The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Although he only has a cameo role, the fox is a super-duper important character in this book. He teaches the prince lessons that the prince then teaches the narrator (and by extension us, the readers.) Although he only has a cameo role, the fox is a super-duper important character in this book. He teaches the prince lessons that the prince then teaches the narrator (and by extension us, the readers.)
Cute and Cuddly?
Absolutely. The first thing that the little prince says on seeing the fox is: “You are very pretty to look at” (21.5). What kind of fox would be wandering around in the Sahara Desert, anyway? A fennec fox, of course. Adorable!
BUT the fox wouldn’t think that it’s a big deal that he’s so cute; he’d be all like, “Meh.” In fact, one of the most important things that he tells the little prince is:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (21.36).
This line is often lifted straight out of this book and put on coffee mugs, Facebook walls, or inspirational posters. And that’s all cool. The meaning of this idea is still true and important. It’s worth repeating. But let’s put it back in context and see how the fox arrives at this idea, and why the prince treasures it as a secret worth passing on.
The Taming of the Fox
When the fox and the little prince meet for the first time, the fox asks the prince to “tame” him. When the prince asks him what “tame” means, the fox says it means “to establish ties” (21. 16). The process of “taming,” he explains, they will come to mean something to each other and will need each other. Without “taming,” the fox says, the prince will be “nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys” (21.18). And to the prince, the fox is “nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes” (21.18). But after the fox is tamed, the prince and the fox will become unique for each other.
What the fox means by “tame” is to “make friends” or “to establish a relationship.” According to the fox, unless you build a relationship with a person and get to really understand him or her, that person will remain indistinguishable for you from the hundreds of thousands of people in the world—and you, too, will not be “unique” or special to him or her.
And how does the prince tame the fox? He sits down on the grass at a little distance from the fox and says nothing because, as the fox tells him, “Words are the source of misunderstandings” (21.37). The fox looks at him out of the corner of his eye and every day, at the same time, the prince arrives at their designated spot and sits a little closer to the fox.
Sounds like a process that requires enormous amounts of time and patience, right? Well, according to the fox, that’s the point. Building relationships and deep connections with people is hard work. The fox remarks:
One only understands the things that one tames….Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.” (21.35)
After the fox is tamed, it is time for the prince to leave, and the fox is about to cry. Because of this, the prince worries that the taming has hardly done any good. But the fox says it has done him good “because of the color of the wheat fields” (21.49). The golden wheat will remind the fox of the prince’s golden hair, which will make the wheat fields a source of happiness to the fox – until he was tamed, the wheat fields meant nothing to him. Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful.
The fox rescues the little prince from the despair he had fallen into on seeing a garden full of roses on Earth—until that point, the prince had believed his flower (who was also a rose) when she told him that she was the only one of her kind in the universe.
But after the prince tames him, the fox tells him to go again to see the roses in the garden, and that this time, the prince will see that his rose is indeed unique.
And this is exactly what the prince realizes. He tells these roses:
“To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you….But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered;…because it is she that I have listened to when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” (21.54)
(Awww.) This is the most important realization that the little prince makes about his relationship, and it is the fox’s wise words that guide him to it.
“Life: A Guide” by Mr. Fox
The fox tells the prince a “secret,” which includes all of this:
- “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” (21.58)
- “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” (21.60)
- “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” (21.63)
Why does he call it a “secret”? Shmoop thinks that it’s the “secret” to meaningful friendships and relationships. And these, friends, are the fox’s final words before the little prince leaves him to continue with his adventures. He is now a changed prince: wiser, and fully equipped with relationship advice.