The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Several important characters in The Little Prince aren’t people—but from the way they’re described, you’d hardly know that they’re any different. They walk (well, the snake slithers), talk, and have opinions. They feel emotions, including love. They seem like they could be people, just the way that other characters in the book are people. The prince’s flower, for example, is described the same way that a pretty, appearance-conscious young lady would be:
But the flower was not satisfied to complete the preparations for her beauty in the shelter of her green chamber. She chose her colours with the greatest care. She dressed herself slowly. She adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all rumpled, like the field poppies. It was only in the full radiance of her beauty that she wished to appear. (8.2)
These details show us that the flower cares how she looks, wants people to be impressed, and takes her sweet time preparing for her entrances.
In other sections, the snake claims to have authority, just as the king does (although the snake says he has more), while the fox offers up some of the most complicated philosophy that any character in this book has to share.
Or, rather, the lack of names. Nobody in this book has a name, and this is important.
All the people the prince meets on different planets don’t have names. We’re talking about the king, the businessman, the geographer, and all those guys. Some of them seem so concerned with their own importance that they don’t need names. Others seem so focused on their jobs or tasks, that those jobs appear to stand in for or make up their identities (the lamplighter comes to mind).
On the one hand, you could say it makes sense that the snake, the flower, and the fox remain unnamed. They’re animals, or vegetables. They’re not people. But, on the other hand, the prince loves the flower, and he makes friends with the fox. Based on these facts, you’d think the flower and the fox might have names. Wouldn’t giving something a name be part of the taming process?
However, we think that leaving these creatures and characters unnamed makes the ideas and relationships they convey more universal and appealing to people from all over the world. For instance, if the fox was named Pierre and the flower was named Francoise, they’d sound decidedly French, which might distance them from readers in other parts of the world.
Even the narrator and the prince don’t have names. Certainly, when it comes to thinking about the narrator, the fact that he doesn’t have a name makes him even more of an everyday guy or an everyman. With no name, he could be anybody, making it easier for all readers to identify with him.
Even though many characters are concerned with being special or identifying what makes them important, they don’t use names to do this. Friendship provides uniqueness. As the prince says of the fox, “I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world” (21.52). “Friend” might be the best name, in The Little Prince, that one could hope to have.
Thoughts and Opinions
Maybe the most important defining feature of characters in The Little Prince is how they think. After all, they don’t have names, and—with the exception of the prince himself—we don’t find out what they look like, really, either. (Can you name the hair color of anybody in the book besides the prince? That would be an unfair quiz question.)
We know the fox has great wisdom and philosophy based on the ideas he shares with the prince. But these ideas of the fox’s tell us something else about him, too. The fox is generous and fair. Sure, he makes the prince work for these ideas by going through the process of taming, but the fox rewards him with these ideas. The fox has no problem sharing very precious wisdom.In contrast, someone like the geographer hoards his knowledge, putting it carefully into a book.
At the very beginning, we see that the narrator uses his Drawing Number One as a friendship test (which, unfortunately, no one passes—until the prince enters the scene.) So people’s thoughts and opinions are understood to be a means of getting to really know them.