Study Guide

The Merchant in The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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The Merchant

The merchant sells things that are supposed to be efficient. In particular, he sells a pill that quenches thirst. By swallowing it, you can save all the time you would have otherwise spent drinking water. According to the merchant,

“Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week.” (23.5)

The merchant represents the grown-up desire to save time at the expense of what’s really worth saving. He helps us see that the worldview of being tremendously efficient is out of whack. But the prince doesn’t see any wisdom in this plan. He doesn’t want to save the time—he wants to use it in a meaningful way. He thinks:

“If I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.” (23.8)

Isn’t there magic in taking a sip of cool water when you’re thirsty? Don’t you feel delicious anticipation when you raise a cool glass of water to your mouth on a hot day? These are the little pleasures that the little prince delights in. According to him, there is no beauty or satisfaction in a pill that quenches thirst. So, what the salesman is marketing—and what, we can presume, most grown-ups would be intrigued by—is not something that anyone with real wisdom would or should want.

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