Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A golden-haired boy—a little prince—unexpectedly appears in the vast Sahara, where a pilot has landed his plane because of engine problems. The pilot is anxiously trying to fix the engine, for he has no food or water to survive for long. The boy politely asks the pilot to draw him a picture of a sheep. The pilot instead draws a picture from his own childhood: a boa constrictor with an elephant in its stomach. The boy, exasperated, concludes that adults cannot understand anything without numerous explanations. Only after the pilot draws a box with air holes in it is the boy happy. Both the pilot and the little prince understand that a sheep is inside the box.
Gradually, the man and the boy “tame” each other. The home from which the little prince has come is an asteroid, hardly larger than a house; it holds one rose, one baobab tree, and three volcanoes. The boy hopes to widen his knowledge by visiting much larger places, such as the planet Earth, and meeting the people, animals, and plants that live in those places. He is inwardly preoccupied, however, with the safety of his dearly loved rose.
The little prince tells the pilot about his visits to other tiny asteroids, where he met one single inhabitant on each: a king claiming to rule the universe, although he has no subjects; a conceited man who sees everyone as his admirer; a drunkard living in a stupor, drinking to forget his shame of being an alcoholic; a businessman greedily counting the stars as his own treasure; and a geographer who does not know the geography of his place and never leaves his office. The smallest planet he has visited, which turns very rapidly (with 1,440 sunsets per day), has no homes or people, yet the planet’s lamplighter has no moment of rest as he constantly lights and puts out the only lamp, following old orders that make no sense. The little prince, who sees grown-ups as odd, respects the lamplighter for his dedicated, selfless work.
In the Sahara, the prince meets the fox, who reveals to him...
(The entire section is 825 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Loved for its childlike simplicity and profound wisdom, The Little Prince is undoubtedly Saint-Exupéry’s most famous work. It has been translated into more than 170 languages and adapted into two operas, a musical film, and an animated television series. Saint-Exupéry wrote the book while he was living in New York City, shortly before he disappeared in flight. Though commonly referred to as a children’s story, the book has also been appreciated by adult audiences for its underlying philosophical nature. The story contains reflections on the themes of friendship, love, imagination, and the significance of an individual in the world. It is often published with the author’s illustrations, a whimsical series of watercolors.
The book begins with the narrator’s reflection on his own childhood and the unimaginative rationality of adults. The story quickly jumps ahead to the narrator’s adult life, to a time when he was stranded in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash. He is awoken one day by a young boy, the Little Prince, who asks him to draw a sheep. The exchange reveals the Prince’s childlike imagination, reminding the narrator of the innocent worldview of his own childhood.
The two characters are drawn together by their common exile—the pilot, who is stranded in the desert, and the Little Prince, who is far from his home on the asteroid B612. Gradually, the narrator learns the Prince’s story. The Prince lived on a small planet, where he spent his days weeding his home of baobab trees, tending to his volcanoes, and most of all, taking care of his rose. This mysterious rose was a delicate but vain creature. She was demanding and pretentious, and despite the Prince’s love for her, he grew disappointed with her capriciousness. When he caught her...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born in France but wrote and illustrated The Little Prince during a self-imposed exile in America. This children’s book was published in 1943; a year later, the author was presumably shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean for his French air squadron.
When he was six, the narrator read a book about jungles and was fascinated with the fact that a boa constructor swallows its prey whole and then sleeps for six months while the meal digests. He drew a picture of the boa in this state; it looked kind of like a lumpy hat. When he showed it to adults, they all thought it was a lumpy hat and told him to study the important subjects in school, like geography. So he became a pilot and flew all over the world (a job in which his geography studies were helpful). Later, as an adult, he used the drawing to decide what kind of adults people were. If they looked at the picture and saw a lumpy hat, he talked about golf and bridge and politics; he never mentioned jungles or boa constrictors or stars. He lived without anyone to really talk to for a long time—until six years ago, when he was forced to make a crash landing in the Sahara Desert. He was a thousand miles from nowhere with a broken plane and eight days worth of water. That night, he hears a voice asking him to draw a sheep.
Startled, he wakes up to see a little boy, dressed handsomely and not looking in the least lost or abandoned a thousand miles from nowhere. The boy asks him again to draw him a sheep. The pilot starts to draw but then remembers he does not know how to draw very well because he was told to concentrate on other things while in school. The boy says that does not matter, and the pilot draws the only thing he knows how to draw—an elephant inside a boa constrictor, which looks kind of like a lumpy hat. When the boy sees the drawing, he says he does not want a drawing of a boa constrictor with an elephant inside; he wants a SHEEP. This young boy sees what the pilot sees—he understands. The pilot makes several drawings of a sheep, but each of them is somehow wrong: one is too old, one is a ram, one is sick. The boy wants a small sheep because where he lives everything is small. The pilot finally draws a small crate and tells the boy the small sheep is inside the crate, and the boy says it is perfect. He can even see the small sheep inside the crate.
That is how the pilot meets the little prince. He does not know much about him at first because the prince is much better at asking questions than answering them. One of the first things he discovers is that the little boy is from another planet. When the pilot offers to draw a rope to tie up the little sheep, the prince laughs because everything is so small where he lives that the sheep cannot wander far at all. The pilot knows (but forgot) that there are hundreds of small, unnamed planets that have been numbered instead of named. Over time, the pilot comes to believe that the little prince comes from a place identified as Asteroid B-612 by a Turkish astronomer. The pilot apologizes for his drawings, for it has been a long time since he tried to draw—and he is, after all, a grown-up who cannot see a sheep through the sides of a drawing of a crate.
The next thing the pilot discovers about the prince’s planet has to do with baobabs, pesky bushes that start small but eventually grow and take over all the ground around it. On his very small planet, the ground is infested with baobab seeds; if they grow too big, their roots can cause a tiny planet to “burst into pieces.” The young boy says he must be disciplined to pull all the baobabs regularly or they will soon take over the entire planet. Children must be warned not to put off their necessary chores or it may be too late.
On the morning of the fourth day, the pilot learns a little more about the prince’s life. One of the only pleasures on his tiny planet is watching sunsets. On earth, it is usually possible to see only one sunset per day; on his planet, the prince only has to move his chair a few feet to see many in one day. One day the prince saw forty-four sunsets and it made him happy, for everyone knows sunsets are wonderful, especially when one is feeling sad.
Five days after the crash, the pilot is beginning to get nervous about his lack of water and his broken plane. The prince asks him if sheep eat flowers as well as bushes, and the pilot tells him sheep eat everything. He asks if they even eat flowers with thorns. The answer is yes, and the prince wants to know what thorns are good for if they do not protect the flowers. The distracted pilot is annoyed and tells the prince that thorns are simply a flower’s way of being mean. This outrages the prince, who shakes his golden curls and accuses the pilot of being like a grown-up. Flowers have been producing thorns for millions of years, he says, and it is worth considering why they create thorns. He has a unique flower of which there is only one on his planet, a flower he loves a great deal. If a sheep comes along and eats it, all happiness will be gone. The boy tells the adult that is important and can say nothing more and bursts into tears. The hapless pilot drops his tools and tries to comfort the sobbing prince. He offers to draw a muzzle for the sheep or a fence for the flower.
As time passes, the pilot learns more about flowers on the prince’s planet. Until the arrival of this flower, simple flowers bloomed every morning and faded away every night. This one flower is exceptionally vain and grooms herself carefully before finally blossoming one morning. She expects the prince to serve her, and he does. She demands water and a screen because she has a horror of drafts. Her next request is for a glass box with which he can enclose her every night. The prince listens to her too much and comes to distrust her; what he should have done, he knows now, is judge her by her actions rather than her words. Then he would have loved her for perfuming his planet and lighting up his life; but he was “too young to know how to love her.”
On the day the little prince leaves his planet, he puts everything in order. He rakes two of his volcanoes (which come in quite handy for cooking), uproots the last baobab plant, and waters the flower for the last time. As he places the glass over her, she apologizes for being so silly and never telling him she loved him. She tells him she does not need the glass covering, for if she ever wants to meet some butterflies she must get acquainted with a few caterpillars. Then she tells him to go, for she does not want him to see her crying. He is able to leave the planet, the pilot surmises, by taking advantage of some migrating birds.
The little prince’s first stop after leaving his own tiny planet is an asteroid on which lives a king. When the purple-robed king sees his visitor, he commands the little prince to step forward (to a king, everyone is a subject). The little prince tries to step forward, but he cannot because the entire planet is covered with the king’s ermine robe. This king is an absolute monarch, so what he says must happen; however, he changes his commands at will. When the prince yawns, the king commands him to stop; when the prince says he cannot stop, the king commands him to yawn. The king explains that he is in control of the universe, and if his command is not obeyed it is because he, the king, expected too much. The prince asks the king to produce a sunset, which the king promises to do—when the conditions are right, at about 7:40 that evening. The little prince has seen all there is on this planet (having looked first at one side, then the other) and prepares to leave. The king, proud of finally having a subject over whom to reign, commands him to stay and makes him a minister of justice. When the boy points out there is no one over whom to pronounce justice, the king offers to make him an ambassador. The little prince leaves anyway, thinking that grown-ups are strange.
On the second planet, the prince meets a vain man who greets him as an admirer (to a vain man, everyone is an admirer). The man is wearing an odd hat and orders the boy to clap. When he does, the man doffs his hat. The prince wonders what would happen if he continues clapping, so he does, and the vain man keeps doffing his hat. When the clapping and doffing stop, the man asks the prince if he really does admire him as the most handsome, richest, best-dressed, and most intelligent man on the planet. The prince is puzzled, for he is the only man on the planet, but the man asks for his admiration all the same. Again the prince leaves the planet thinking that grown-ups are very strange.
The next planet is inhabited by a drunkard. Though the prince’s visit is short, it causes him to be depressed. He meets the drunkard sitting in front of an assortment of both full and empty bottles and asks what the man is doing. The man answers that he is drinking. When the prince asks why, he says he is drinking to forget he is ashamed. When asked what he is ashamed of, the man answers he is ashamed of drinking and lapses into silence. The prince leaves this planet thinking grown-ups are very, very strange.
On the fourth planet he finds a businessman too busy even to look up when his visitor arrives. He is very serious, he says, and does not appreciate being interrupted when he is counting. He is at
five-hundred-and-one-million, six-hundred-twenty-two thousand, seven hundred thirty-one.
When the prince finally asks enough times, the serious businessman tells him he is counting the little gold things in the sky that cause lazy people to daydream. The prince is bewildered at the man’s thinking he owns the stars, but the man insists he thought of it first so he owns them. He writes the number down and places it in a locked drawer, and that is enough for him. The prince explains that he owns three volcanoes he rakes and a flower he cares for, so he is useful to the things he owns. He asks the man how useful he is to the stars he owns. The man looks at him but has nothing to say. The prince once more leaves a planet thinking that grown-ups are very, very, very strange.
Even more strange is the fifth and smallest planet, which is big enough only for a lamplight and a lamplighter. At first it seems absurd to the prince to have a lamp and a lamplighter where there is no one who needs the light, but at least adding light to the universe is useful. The man lights his lamp according to orders: he lights it every night and turns it off every morning. Unfortunately, the planet is turning faster and faster, and the orders have not changed even though the planet now revolves once a minute. The poor lamplighter is exhausted, but the prince is impressed with the man’s faithful obedience to orders. The boy offers to show the lamplighter how to get a little rest, and the man is eager to hear it because he is both lazy and faithful. The prince tells him if he walks slowly around the planet, he will always be in the sun and will not have to light his lamp. The man scoffs at this plan, for he wants to sleep, not walk. There is nothing more to be done on this planet, but the little prince is reluctant to leave because the planet is blessed with 1,440 sunsets every twenty-four hours.
The sixth planet is much bigger than the fifth—ten times bigger—and is inhabited by an older man who writes gigantic books. The gentleman greets the prince as an explorer, and the boy sits down on the desk, for he is weary from his travels. The man tells him he is a geographer, and the prince is pleased to at last meet someone with a real profession. When he asks the man if his beautiful planet contains any mountains, the man says he does not know. He does not know about oceans, cities, rivers, or deserts, either. He does not have time to actually leave his desk to see anything; he is a geographer, not an explorer. Instead, he spends his days questioning explorers and writing down what they tell him—after checking their moral character, of course; if an explorer lies, the books will not be accurate. Explorers must furnish proof of their claims; for instance, if an explorer claims to have discovered a mountain, he must bring a large rock as proof. The prince suggests the geographer can simply go...
(The entire section is 5066 words.)
Chapters 1-2 Summary
As The Little Prince begins, the narrator explains that, when he was six years old, he saw a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing an animal. Afterward, he used a colored pencil to draw a long, brown creature with a huge, two-humped lump in the middle. It was obvious to him that this was “a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant” but grown-ups thought it was a hat.
The narrator felt annoyed and redrew his picture. This time he made an outline of the boa constrictor with the elephant clearly visible in the middle, “so the grown-ups could understand.” The grown-ups were no more impressed with the second picture than with the first. They told the narrator to give up drawing and focus...
(The entire section is 588 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
The little prince never answers the pilot’s questions, although he asks many of his own. He reveals information about himself only in little hints. When he learns that the broken plane fell out of the sky, he laughs and says that he did too. He asks seriously, “What planet do you come from?” This is how the pilot learns that the little prince comes from another planet.
Another time, the pilot offers to draw the little prince a rope and a stake to secure the sheep so he will not get lost. This makes the little prince laugh again. Where he comes from, everything is so small that no sheep will be able to get very far. This is how the pilot learns that the prince’s planet is an asteroid about the size of a house....
(The entire section is 484 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
During his time with the little prince, the pilot learns a few new details every day. On their third day together, the little prince asks if sheep eat bushes as well as grass. When the pilot replies that they do, the prince asks if they eat baobabs as well. The pilot laughs at this, saying that baobab trees are “as tall as churches” and that a herd of elephants could not eat even one of them. The little prince laughs, too. He comments that elephants would not fit on his planet unless they were piled on top of each other.
Soon the little prince returns then to the topic of the baobabs and says that these trees do not start out big. Like any plant, they start out tiny. Many plants grow on the little prince’s planet,...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
One day, with his voice full of concern, the little prince asks if sheep eat flowers. The pilot says they do. The prince asks if sheep eat thorny flowers, and the pilot says they eat those too. This bothers the little prince, who demands to know why flowers have thorns.
This is the pilot’s fifth day in the Sahara. He only has a few days’ water left and his engine is not fixed. He is working on it every day, but he does not know if he can fix it before his water runs out. He is worried, and his temper is short. As he struggles to unscrew a bolt that will not come off, he says that the flowers just have thorns because they want to be mean. This horrifies the little prince, who shouts:
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Chapters 8-9 Summary
Over time, the pilot learns all about the little prince and his flower. She is unlike any other flower that exists on the little prince’s planet, where most of the plants are quite simple and quick to bloom. When the special flower first grew, she did not show her petals for a long time. The little prince watched her carefully and wondered if she might be a new kind of baobab. As the days passed, she stopped growing and started to bloom, but she was far too vain to open up quickly. She spent a long time choosing her colors and unfolding her petals. When she finally showed herself, she was complex and gorgeous. The little prince could hardly believe she existed.
The little flower was quite demanding, and for a long...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The narrative shifts away from the scene in the Sahara and the conversations with the pilot. It flashes back to the prince’s journey through the asteroid belt after he leaves his home planet.
The little prince decides to visit several planets because it is something to do; besides, he wants to learn. On the first planet he visits, he meets a king. The king sits on a huge throne wearing a beautiful fur cape. When the little prince arrives, the king shouts, “Ah, here’s the subject!” This surprises the little prince, who wonders how the king could know what he is. The prince does not yet know that a subject is a person under a king’s command and that this particular king considers himself in command over everyone...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Chapters 11-13 Summary
A vain man lives on the next planet. Seeing the little prince, the man says, “Ah! A visit from an admirer!” In some ways, he is like the king. Just as the king feels that everyone exists to be ruled by him, the vain man feels that everyone exists to admire him.
The vain man tells the little prince to clap his hands. When the little prince obeys, the vain man tips his hat over and over, accepting the prince’s praise. The little prince finds this fun for a few minutes, but eventually it gets boring, so he stops. He suggests that the man make his hat fall off, but the man does not hear the request. Unfortunately, vain people cannot hear anything except praise.
The vain man asks if the little prince...
(The entire section is 565 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The fifth planet is smaller than any of the others, and the man there spends all his time lighting a streetlamp and putting it back out. The little prince finds this odd, but he also thinks the man’s work is the best of all the jobs he has seen so far. After all, lighting a lamp is “like bringing one more star to life, or one more flower.” This is more interesting and more “useful” than giving orders to nobody, asking for admiration, drinking, or claiming to own stars.
The lamplighter tells the little prince that he spends all his time lighting his lamp and putting it out because he has orders. He does not or cannot say where these orders come from, just that they require him to light the lamp at dusk and put...
(The entire section is 400 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
The next planet, the sixth, is much larger. It is home to an old man who writes in books. He introduces himself as a geographer and explains that it is his job to know the locations of mountains and cities and oceans. This excites the little prince, who thinks he has finally found someone whose occupation is really wonderful. The prince looks around and sees that the geographer’s planet is far more beautiful than any he has ever seen. He asks about its mountains and oceans, but the geographer has no idea if there are any.
The geographer explains that he is “far too important to go wandering about.” To get information about geography, he needs the help of explorers. He sits in his study and waits for explorers, who...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
Following the geographer’s advice, the little prince visits Earth. Earth is completely unlike any of the other planets he has seen. It is far bigger, and it is home to far more people—about two billion. These two billion people include more than a hundred kings. There are also thousands of geographers and businessmen and millions of drunkards and vain men. A long time ago, before the invention of electricity, Earth was home to hundreds of thousands of lamplighters. It must have been a beautiful sight, in that time, to watch the lamps light up and go out again on all of the various continents.
There are many people on Earth, but there is even more space. If all of the people on the whole planet stood side by side,...
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapters 18-20 Summary
The prince leaves the snake behind and crosses the desert alone. Along the way he finds a little flower with three petals. She is clearly an unimportant and ignorant flower, but she does not know it. He greets her politely, and she greets him back. He asks where all the people are, and she says that very few people, only about six or seven, exist in all the world. She saw them years ago, but she does not know where to find them. They have no roots, so the wind blows them around. This, she says, makes their lives difficult. The little prince says good-bye and moves on.
The prince comes to a mountain. It amazes him because it is so much taller than the little volcanoes on his planet. He climbs it, thinking he will see the...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
As the little prince weeps, a fox appears. The fox says that the prince does not need human friends. To him, people are uninteresting except for their habit of keeping chickens. In any case, people do not want friends because they are already busy shopping in stores. The fox has no interest in people most of the time, but he would like to know how it would feel to be tamed. He explains:
For you I’m only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.
The little prince thinks this over and says he was tamed once—by a flower. This story...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapters 22-23 Summary
The little prince travels on, leaving his fox behind and looking for friends. He meets a railway switchman who explains that it is his job to send out trains full of travelers “in bundles of a thousand.” The travelers zoom along, “sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left.” Very soon, a train passes, and the little prince watches in amazement as it rushes by, shaking the cabin where the switchman sits. The little prince comments that travelers are very hurried. The switchman agrees and says that nobody, “not even the engineer of the locomotive,” knows why.
When another train comes by in the opposite direction, the little prince is confused because he thinks the first set of travelers is already back. The...
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Back at the site of the plane crash, the pilot finishes listening to the little prince’s story about the salesman. By now eight days have passed since he crashed his plane, and he is out of water. After he drinks the last of it, he says that the little prince’s memories are nice but not nice enough to fix a broken plane. Now he does not want to hear any more about people or foxes. He has no water left, and he is going to die.
The little prince insists that friends are important “even if you’re going to die.” The pilot decides that the prince simply does not understand how dire the situation is. Moments later, the prince suggests that they find a well. The pilot thinks this is a ridiculous idea. What chance...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
The pilot stares at the well, amazed. It is complete with a pulley and a bucket, the kind of set-up that could provide water for a whole village. He looks around but sees no village. He wonders if it is a dream.
The little prince laughs at the pilot’s amazement and begins to draw up water. The rope creaks, and he says it is singing. The pilot, who is beginning to love the prince and worry about him, takes over the hard work of pulling the heavy bucket. When it reaches the top, he pauses and stares at the beauty of the sun’s reflection on the water.
The little prince asks for some of the water to drink. The pilot understands that the prince does not really need the water itself. He needs the magical,...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapters 26-27 Summary
The next day, the pilot sees the little prince talking to a poisonous yellow snake. The prince orders the snake to meet him later at the exact spot where they met a year ago. He asks, “Your poison is good? You’re sure it won’t make me suffer long?”
All this terrifies the pilot, who wants to kill the snake but cannot. It slithers away and disappears before the pilot can take a single shot with his revolver. The pilot tries to comfort the prince with water, but it does not seem to work. The prince looks frightened and says that his journey is extremely long and dangerous.
The pilot begs the little prince to laugh and promise to stay. But the little prince reminds him that the most important things,...
(The entire section is 622 words.)