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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
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 XVII 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.
In Chapters XVI and XVII, 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 XVII 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 XVIII and XIX 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!