Analysis: Chapters XVI–XX

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.