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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
As a pilot, the narrator attaches importance to stars because he depends upon them for navigation. After the narrator meets the little prince, he finds the stars hold new meaning for him because he knows that the prince lives among them. The stars in The Little Prince also symbolize the far-off mystery of the heavens, the immensity of the universe, and at the end, the loneliness of the narrator’s life. The narrator’s final drawing, which accompanies his lament of his loneliness, is of a single star hovering over the desert landscape in which the prince fell. In this one image, the presence of the star both highlights the prince’s absence and suggests his lingering presence. The star is also a reminder of the large and densely populated universe beyond Earth that the prince recounted visiting.
The novel is set in the Sahara Desert, a barren place ready to be shaped by experience. The desert is also a hostile space that contains no water and a deadly serpent. In this capacity, the desert symbolizes the narrator’s mind. Made barren by grown-up ideas, the narrator’s mind slowly expands under the guidance of the little prince in the same way that the deadly desert slowly transforms itself into a place of learning and, once the well appears, refreshment.
The trains that appear in Chapter XXII represent the futile efforts we make to better our lot. The train rides are rushed voyages that never result in happiness because, as the switchman informs the prince, people are never happy where they are. Also, the trains rush at each other from opposite directions, suggesting that the efforts grown-ups make are contradictory and purposeless. Again, it is children who grasp the truth. They see that the journey is more important than the destination and press their faces hungrily against the windows as they ride, taking in the scenery.
By the story’s end, the drinking of water emerges as a clear symbol of spiritual fulfillment. The narrator’s concerns about running out of water after he first crashes into the desert mirror his complaint that he has grown old. Later, when he and the prince find the mysterious well, the water the narrator drinks reminds him of Christmas festivities. His thoughts of Christmas ceremonies suggest that his spirit, and not his body, is what truly thirsts. The salesclerk sells a thirst-quenching pill, but the little prince reveals that there are no true substitutes for real spiritual food. The pill may quench one’s desires, but it has little to offer in the way of real nourishment. The prince declares that he would use the minutes saved by the pill for getting a cool drink of water, the only real spiritual fulfillment for which one can hope.
Read more about water as a symbol in the context of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Little Prince!