The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Little Prince begins with the famous pair of drawings with which the narrator, Saint-Exupéry himself, tests the understanding of adults. The first is of a boa constrictor that has swallowed an elephant. Most adults see only a hat shape; they cannot see beyond the exterior. For them, he draws another boa constrictor, this time in cross-section, so they can see the elephant inside.

After years of loneliness in the world of grown-ups, Saint-Exupéry crashes his plane in the desert. While he is trying to repair his plane, the Little Prince appears and asks Saint-Exupéry to draw a sheep for him. Saint-Exupéry first presents him with the drawing that opens the story, and the Little Prince protests that he does not want an elephant in a boa constrictor. The Little Prince rejects several of Saint-Exupéry’s attempts to draw a sheep before accepting a drawing of a box inside which he can imagine a sheep. This event marks the beginning of the friendship between the Little Prince and Saint-Exupéry.

Saint-Exupéry learns that his visitor comes from a tiny asteroid and that he is sad. The cause of the Little Prince’s melancholy turns out to be the beautiful Rose, who so tormented him with her moods that he left his planet.

The Little Prince tells the story of how he escaped from his planet with the help of a flock of migratory birds. He visited a number of planets, each inhabited by a solitary figure who represented some foible of the grown-up world, which has lost its innocence.

When the Little Prince reaches Earth, he finds a garden filled with roses. He is bitterly disappointed, as he had believed his Rose was unique. He meets the Fox, who consoles the Little Prince and teaches him wisdom. Before they can be friends, the Fox says, the Little Prince must “tame” him. Then they will need each other and be unique to each other. The Little Prince understands that his Rose has tamed him: It is the time he has spent on her that makes her so important.

When the Little Prince asks Saint-Exupéry to draw a muzzle on the sheep to protect his Rose, Saint-Exupéry knows he intends to return home. The Little Prince gives Saint-Exupéry a parting gift: As all the stars flower for the Little Prince because of his Rose, so will the stars ring with laughter for Saint-Exupéry because of the Little Prince’s laughter.

The Little Prince asks the Serpent to help him return to his planet by biting him. He tells Saint-Exupéry not to grieve over his body, as it will be simply an empty shell. The Serpent bites the Little Prince, and he falls dead. At daybreak, however, Saint-Exupéry cannot find his body. Years later, Saint-Exupéry hears the laughter of the stars but is disturbed by the fact that he forgot to add a fastening to the sheep’s muzzle, so he always wonders if the Rose is safe.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Simplicity and immediacy are the characteristics that endear this short story to all readers. There is a great deal of dialogue, with many...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One must turn to the Bible and medieval sources to find the direct precedents of The Little Prince. As a parable, the story recalls...

(The entire section is 330 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Saint-Exupery's works have been popular on stage and screen since he first wrote them. His first major work Night Flight (1932) was...

(The entire section is 143 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Breaux, Adéle. Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942-1943: A Memoir. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971. Covers the events of the time Saint-Exupéry spent in the United States during World War II. Includes discussion of his work on The Little Prince.

Capestany, Edward J. The Dialectic of “The Little Prince.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982. Searching study presents a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the book, focusing on Saint-Exupéry’s use of myth.

Cate, Curtis. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: His Life and Times. New York: Putnam, 1970. Comprehensive biography describes the author as a passionate pilot, inventor, mathematician, and diplomat. Provides a complete panorama of the times in which he lived and discusses the famous people he knew.

Harris, John R. L. Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupéry’s Pilot Hero: A Study in Mythopoeia. Scranton, Pa.: University of Scranton Press, 1999. Discusses the unique qualities of Saint-Exupéry’s writing and argues that scholars may overestimate the complexity of The Little Prince.

Higgins, James E.“The Little Prince”: A Reverie of Substance. New York: Twayne, 1996. Provides information on the book’s literary and historical contexts, including its critical reception. Offers an interpretation that emphasizes the “eye of innocence,” “the landscape of metaphor,” and Saint-Exupéry’s explorations of the spirit and of responsibility.

Robinson, Joy D. Marie. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Unusually thorough study is perhaps the best resource for the beginning student of Saint-Exupéry’s works. Opens with three chapters devoted to Saint-Exupéry’s childhood, his student and soldier years, and his career as an aviator, with subsequent chapters following the development of both his life and his writing.

Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. Saint-Exupéry: Art, Writing, and Musings. Compiled by Nathalie des Vallieres. New York: Rizzoli International, 2004. Collection of Saint-Exupéry’s photographs, letters, drawings, and private notebooks—compiled by Saint-Exupéry’s great-niece—sheds light on his life and writings through both words and images.

Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo de. The Tale of the Rose: The Passion That Inspired “The Little Prince.” Translated by Esther Allen. New York: Random House, 2001. Memoir by Saint-Exupéry’s wife—the possible model for the little prince’s coquettish flower—recalls her difficult marriage to the restless and sometimes irresponsible aviator and writer.

Schiff, Stacy. Saint-Exupéry: A Biography. 1994. Reprint. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Presents substantial previously unavailable material on Saint-Exupéry’s life and career, especially his experience as a war pilot. Draws on extensive interviews in considering the relationship between Saint-Exupéry the aviator and Saint-Exupéry the writer.