But he would always answer, “That’s a hat.” Then I wouldn’t talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person.
In this passage from Chapter I, the narrator discusses his Drawing Number One, a picture that looks like a hat but is meant to portray a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Whereas children use their imaginations and see the hidden elephant inside the boa constrictor, adults offer the most dull, unimaginative interpretation and see the picture as a hat. Here, the narrator explains that he uses this drawing as a barometer to see whether an adult retains any of his noble childhood perspective. Unfortunately, the narrator says, adults always respond with a grown-up perspective, so the narrator must talk with them about dull, pragmatic matters.
This passage demonstrates that being a grown-up is a state of mind, not a fact of life. The narrator is an adult in years, but he retains a childlike perspective. At the same time, this passage displays the loneliness that the narrator suffers as a result of his atypical outlook on life.
If some one loves a flower of which just one example exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that’s enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars. He tells himself, “My flower’s up there somewhere. . . .” But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it’s as if, suddenly, all the stars went out. And that isn’t important?
The little prince makes this indignant exclamation in Chapter VII in response to the narrator’s statement that the prince’s rose is not a “serious matter.” The prince’s retort exposes what he thinks are grown-ups’ limited priorities. The prince points out how silly it is that the narrator frets over routine, material matters when deeper questions about relationships and the universe are so much more important.
At first, the prince’s ideas seem a bit lofty and perhaps callous—after all, what could be more important than the pilot fixing his engine so that he can survive? Yet by the end of the novel, the narrator comes to understand the truth of the little prince’s statement. When, after the little prince has returned home, the narrator looks up at the sky and wonders whether the sheep has eaten the flower, he realizes that the answer to that question changes the way he sees the entire sky. In the end, the prince’s innocent, personal perspective on the universe proves to be more serious than the jaded perspective of adults.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. . . . It’s the time that you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important. . . . People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said, “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose. . . .”
This passage from the end of Chapter XXI concludes the story of the friendship between the prince and the fox. More important, the quotation explicitly states the central moral of The Little Prince. Actually, the prince has learned these lessons on his own, but the fox spells them out for him and makes clear where the prince’s future lies. By calling his lessons a “secret,” the fox reveals that such knowledge is not available to all. The fox’s lessons must be learned, and, in some way, they should be considered a privilege.
I was surprised by suddenly understanding that mysterious radiance of the sands. When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and there was a legend that a treasure was buried in it somewhere. Of course, no one was ever able to find the treasure, perhaps no one even searched. But it cast a spell over the whole house.
This passage from Chapter XXIV marks the moment when the narrator grasps for himself the fox’s secret (see quotation 3). In most fables and fairy tales, the story’s moral is given at the very end of the work. In The Little Prince, by contrast, Saint-Exupéry delivers his lesson early on so that the narrator, and us with him, can experience it for himself. In Saint-Exupéry’s hands, a moral serves no purpose if it is not fully explored and lived out, and that is exactly what he does here. We think we have understood the full meaning of the fox’s secret after the encounter between the fox and the little prince, but the narrator repeats the process of understanding once again, showing us that even when we think we understand something, there is always more to learn.
Look up at the sky. Ask yourself, “Has the sheep eaten the flower or not?” And you’ll see how everything changes. . . . And no grown-up will ever understand how such a thing could be so important!
These lines conclude The Little Prince. The narrator ends the novel as he begins it, by highlighting the differences between the perspectives of children and grown-ups. Another idea the narrator stresses throughout the story is the importance of self-exploration.
By concluding with an instruction to us to examine for ourselves the questions already examined by the prince and the narrator, the narrator encourages us to explore ourselves just as he has explored himself. As we close the covers of The Little Prince, we are encouraged to think about what we have just learned.