The Little Prince
Summary: Chapter XIII
The little prince visits a fourth planet, which is occupied by a businessman so immersed in numerical calculations that the man hardly acknowledges the little prince. The little prince, who never lets a question go unanswered, repeatedly asks the businessman what he is doing. The businessman protests that he is a serious person and has no time for the little prince’s questions. Exasperated by the little prince’s persistence, the businessman eventually explains that he is counting “those little golden things that make lazy people daydream,” which the prince eventually identifies as stars. The businessman explains he counts the stars because he owns them.
The little prince thinks that the businessman’s logic is as absurd as the drunkard’s, but he accepts that the businessman owns the stars because the man was the first person to think of claiming ownership of them. The prince asks what the businessman does with the stars, and the businessman replies that he notes their numbers and places the numbers in a bank. The prince argues that such actions do not deserve to be called serious matters. He owns a rose and three volcanoes, he points out, but he takes care of them. His ownership is therefore useful, he claims, whereas the businessmen’s is not. The businessman is left speechless by this remark, and the little prince moves on, observing that grown-ups are truly “extraordinary.”
Summary: Chapter XIV
The fifth planet the prince visits is extremely small, just big enough for a street lamp and its lamplighter. The prince considers the lamplighter to be as absurd as the others he has met, yet he finds that the lamplighter performs a beautiful—and therefore useful—task. The lamplighter, who is under orders to extinguish his lamp during the day and light it at night, frantically puts the lamp out and then turns it back on. He explains that his orders used to make sense, but his planet now turns so fast that a new day occurs every minute. The prince admires the lamplighter’s sense of duty and notes that of all the people he has met, the lamplighter is the only one whom he could befriend. He advises the lamplighter to walk along with the sunset in order to avoid having to extinguish and rekindle the light continually. The lamplighter says what he really wants is sleep. Unfortunately, the planet is too small for two people, and the prince departs, sad to leave the lamplighter and a planet that has 1,440 sunsets every twenty-four hours.
Summary: Chapter XV
On the sixth planet he visits, the little prince meets a man who writes books. The man explains that he is a geographer, a scholar who knows the location of all the seas, mountains, cities, and deserts. When the prince asks the geographer about his planet, the geographer says he knows nothing about his own planet because it is not his job to explore it. A geographer collects information from an explorer and then investigates the explorer’s character. If the explorer has a good character, the geographer investigates the explorer’s discoveries.
The geographer asks about the little prince’s planet. The little prince tells him about his three volcanoes and his flower. The geographer says that he doesn’t record flowers because they are “ephemeral,” which he defines as “threatened by imminent disappearance.” The little prince is shocked to learn that his rose is in such danger, and he begins to regret having left her. He asks the geographer where he should go next, and the geographer tells him that Earth has a good reputation. Thinking of his rose, the little prince departs for Earth.
Analysis: Chapters XIII–XV
Instead of shaking his head and moving on as he does at the first three planets, the prince takes the time to express his disapproval of the businessman’s way of life. The extra time he devotes to chastising the businessman shows that the businessman epitomizes the flaws of the grown-up world more than any other character. The prince astutely likens the businessman to the drunkard. Both are so preoccupied by meaningless pursuits that they have no time for visitors. The businessman is so riveted by the idea of ownership that he cannot, when pressed, even remember that his properties are known as stars. The prince further demonstrates the shallowness of the businessman’s enterprise by pointing out that the businessman is of no use to his possessions.
The prince admires the lamplighter’s commitment to his work, and he admires the work itself, which brings beauty into the universe. Nevertheless, the lamplighter displays some grown-up values. He blindly follows orders that are obsolete, and he is unwilling to try the prince’s suggestion that he take a break by walking in the direction of the sun.
The lamplighter’s actions are suggestive of religious worship. He follows mysterious orders from an invisible, outside power, which he serves with humility. His job of lighting and extinguishing suggests a kind of ritual observance, like the Jewish tradition of lighting Sabbath candles or the role that candles commonly play in Christian worship. In some ways, Saint-Exupéry could be celebrating the power of religious observance and of giving oneself up to a higher power. Certainly, the lamplighter’s devotion to his profession is nobler than the businessman’s devotion to his possessions.
Nonetheless, the lamplighter is a tragic figure. Among other things, he is a victim of circumstance. His planet is too small for other people, so he is doomed to be without companionship. He is also tired and expresses his great desire to sleep. The lamplighter’s main affliction is his inability to gain satisfaction from his work. Like many people who observe religious rites, the lamplighter carries out his lighting rites because he has been told to, but he never gives them the reflection that is necessary for true enlightenment. In the world of The Little Prince, sadness is a part of admirable lives in the same way that the baobabs are an unavoidable danger that is part of the natural world.
Like the lamplighter, the geographer’s understanding of duty and profession is flawed. He claims to know everything, but he knows very little because he so rigidly refuses to explore for himself. The geographer has the means to be a man of some genuine importance, but his blind adherence to an arbitrary rule about what geographers are supposed to do makes him as shallow as the other grown-ups.
However, the geographer’s lesson about the ephemerality of the rose makes him a key character. The geographer sees the flower’s ephemerality as a sign that the rose is unimportant, but for the little prince, it makes the rose even more special. When he realizes how much the rose needs him, the little prince experiences his first moment of regret. His love for the rose hinges on her dependence on him, so the pressures of time and death make the prince value her all the more. Because the rose will one day die, it is all the more important for the prince that he love her while he can.
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