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, shoulder to shoulder, they would only fill up twenty square miles. Grown-ups might refuse to believe this, but it is true. If a child suggested it, certain grown-ups might actually enjoy sitting down and figuring it out mathematically. For children, who understand what is important, there is no need to do the math. It is best just to accept the truth of the matter: human beings are not as important as they believe themselves to be.
When the little prince arrives on Earth, he is surprised that he does not see any people. He looks down at the ground and sees a snake. The snake confirms that this planet is indeed Earth, and he explains that the little prince has landed on the continent of Africa. The prince asks why he does not see any people, and the snake explains that people do not live in the desert. The little prince sits down to look at the stars and think. The snake asks why he is visiting Earth. He replies that he is “having problems with a flower.”
After a while, the little prince comments that he is lonely. Rather than offer comfort, the snake says, “It is lonely with people.” The prince tells the snake that it looks funny—too small and skinny and footless. The snake says that he can send the prince home. “Anyone I touch, I send back to the land from which he came.” The little prince says he understands but is not ready to go yet. He asks why the snake speaks in riddles, and the snake says, “I solve them all.” After that, the prince just sits in silence.