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.
Simplicity and immediacy are the characteristics that endear this short story to all readers. There is a great deal of dialogue, with many repetitions, especially on the part of the Prince, who as a true child never lets go of an idea once he has taken hold of it. His words reveal him to be a child, yet a child who has the wisdom of unaffected simplicity. The various scenes in which animals, flowers, and people interact with him are brief and to the point. Often satiric of abuses in society, the passages stand on their own, without any need of explanation. The narrator-pilot speaks as an adult, yet as a father figure and friend to the Prince who is so in need of human companionship that he has left his planet in search of people. The use of allegory is direct and unaffected, so that the reader is aware of talking flowers and foxes, but not annoyed. The dialogue between the Prince and the narrator has been interpreted as a mirage, a narcissistic monologue of the author with himself, according to Luc Estang. One...
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