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At the beginning of his journey, the little prince finds
himself near asteroids 325, 326, 327, 328, 329,
and 330, and he decides to visit them one
by one. On the first asteroid, he encounters a king sitting on a
throne and wearing a magnificent fur cloak. The king, happy finally
to have a subject, begins ordering the little prince around. The
king claims to reign over every star in the universe, but in reality he
always tailors his orders to fit the actions of the person he commands.
For example, when the little prince yawns, the king quickly “orders”
him to yawn. When the prince asks the king to order a sunset, the
king replies that the sun will obey him but that it will have to wait
a time he arrives at after consulting an almanac.
The king insists that his commands be obeyed, but he
is a kindly man and so always makes them reasonable. The king asserts
that it is because he is so reasonable that he has the right to
command. When the prince decides to leave, the king hastily tries
to get him to stay, ordering him to become minister of justice.
The prince finds the request ridiculous, since there is nobody else
on the planet to judge. The king points out that his planet has
an old rat, whom the prince can continually condemn to death, pardon,
and then condemn again. The prince says he has no interest in condemning
anyone to death. As the prince is departing, the king names the
prince his ambassador. The prince comments that grown-ups are strange.
On the second planet the prince visits, he encounters
a vain man, who asks the prince to clap his hands and then modestly
tips his hat in acknowledgement. The prince enjoys the game at first
but begins to tire of its monotony. The vain man asks whether the
little prince really admires him, but the prince does not understand
the meaning of the word “admire.” The vain man explains that he
wants the prince to say he is the most intelligent, good-looking,
and wealthy man on the planet. The prince points out that such a
request is absurd since the vain man is the planet’s sole inhabitant.
With a shrug of his shoulders, the prince says, “I admire you,”
but he asks why his admiration means anything to the man. The prince
departs, commenting again that grown-ups are very strange.
The prince visits a third planet, where he meets a drunkard.
When the prince asks the drunkard why he drinks, the drunkard claims that
he drinks to forget. Feeling pity, the prince inquires what the drunkard
wants to forget. The drunkard answers that he is trying to forget
that he is ashamed of his drinking. The drunkard then falls into
stubborn silence. Confused, the little prince continues his journey,
observing that grown-ups are very, very strange.
The chapters in which the narrator describes the prince’s
journey from planet to planet are an example of a picaresque narrative. Picaresque
is a genre of episodic literature in which a protagonist travels
from place to place or has one adventure after another. In The
Little Prince, each of the adults the prince encounters
on the various planets he visits symbolizes a particular characteristic
of adults in general.
The king is a political figure, but Saint-Exupéry satirizes
the king’s personality rather than the political system the king
represents. Saint-Exupéry emphasizes that the king is not a tyrant
but simply a ridiculous man who possesses a petty need for power
and domination. The king, like the other characters the prince encounters,
is very lonely. Yet the king’s desire to rule so consumes him that he
doesn’t treat the prince’s visit as an opportunity to lessen his
loneliness. Instead, he tries to fit his visitor into his own distorted
worldview by commanding the prince to serve as his minister of justice.
Even though the king is a nice man who tailors his commands
to suit the little prince’s wishes, the prince objects on principle
to the idea of being commanded. The prince’s reaction to the king
emphasizes the importance of free will and taking responsibility
for one’s actions. The prince refuses to judge others, and he refuses
to do anything he has not willed himself. Since the king points
out that he always pardons the rat, it would be simple for the prince
to please the king by condemning the rat to death. Yet the prince
refuses because the idea of condemnation bothers him. The prince
reacts in a similar way when the king appoints him as his ambassador.
The prince remains silent as he leaves, implicitly rejecting this
title. He then continues his travels on his own volition, not as
a representative of the king.
The vain man’s sense of self-worth parallels the king’s
authority in its meaninglessness. Like the king’s authority, the
vain man’s superiority depends on being alone. As long as he is
the only man on the planet, he is assured of being the most attractive
man on the planet. At the same time, the vain man’s sense of superiority
depends on the praise of visitors. These contradictions underscore
Saint-Exupéry’s disdain for grown-up life. He argues that adults,
with their limited, unimaginative views, don’t know what they truly
need in their lives. The adults the little prince meets are capable
of only pushing companionship away when it presents itself.
Though he is flawed, the drunkard is more sympathetic
than the king and the vain man are. Unlike them, the drunkard seems
somehow trapped against his will. The fact that he drinks to forget
that he is ashamed of his drinking is absurd and irrational, but
the fact that “shame” plays such a big part in his actions indicates
his awareness of his life’s emptiness. However, the drunkard shows
himself to be just as much of a grown-up as the king and the conceited
man are. The arrival of the prince presents an opportunity for the
drunkard to break the cycle, but instead the drunkard retreats into
silence, as he is too stubborn and unwilling to address his serious
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Little Prince!