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The narrator introduces Earth to the little prince, who had never even imagined such a big planet. The narrator describes the almost two billion grown-ups the earth contains: hundreds of kings, thousands of geographers, hundreds of thousands of businessmen, and millions of drunkards and vain men. The narrator also mentions that before the advent of electricity, Earth held 462,511 lamplighters who would perform a kind of global dance each day, unconsciously coordinating their movements as the sun swept across the turning planet. Only the lamplighters at the North and South Poles were not part of this choreography, since they had to work only twice a year.
The narrator admits that his description of Earth gives a distorted picture because humanity actually takes up only a very small percentage of the space on Earth and is not nearly as important as most people think it is.
When the prince arrives on Earth, he is surprised to see no one. He meets a snake, who informs him that he is in the African desert, where there are no people. The little prince remarks that it must be lonely in the desert, and the snake enigmatically replies that it can be lonely among men also. Alluding to his poisonous bite, the snake suggests that he could send the prince back to the heavens with one “touch,” but then he decides that the prince is too “innocent” for him to do so. The prince asks why the snake always speaks in riddles. “I solve them all,” the snake says, and they both fall silent.
Searching the desert for men, the little prince encounters a three-petaled flower. The flower, who has at one point seen a caravan pass by, tells the little prince that there are only a handful of men on Earth and that they have no roots, which lets the wind blow them away and makes life hard for them.
The little prince climbs the highest mountain he has ever seen. From the top of the mountain, he hopes he will see the whole planet and find people, but he sees only a desolate, craggy landscape. When the prince calls out, his echo answers him, and he mistakes it for the voices of humans. He thinks Earth is unnecessarily sharp and hard, and he finds it odd that the people of Earth only repeat what he says to them.
The prince eventually finds a road that leads him to a huge rose garden. He is stunned to find so many flowers that look just like his rose, who had told him she was unique. He begins to feel that he is not a great prince at all, as his planet contains only three tiny volcanoes and a flower he now thinks of as common. He lies down in the grass and cries.
Like the baobabs, the snake the little prince meets in Chapter 17 represents a force that is harmful. He evokes the snake of the Bible, who causes Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden by convincing them to eat the forbidden fruit. The snake in The Little Prince serves a similar function. He speaks coyly of his powerful poison and then tantalizes the prince with the idea of sending him home. Although he cannot strike a creature as innocent as the prince, the snake suggests that the prince is too weak and frail for this world and alluringly phrases an offer for a quick trip back to the prince’s planet. Interestingly, the snake seems to need to be invited to kill.
Read an in-depth analysis of the snake.
In Chapters 16 and 17, the narrator switches viewpoints several times. He initially presents a very matter-of-fact way of looking at the world, focusing on the exact number of kings, geographers, businessmen, drunkards, and vain men the world contains. His tone quickly becomes colorful and impassioned as he describes the global “ballet” of the lamplighters. Then, as Chapter 17 begins, the narrator adopts a confessional tone and admits that his portrait of the earth has not been entirely truthful, because he has focused on men, who are not actually such a significant part of the planet. The narrator’s deceit suggests that both the pragmatic viewpoint of adults and the imaginative viewpoint of children have limits. At the same time, his deceit shows his fluency with different ways of looking at the world, a sign that his mind has been opened.
Chapters 18 and 19 further explore how one’s perspectives can be limited. From a stationary viewpoint, no character can accurately assess the world. The three-petaled flower has seen only a few men pass by in the desert, so the flower thinks men are rootless and scarce in number. The prince hears his own echo, so he thinks that men simply repeat what is said to them. Even a figure as enlightened and likeable as the little prince cannot help but have his beliefs shaped by his limited perspective of the world around him.
A change in perspective means learning new things, and the prince’s discovery of the rose garden illustrates how painful some lessons can be. The prince’s discovery that his rose is quite ordinary makes him feel plain and ordinary. In a way, the prince has lived a life like the vain man’s. Alone on his planet, he was convinced that his was the only flower with any value.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Little Prince!