The theme of the story is established in the first pair of drawings: Adults have lost true perception, and only those who keep the child alive within them can see through the outward appearance of objects to the invisible essence within. The Little Prince passes Saint-Exupéry’s test of understanding when he correctly identifies his drawing of an elephant inside a boa constrictor. The message is repeated in the Little Prince’s rejection of each of Saint-Exupéry’s sheep until he accepts a drawing of a box in which he can imagine a sheep.
The Little Prince comes to realize that it is the invisible essence bestowed on the Rose by his devotion that makes her unique. Her truth, too, is hidden: Only when the Little Prince leaves his planet does the Rose admit that she loves him. The Little Prince reflects that he should have judged her on her acts, not her words, and guessed the affection beyond her wiles.
Such invisible truths are set against the so-called serious things with which grown-ups are preoccupied. When the Little Prince says that he fears that his sheep may eat the Rose, Saint-Exupéry dismisses the boy’s questions, saying that he is concerned with “serious things”—his plane repair and diminishing water supply. The Little Prince is furious with Saint-Exupéry, whom he accuses of talking like a grown-up. The Little Prince delivers a passionate declamation about what is truly important: that his Rose is unique, and that a little sheep could unwittingly destroy her in an instant.
The Little Prince passes on something of the Fox’s teaching when he tells Saint-Exupéry that what makes a house, the desert, or the stars beautiful is invisible. Saint-Exupéry recalls his childhood home, made more precious by the legend of a treasure hidden within it. The desert is beautiful because somewhere it hides a well. For the Little Prince, when he is away from his planet, all the visible stars flower because of one invisible Rose. Thanks to the Little Prince’s gift of wisdom, for Saint-Exupéry all the stars will forever ring with laughter because of the laughter of the Little Prince, who has long departed.
Saint-Exupéry’s failure to find the Little Prince’s body may imply a Christ-like resurrection. If so, the message is in keeping with the rest of the story. Of all the so-called serious things of the grown-up world, death is the most serious. Death, as the Little Prince teaches, however, is no more real than the serious things that preoccupy the red-faced businessman who incessantly counts the stars he believes he owns. Like the seeming hat that is really an elephant in a snake, and like the vain wiles of the Rose that conceal her love, death is simply another deceptive appearance.