The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The businessman inhabits the fourth planet the prince visits. Like the king, he thinks he has power though he really doesn’t. For example, he thinks he owns the stars just because he counts them. As he tells the prince:
“When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you get an idea before any one else, you take out a patent on it: it is yours. So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them.” (13.38)
His logic sounds silly, but it does sharply critique the way we define “ownership” in our world, doesn’t it? Especially what he says about islands and patents.
Of all the people he meets on his journey, it is the businessman that the prince likes the least. Later, in a conversation he has with the narrator, he says of the businessman:
“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved anyone. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over…‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man—he is a mushroom!” (7.24)
He compares this man to a parasitic plant—and this is certainly the only mean thing that the prince says in this book. He is really upset by the businessman’s insensitivity to beauty, his pseudo-logic, and his greed. If the businessman were collecting stars because he thought they were beautiful, perhaps the prince would have forgiven him. But the businessman has no appreciation for the stars at all—he only wants the satisfaction of owning them.
In any case, the businessman is too busy to even talk properly to the little prince; he has his nose buried in books and numbers. When the prince interrupts his work to ask him what he is doing, the businessman snaps at him:
“I have so much to do! I am concerned with maters of consequence. I don’t amuse myself with balderdash.” (13.5)
This phrase—“concerned with matters of consequence”—really ticks off the little prince because he sees no merit in what most adults believe is consequential. According to the prince, nothing could be ruder—or less true. What could be of more consequence than the meaning of a star, or the question of whether a sheep from a drawing will eat a flower on an asteroid?
Allegorically speaking, the businessman can be seen as the epitome of grown-ups. He’s obsessed with something that isn’t that important, and as a result, neglects the truly beautiful and important things around him.