The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Of all the people the prince meets—before the fox and the narrator, that is—the lamplighter seems like the best choice for friend material. The lamplighter lights a street lamp every night and puts it out in the morning. Sounds like a decent gig, right? Well, the catch is that because his planet is so tiny, it has 1440 sunsets every twenty-four hours. So the poor guy is rapidly lighting and extinguishing that lamp all day.
As the prince explains, the lamplighter is the least “absurd” of all the people he’s visited until that point:
“It may be well that this man is absurd. But he is not so absurd as the king, the conceited man, the businessman, and the tippler. For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful.” (14.2)
Being the least absurd out of a group of absurd people doesn’t mean the lamplighter is not absurd himself; in fact, the prince thinks he might be. All the people the prince meets seem pretty wacky. While the lamplighter is doing something good, he’s so connected to and obsessed with his job that he never has time to relax. But, the prince goes on to explain why the lamplighter is the best of an odd bunch: His job is both “beautiful” and “useful.” Being “useful” implies that he thinks of people other than just himself – the other men the prince meets are only concerned with themselves.
These things, as the prince says, make the lamplighter friend material: “‘That man is the only one of them all whom I could have made my friend. But his planet is indeed too small. There is no room on it for two people…’” (14.36). The not-having-any-room is a problem. But the prince isn’t as bummed to say goodbye to the lamplighter as he is to the lamplighter’s planet. As the narrator sneaks in, “What the little prince did not dare confess was that he was sorry most of all to leave this planet, because it was blest every day with 1440 sunsets!” (14.37). The lamplighter is cool, but more than 1,000 sunsets per day is even better!