From his conversation with the little prince, the narrator realizes that the planet the little prince comes from is only the size of a house. The narrator explains that when astronomers discover new planets, they give them numbers instead of names. The narrator is pretty sure that the little prince lives on Asteroid B-612, which was first sighted by a Turkish astronomer in 1909. The astronomer’s presentation of his discovery was ridiculed at that year’s International Astronomical Congress because he wore traditional Turkish clothes. After a Turkish dictator ordered all his subjects to begin wearing European clothing, the astronomer presented his report again in 1920 and was well received.
The narrator insists that he is telling us these details about the prince’s planet only to satisfy his grown-up readers. He says that grown-ups can understand only facts and figures; they never wonder about essential qualities like beauty and love. Grown-ups decide what is beautiful by measuring how old a person is or how much a house costs. To believe in the existence of the little prince, grown-ups need more proof than simply being told that the prince asked the narrator to draw him a sheep. They demand further, quantifiable proof of the little prince’s existence.
The narrator also mentions that he wants his book to be read carefully, as it has been very painful for him to recollect these memories of his little departed friend. The narrator worries that he is growing old, and he writes and illustrates his story so he will not forget the little prince. Drawing the pictures in particular reminds the narrator of what it’s like to be a child. He acknowledges, however, that he cannot see sheep through the walls of boxes, because like all humans, he has “had to grow old.”
Each day, the pilot learns a bit more about the little prince’s home. On the third day of the little prince’s visit, he finds out that the prince wants the sheep to eat the baobab seedlings that grow on his planet. Baobabs are gigantic trees whose roots could split the prince’s tiny planet into pieces. The little prince notes that one must be very careful to take care of one’s planet. Since all planets have good plants and bad plants, one must remain vigilant and disciplined, uprooting the bad plants as soon as they start to grow. The prince remembers a lazy man who always procrastinated and ignored three small baobab bushes that eventually grew to overtake the man’s planet. At the prince’s instruction, the narrator illustrates the overgrown planet as a warning to children. He adds that the baobabs pose an everyday threat that most people deal with without even being aware of it. The narrator states that the lesson to be learned from the story of the baobabs is so important that he has drawn them more carefully than any other drawing in the book.
On his fourth day with the little prince, the narrator becomes aware of just how small the little prince’s planet really is. The little prince is surprised that on Earth, he has to wait for the sun to go down to see a sunset. On his planet, a person can see the end of the day whenever he likes by simply moving a few steps. The prince mentions that one day he saw forty-four sunsets and that sunsets can cheer a person up when he or she is sad. He refuses to tell the narrator, however, whether or not he was sad on the day he saw forty-four sunsets.
In Chapter IV, speaking in a confidential tone, the narrator clarifies the distinctions between the world of grown-ups and the world of the little prince. By referring to adults as “they,” the narrator pulls us onto his side, so that we feel we share a perspective with the narrator that others cannot understand. Also, the narrator does not mention the little prince when he discusses the adult obsession with numbers, stereotypes, and other forms of quantitative analysis. To underscore the vast difference between the narrator’s conversation with the little prince and the conversations of the grown-up world, the narrator does not discuss both within the same chapter.
The narrator’s discussion in Chapter V of the baobab trees can be read as a condemnation of Nazi Germany and of the blind eye the rest of the world turned to the actions of Adolf Hitler. Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince in New York in 1942 as he watched World War II tear his native Europe apart. In the novel, the narrator explains that the world contains both good seeds and bad seeds, and he says it is important to look constantly for the bad seeds and uproot them because the trees will otherwise grow and crush everything around them. Yet the narrator points out that on Earth, baobabs do not pose a problem. It is only on smaller planets like Asteroid B-612 that the baobabs are dangerous. Therefore, some see the baobabs as symbols of the everyday hurdles and obstacles in life that, if left unchecked, can choke and crush a person. This interpretation explains the narrator’s statement that people wrestle with baobabs every day, often without even knowing it.
Saint-Exupéry stresses personal responsibility as the solution to the problem the baobabs pose. In doing so, he continues a classic tradition within French literature that links responsibility to gardening. For example, the final line of the French author Voltaire’s well-known novel Candide states, “We must cultivate our own Garden. . . . When man was put in the garden of Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest.” The metaphor of gardening recurs throughout The Little Prince.