“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. . . . But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it’s as if, suddenly, all the stars went out.”
On his fifth day in the desert, the little prince wonders if his new sheep will eat both bushes and flowers. The pilot, who is trying to repair his plane, replies that sheep will eat anything, and the little prince asks him what use a flower’s thorns are if they don’t protect the flower. The pilot, frustrated with his engine and worried by his lack of food and water, yells that he is too busy with “serious matters” to answer the prince’s questions. Furious, the little prince accuses the pilot of acting like a grown-up instead of seeing what’s really important. The little prince argues that if a truly unique flower exists on a person’s planet, nothing is more important than wondering if a sheep will eat that flower. He then bursts into tears. Suddenly realizing that his new friend’s happiness is the most serious matter of all, the narrator cradles the little prince in his arms and comforts him by assuring the little prince that his flower will be fine. He offers to draw a muzzle for the sheep.
The prince tells the narrator all about his flower. One day, the prince notices a mysterious new plant sprouting on his planet. Worried that it might be a new type of baobab, he watches it cautiously at first. The sprout soon grows into a rose, a beautiful but vain creature who constantly demands that the little prince take care of her. The little prince loves the rose very much and is happy to satisfy her requests. He waters her, covers her with a glass globe at night, and puts up a screen to protect her from the wind. One day, however, the little prince catches the rose on the verge of making a minor lie. The rose says to the prince, “Where I come from,” even though she grew from a seed on the little prince’s planet and therefore does not “come from” anywhere. The rose’s lie makes the prince doubt the sincerity of her love. He grows so unhappy and lonely that he decides to leave his planet. The prince tells the pilot that he would not have left if he had looked at the rose’s deeds instead of her words. He realizes that the rose actually loves him, but he knows he is too young and inexperienced to know how to love her.
On the day of the little prince’s departure from his planet, he cleans out all three of his volcanoes, even the dormant one, and he uproots all the baobab shoots he can find. He waters his rose a final time. As he is about to place the glass globe over the rose’s head, he feels like crying. He says good-bye to the rose. At first, she refuses to reply, but then she apologizes, assures the little prince that she loves him, and says she no longer needs him to set the globe over her. She says she will be fine without him to take care of her. Urging the little prince to leave, the rose turns away so he will not see her cry.
When the pilot stops repairing his engine to listen to the story of the little prince and his rose, he affirms the little prince’s statement that love and relationships are the most “serious matters” of all. The literary critic Joy Marie Robinson writes that the rose “is best understood, perhaps, in the old literary tradition of the Roman de la rose [a thirteenth-century French poem], as an allegorical image of the loved one.” Robinson argues that the rose is a general symbol of the beloved and that the rose’s relationship with the prince offers a general, simple, and direct presentation of the power—and pain—of love.
The nature of the relationship between the rose and the prince is mysterious. They do not directly express their love for each other until their painful farewell. Before that, the flower coquettishly hints at her love, but she never actually states her feelings for the prince until he comes to say good-bye. Nor is it clear at this point in the story why the prince feels such love for the rose, who is a vain, foolish, frail, and naïve creature. However, the prince also shows himself to be a bit foolish. He isn’t able to understand the rose’s strange behavior, and he makes the irrevocable, stubborn decision to leave, which leaves him in tears.
Many critics and biographers consider the rose to be a representation of Saint-Exupéry’s wife, Consuelo. Antoine and Consuelo Saint-Exupéry’s marriage was colorful, passionate, and often troubled. In Saint-Exupéry’s mind, Consuelo appeared vain and difficult to care for, and the rose’s frequent coughing is reminiscent of Consuelo’s asthma. Saint-Exupéry was occasionally unfaithful to his wife, and the prince’s departure could be seen as an allegory for Saint-Exupéry’s infidelity. In fact, The Little Prince, written at a rocky point in the Saint-Exupérys’ marriage, could be read as an elaborate, introspective love-letter from Antoine to Consuelo in which he demonstrates his love for her and attempts to explain the unrequited wanderlust and penchant for adultery that so often led him to stray from their marriage vows.