. . . 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. . . . You become responsible for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose. . . .”
As the little prince cries in the grass, a fox appears. The prince asks the fox to play with him because he is so unhappy. The fox replies that first the prince needs to tame him. The prince does not understand the word tame, and the fox explains that it means “to establish ties.” The fox says that at the moment, he and the prince mean nothing to each other. However, if the little prince tames the fox, they will need each other, and each will become unique and special to the other. The little prince says he thinks he has been tamed by a rose, and he lets slip that he is from another planet. At first, this fact excites the fox, but he loses interest when it turns out that the little prince’s planet has no chickens.
The fox explains that his life never changes. He hunts chickens, and people hunt him. He says that if the prince tames him, he will have footsteps to look forward to rather than run from. The prince’s golden hair will make the fox’s view of the grain fields come alive because the golden wheat will remind him of his friend.
The little prince is apprehensive at first. He says he does not have much time and that he is looking for friends. The fox says that if the prince wants a friend, he will have to tame the fox. The prince asks how such a thing is done, and the fox coquettishly takes him through the ritual. He explains that rites and rituals are important because they allow certain moments to stand out from all the others.
The prince tames the fox, but when the time comes for the prince to go, the fox says he will weep. When the prince explains that it’s the fox’s fault for insisting they become friends, the fox says that he knows and that it has all been worthwhile because he can now appreciate the wheat fields. The fox tells the little prince to visit the rose garden again so he can see why his rose is so special. The fox says he will reveal a secret when the little prince returns to say good-bye.
At the garden, the little prince realizes that, even though his rose is not a unique type of flower, she is unique to him because he has cared for her and loved her. He tells the roses that his rose is like the fox. He has tamed her and cared for her, and now in his eyes she is the only rose. The prince then returns to say good-bye to the fox. The fox tells him a threefold secret: that only the heart can see clearly because the eyes miss what is important; that the time the prince has spent on his rose is what makes his rose so important; and that a person is forever responsible for what he has tamed.
The little prince continues his journey and meets a railway switchman (a worker who changes trains from one track to another). As the trains roar by, the switchman explains that the trains shuttle people from one location to another. The prince asks the switchman if people are moving because they are unhappy, and the switchman explains that people are always unhappy with wherever they are. The prince asks if the people are chasing something, and the switchman replies that the people aren’t chasing anything at all. He adds that only the children press their faces against the train windows and watch the landscape as it rushes by. The prince remarks that “[o]nly the children know what they’re looking for,” and he says that children can make a rag doll so important that when it’s taken from them, they cry. The children, the switchman replies, are the lucky ones.
The little prince then meets a salesclerk who is selling pills invented to quench thirst. The merchant explains that taking the pills means a person never has to drink anything, which can save as many as fifty-three minutes a day. The prince replies that if he had an extra fifty-three minutes, he would spend them by walking very slowly toward a cold fountain.
The episode with the fox requires a note on Saint-Exupéry’s use of the verb “tame.” In English, this word connotes domestication and subservience. But the French have two verbs that mean “to tame.” One, “domestiquer,” does, in fact, mean to make a wild animal subservient and submissive. The Little Prince, however, uses the verb “apprivoiser,” which implies a more reciprocal and loving connection. The distinction between these two words is important, since the original French word does not have the connotations of mastery and domination that unfortunately accompany the English translation.
The fox’s disclosure of his secret neatly sums up a moral that runs through the novel: that which is secret is also what is most important. Beginning with the narrator’s insistence that the hidden image in Drawing Number One is the most important one, the significance of secrecy is hinted at throughout The Little Prince, but the fox’s words make it explicit. In 1939, Saint-Exupéry wrote, “Don’t you understand that somewhere along the way we have gone astray? . . . we lack something essential, which we find it difficult to describe. We feel less human; somewhere we have lost our mysterious prerogatives.” This “something essential,” and these “mysterious prerogatives” are the invisible secrets that the fox urges the prince to value.
The fox’s lessons must be learned rather than taught, and when the fox reveals his secret, he really only confirms what the prince has already learned for himself in his explorations. The little prince’s journey allows him to explore himself as well as the world around him, but the fox shows that even the hardiest of explorers need validation. The fox is a mentor figure who points out the important things the prince has learned and helps him clear his thoughts. When the fox explains what it means to be tamed, the prince realizes that he has already been tamed by his rose, even though he didn’t know that the process had a name. The fox urges the prince to revisit the rose garden, but the prince learns the second part of the fox’s secret—that the time he has devoted to his rose is what makes her unique—on his own.
After stressing in Chapter XXI that devoting time to one another is what creates the special bonds between different beings, The Little Prince offers two examples of time poorly spent, where technology speeds people along at the expense of things that have genuine value. The trains race by at lightning speed, but only the children are able to appreciate what is worthwhile about the trip. The switchman points out that all their moving does not make the grown-ups any happier. The salesclerk with his water pills also emphasizes time-saving, telling the prince that his pills can save people up to fifty-three minutes a day. The little prince’s retort that these extra minutes would best be put to use walking slowly toward a cool fountain undermines the purpose of the salesman’s thirst-quenching product.