The title character of The Little Prince is a pure and innocent traveler from outer space whom the narrator encounters in the Sahara desert. Before the little prince lands on Earth, Saint-Exupéry contrasts the prince’s childlike character with different adult characters by having the prince hop from one neighboring planet to another. On each planet, the prince meets a different type of adult and reveals that character’s frivolities and weaknesses. Once on Earth, however, the little prince becomes a student as well as a teacher. From his friend the fox, the little prince learns what love entails, and in turn he passes on those lessons to the narrator.
The little prince has few of the glaring flaws evident in the other characters, and he is immediately shown to be a character of high caliber by his ability to recognize the narrator’s Drawing Number One as a picture of a boa constrictor that has eaten a snake. Nevertheless, the prince’s fear as he prepares to be sent back to his planet by a snakebite shows that he is susceptible to the same emotions as the rest of us. Most notably, the prince is bound by his love for the rose he has left on his home planet. His constant questioning also indicates that one’s search for answers can be more important than the answers themselves.
The narrator of The Little Prince is an adult in years, but he explains that he was rejuvenated six years earlier after he crashed his plane in the desert. He was an imaginative child whose first drawing was a cryptic interpretation of a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant. Eventually, he abandoned art for the grown-up profession of pilot, and he lives a lonely life until he encounters the little prince. He serves as the prince’s confidant and relays the prince’s story to us, but the narrator also undergoes transformations of his own. After listening to the prince’s story about the knowledge the prince has learned from the fox, the narrator himself learns the fox’s lessons about what makes things important when he searches for water in the desert. The narrator’s search for the well indicates that lessons must be learned through personal exploration and not only from books or others’ teachings.
Both the narrator and the prince are protagonists of the story, but they differ in significant ways. Whereas the prince is mystical and supernatural, the pilot is a human being who grows and develops over time. When the narrator first encounters the prince, he cannot grasp the subtle truths that the prince presents to him, whereas the prince is able to comprehend instantly the lessons his explorations teach him. This shortcoming on the narrator’s part makes him a character we can relate to as human beings more easily than we can relate to the otherworldly, extraordinarily perceptive little prince.
Although the rose appears only in a couple of chapters, she is crucial to the novel as a whole because her melodramatic, proud nature is what causes the prince to leave his planet and begin his explorations. Also, the prince’s memory of his rose is what prompts his desire to return. As a character who gains significance because of how much time and effort the prince has invested in caring for her, the rose embodies the fox’s statement that love comes from investing in other people. Although the rose is, for the most part, vain and naïve, the prince still loves her deeply because of the time he has spent watering and caring for her.
Much has been written comparing the little prince’s relationship with his rose to the relationship between Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his wife, Consuelo, but the rose can also be read as a symbol of universal love. In literature, the rose has long served as a symbol of the beloved, and Saint-Exupéry takes that image in good stride, giving the prince’s flower human characteristics, both good and bad. Because of the rose, the prince learns that what is most essential is invisible, that time away from one’s beloved causes a person to better appreciate that love, and that love engenders responsibility—all of which are broad morals that obviously extend beyond the author’s personal history.
The fox appears quite suddenly and inexplicably while the prince is mourning the ordinariness of his rose after having come across the rose garden. When the fox immediately sets about establishing a friendship between himself and the prince, it seems that instruction is the fox’s sole purpose. Yet when he begs the little prince to tame him, the fox appears to be the little prince’s pupil as well as his instructor. In his lessons about taming, the fox argues for the importance of ceremonies and rituals, showing that such tools are important even outside the strict world of grown-ups.
In his final encounter with the prince, the fox facilitates the prince’s departure by making sure the prince understands why his rose is so important to him. This encounter displays an ideal type of friendship because even though the prince’s departure causes the fox great pain, the fox behaves unselfishly, encouraging the prince to act in his own best interest.
Even though the snake the little prince encounters in the desert speaks in riddles, he demands less interpretation than the other symbolic figures in the novel. The snake also has less to learn than many of the other characters. The grown-ups on the various planets are too narrow-minded for their own good, and the prince and the narrator edge closer to enlightenment, but the serpent does not require answers or even ask questions. In fact, the snake is so confident he has mastered life’s mysteries that he tells the prince he speaks only in riddles because he can solve all riddles. In a story about mysteries, the snake is the only absolute. His poisonous bite and biblical allusion indicate that he represents the unavoidable phenomenon of death.