The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Where It All Goes Down
The Sahara Desert and The Planets
The Sahara Desert
Technically, most of this book takes place in the Sahara Desert. This is where the narrator first meets the prince, and this is where the two of them spend all their time together. So, what’s this desert like?
Well, to start with, the desert appears to be just like a stereotypical desert. It’s a huge stretch of dry nothingness. The narrator explains: “The first night […in the desert] I went to sleep on the sand, a thousand miles from any human habitation. I was more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean” (2.2).
On a metaphorical level, the narrator has been living in a desert all of life, hasn’t he? He has nofriends or meaningful relationships or human connections. So the setting of the desert magnifies the loneliness of his life. And then, like a drink of cool water in the desert, the little prince makes his way into the narrator’s life.
As you read, you might want to keep an eye on the connection between the narrator’s feelings about his situation and his descriptions of the desert. As the narrator’s friendship with the prince grows, his opinions about the desert also change.
After the prince tells the narrator about the fox’s words of wisdom, the narrator finds beauty even in the desert, which seemed like a lonely and difficult place before. He exclaims, “The house, the stars, the desert—what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!” (24.25). He can locate the “invisible” thing that makes the desert beautiful. He has learned how to “see rightly” (21.36) and is practicing on the desert.
By the end of the book, when the prince is gone, the desert has become “the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world” because it was“here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared” (Epilogue 1). Being able to recognize it is so important that the narrator describes it in words and images, even including his desert landscape picture two times.
While the main action takes place in the desert, the prince mentions his own planet—Asteroid B-612—and the six other planets he visits. These play an important metaphorical role in this story, too.
The prince’s planet has tiny volcanoes and plenty of sunsets. Bad and good things grow there (i.e., the baobabs and the prince’s flower), but the prince makes sure to root out the bad things and take care of the good things. Though he loves his planet, his life is a lonely one and he is often sad. We get hints of this when he says, “You know—one loves the sunset, when one is sad…” (6.11). And he sure watches a lot of sunsets.
Through the course of this story, the little prince learns to share his life and his planet with his flower, even though this presents him with challenges. He makes friends with the fox and the narrator, and he has many conversations with many people and learns about life and the universe. He literally and metaphorically travels away from his little planet and expands his horizons.
However, the other individuals he meets who inhabit their six separate planets illustrate the dangers of living a life that assumes that the world revolves around you—and their worlds quite literally do! They are self-obsessed and deluded, and (except for the lamplighter who performs a useful task) their lives are devoid of beauty.