on the first planet he visits?
11. Whom does the prince meet on the second planet?
12. Whom does the prince meet on the third planet?
13. Whom does the prince meet on the fourth planet?
14. Whom does the prince meet on the fifth planet?
15. Whom does the prince meet on the sixth planet?
16. Who is the first being the prince meets on Earth?
17. Why does the discovery of the rose garden make the little prince
18. How does the fox define to "tame?"
19. According to the fox, what makes the prince's rose so important?
20. After talking with the little prince, what does the pilot
realize makes the desert beautiful?
21. Why does the pilot worry about the little prince's departure?
22. What sort of pills does the salesclerk the little prince meets
23. What does the narrator say is most important to him in the
story's final chapter?
24. On his planet, what does the little prince place over the rose
25. What is the narrator's occupation?