The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Chapters XIII–XV

Summary Chapters XIII–XV

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.