The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Peripheral Narrator)
Like a lot of stuff in this book, the point of view is deceptively complex. At first glance, you think it’ll be easy to figure out. But the longer you stare at it, the more complicatedit becomes. (Like this classic optical illusion!)
Who’s telling us the story? Technically, it’s the pilot (the narrator), right? He introduces us to the prince andis the one using the first person (“I”) outside of dialogue. What’s more, he keeps popping in during the prince’s adventures to say things like his plane’s still broken or he’s thirsty.
There’s a lot of evidence to support the idea of the pilot being the primary narrator of the book. But he’s not the only one telling a story. The prince is telling one, too, and he goes on way more adventures than the narrator does. Most of these adventures are related using the third person because the prince told them to the narrator and the narrator is relaying them to us, the readers.
Clear as mud, right? One more layer to go. Sometimes, the book dips into the second person. The narrator uses “you” at various points. Sometimes he’s talking to the readers and sometimes he’s talking to the prince, like he is in this passage:
“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”
And a little later you added:
“You know—one loves the sunset, when one is so sad.”
“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”
But the little prince made no reply. (6.9-13)
This blend of points of view can be kind of confusing. “You” isn’t the reader, it’s the prince. But in other passages, “you” definitely means the reader, like at the end of the book. In the last lines of the story, the narrator uses second person and appeals to readers, directly, to keep watch for the prince:
For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has—yes or no?—eaten a rose…
Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: Is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes… (27.6-7).
What are the effects of these shifts in what the second person “you” indicates? For one thing, it draws us readers into the book. Sometimes it seems like the conversations are happening right as we read them. For another, this technique also helps us imagine that we’re in the narrator’s shoes, having conversations with the prince. Maybe that will help us get to know the prince even better so that once the book ends, we want to remember his adventures and lessons.