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 switchman explains that this is a different train full of different people. The little prince asks whether the people were dissatisfied with the place where they were before. “No one is ever satisfied where he is,” the switchman says.
Another train rumbles past, and the little prince guesses that they are trying to chase down the first train he saw. The switchman explains that travelers do not care about chasing anything. Most of them are unaware of the other trains. They do not even notice the scenery. They spend their time sleeping or being bored. Only the children care enough to look out the windows. “Only the children know what they’re looking for,” he says.
This, finally, is a statement the little prince understands. He says that children love their rag dolls. They spend time caring for the dolls, and this makes the dolls important. If anyone takes the dolls away, this makes the children cry. The switchman seems to understand exactly what the little prince means. He does not seem to think that it is sad that the children cry. “They’re lucky,” he says.
Next the little prince meets a salesman who sells pills. The salesman explains that the pills stop people from feeling thirsty, thus saving them time. If people just swallow one pill per week, they have no need to drink. The time saved by taking this pill gives people fifty-three extra minutes for doing anything else they want instead of drinking. When the little prince asks what else people would want to do, the salesman does not seem to care. This gets the little prince thinking about how he would spend the extra fifty-three minutes: “I’d walk very slowly toward a water fountain.”