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The Little Prince Analysis

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Key Facts 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 the fox. 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 snake’s bite. themes · The dangers of narrow-mindedness, enlightenment through exploration, relationships teach responsibility motifs · Secrecy, the narrator’s drawings, taming, serious matters symbols · The stars, the desert, the trains, water foreshadowing · When 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.

B orn 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. 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 is 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.
Plot Overview
T he 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 businessman, 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 behind.
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.
Character List
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 the rose 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 the little 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 responsibility.

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 forbidden fruit.

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 able to command people to do only 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 Drunkard - 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 the little 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 actively chastises.
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 Geographe - r 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 rides.
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 them.
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 racism.

Analysis of Major Characters
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 narrator.
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.
Both 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.
Much 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 history.
The Fox
The fox appears quite suddenly and inexplicably while the prince is mourning the ordinariness of his rose after having come across the rose garden. 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.
In 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, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
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.
Even 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.
For 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.
In 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.
The 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 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.
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.
The 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.
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 him. 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.
Saint-Exupéry 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.
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.
Important Quotations Explained
1. But he 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. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person.
Explanation for Quotation 1 >>
In this passage from Chapter I, the narrator discusses his Drawing Number One, a picture that looks like a hat but is meant to portray a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Whereas children use their imaginations and see the hidden elephant inside the boa constrictor, adults offer the most dull, unimaginative interpretation and see the picture as a hat. Here, the narrator explains that he uses this drawing as a barometer to see whether an adult retains any of his noble childhood perspective. Unfortunately, the narrator says, adults always respond with a grown-up perspective, so the narrator must talk with them about dull, pragmatic matters.
This passage demonstrates that being a grown-up is a state of mind, not a fact of life. The narrator is an adult in years, but he retains a childlike perspective. At the same time, this passage displays the loneliness that the narrator suffers as a result of his atypical outlook on life.

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 for Quotation 2 >>
The little prince makes this indignant exclamation in Chapter VII in response to the narrator’s statement that the prince’s rose is not a “serious matter.” The prince’s retort exposes what he thinks are grown-ups’ limited priorities. The prince points out how silly it is that the narrator frets over routine, material matters when deeper questions about relationships and the universe are so much more important.
At first, the prince’s ideas seem a bit lofty and perhaps callous—after all, what could be more important than the pilot fixing his engine so that he can survive? Yet by the end of the novel, the narrator comes to understand the truth of the little prince’s statement. When, after the little prince has returned home, the narrator looks up at the sky and wonders whether the sheep has eaten the flower, he realizes that the answer to that question changes the way he sees the entire sky. In the end, the prince’s innocent, personal perspective on the universe proves to be more serious than the jaded perspective of adults.

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 for Quotation 3 >>
This passage from the end of Chapter XXI concludes the story of the friendship between the prince and the fox. More important, the quotation explicitly states the central moral of The Little Prince. Actually, the prince has learned these lessons on his own, but the fox spells them out for him and makes clear where the prince’s future lies. By calling his lessons a “secret,” the fox reveals that such knowledge is not available to all. The fox’s lessons must be learned, and, in some way, they should be considered a privilege.

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 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 for Quotation 4 >>
This passage from Chapter XXIV marks the moment when the narrator grasps for himself the fox’s secret (see quotation 3). In most fables and fairy tales, the story’s moral is given at the very end of the work. In The Little Prince, by contrast, Saint-Exupéry delivers his lesson early on so that the narrator, and us with him, can experience it for himself. In Saint-Exupéry’s hands, a moral serves no purpose if it is not fully explored and lived out, and that is exactly what he does here. We think we have understood the full meaning of the fox’s secret after the encounter between the fox and the little prince, but the narrator repeats the process of understanding once again, showing us that even when we think we understand something, there is always more to learn.

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 for Quotation 5 >>
These lines conclude The Little Prince. The narrator ends the novel as he begins it, by highlighting the differences between the perspectives of children and grown-ups. Another idea the narrator stresses throughout the story is the importance of self-exploration.
By concluding with an instruction to us to examine for ourselves the questions already examined by the prince and the narrator, the narrator encourages us to explore ourselves just as he has explored himself. As we close the covers of The Little Prince, we are encouraged to think about what we have just learned.

Study Questions
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?
Answer for Study Question 1 >>
Although it is impossible to know what was in the author’s mind as he wrote The Little Prince, several aspects of the novel can be read as commentary on the painful World War II period. Most notably, the baobab trees can be read as a warning of what happens when a close eye is not kept on things that are dangerous. The story in Chapter IV of a Turkish astronomer whose work is initially dismissed because of his ethnic costumes addresses the problems of racial prejudice and discrimination.
Nonetheless, the story’s vagueness opens it up to a number of readings, and not everything relates to war. Many of the ideas that Saint-Exupéry discusses in the work—modern civilization’s misplaced priorities and its lack of spirituality, for example—are common literary themes, although it is rare to find them discussed with such frankness. Saint-Exupéry’s complaints about the general degeneracy of the human condition apply to any era and can be understood without any knowledge of the historical context of The Little Prince.

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 for Study Question 2 >>
Throughout The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry portrays children as innocent and truthful and adults as corrupt and dull. As the little prince journeys from one planet to another, he finds grown-ups such as the businessman and the geographer to lack creativity and imagination. They can only quantify the world in the dullest of terms. The little prince, on the other hand, acknowledges that the most important qualities in life are invisible and mysterious. He constantly asks questions instead of giving answers, and the search for spiritual truth seems to be his sole priority. Above all, he understands that relationships are the most important thing in life and that no one needs an entire well or rose garden when a single drop of water or a single flower will do.
Unlike most adults, the little prince knows what he is looking for and exactly how much of it he needs. The narrator also recognizes the validity of the childhood perspective, even though he occasionally lapses into a grown-up mind-set. By the end of the story, however, the narrator has regained some of his childhood passion, demonstrating that the clear viewpoint of children is not limited by age.

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 for Study Question 3 >>
One of the story’s themes is that true understanding cannot be achieved without real-world experience. The events that happen to the narrator in the desert exemplify this theme. Even though the narrator learns much from listening to the prince’s story, it’s evident that learning the prince’s lessons through firsthand experience gives them a clarity that would not be attained otherwise. The narrator finds the well on his own—his guide, the prince, falls asleep and needs to be carried all night. In the end, the prince’s story provides only a blueprint to the narrator about how much he has been missing. To obtain the fulfillment he seeks, he must act on his own. By extension, Saint-Exupéry teaches us that we must ourselves act to learn the lessons in his story, although this moral is never made explicitly clear.

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