It took me a long time to learn where he came from. The little prince, who asked me so many questions, never seemed to hear the ones I asked him. It was from words dropped by chance that, little by little, everything was revealed to me. (3.1)
Of course, “a long time” is relative – they’re not in the desert for that long.Still, the prince is unique because he doesn’t shove his life story down the narrator’s throat. Instead, he withholds it, which makes the narrator more interested. The prince shares such few details and clues that the narrator just becomes more and more determined to learn the truth about him. Like Encyclopedia Brown or Sherlock Holmes.
I had thus learned a second fact of great importance: this was that the planet the little prince came from was scarcely any larger than a house! (4.1)
Throughout the book, the narrator tells us what matters and what doesn’t. Each idea or fact has value, some much more than others. This “second fact” has “great” value. The prince is an alien. He isn’t from our (or the narrator’s world). He’s from another planet, and a tiny one at that. The narrator even emphasizes the “great importance” of this fact by putting in an exclamation mark!
On the fifth day—again, as always, it was thanks to the sheep—the secret of the little prince’s life was revealed to me. Abruptly, without anything to lead up to it, and as if the question had been born of long and silent meditation on his problem, he demanded:
“A sheep, if it eats little bushes, does it eat flowers, too?” (7.1-2)
It takes five days for the narrator to get to know the prince and learn something “essential” about him—his concern for his flower.
But she interrupted herself at that point. She had come in the form of a seed. She could not have known anything of any other worlds. Embarrassed over having let herself be caught on the verge of such a naïve untruth, she coughed two or three times, in order to put the little prince in the wrong. (8.21)
Oh, very cute, flower. But a strategy that might come in handy if we’re ever caught telling a lie.
“Exactly. One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform,” the king went on. “Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.” (10.35)
The king’s interpretation of “absolute authority” is interesting, even though it isn’t true. (But one thing’s for sure: If more kings were like this, there would be a lot fewer revolutions in history.)
“Then you shall judge yourself,” the king answered. “That is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.” (10.48)
It is hard to examine your own character or your own actions without being biased in some way. Come on, it’s you! If you’re going to cut anybody a break, it’s probably you.
“Certainly. When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you get an idea before any one else, you take out a patent on it: it is yours. So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them.” (13.38)
The businessman claims to “own the stars” based on an idea of originality: he thinks that “because nobody else […] thought of owning them,” he gets first dibs. However, he can’t touch the stars, put them in a pocket, or give them to somebody else. Is it still true that he can really own them?
The Little Prince
And then he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (21.34-36)
This statement of the fox’s about being able to see best and most clearly “with the heart” is also the heart of the book. Seriously, though, this important secret is something the fox tells the prince and something the prince tells the narrator – in turn, it’s something all of them tell us, as readers. This is the “secret,” the big deal around which this book is centered, and the clue that helps us understand all the things happening within it. Insides are more important than outsides. You can’t just look at things with your eyes. If you do, you’ll miss what’s really “essential” about them.
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “Because of the colour of the wheat fields.” And then he added:
“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.” (21.49-50)
At this point in the story, the fox knows truths that the prince hasn’t realized yet. The fox is on a higher level of understanding. But the fox is a sharer, and he wants the prince to know what he knows. So, he gives the prince instructions. Basically, the prince should reexamine what he’s seen, based on what he now knows. Then he, like the fox, will have a better understanding of what really matters.
“Please—tame me!” he said.
“I want to very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “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. If you want a friend, tame me…” (21.33-5)
The prince is in such a hurry to find “friends to discover” and “things to understand” that he almost misses making friends with someone right under his nose. Whoops. The fox encourages the prince to realize that you can’t just order a friend and have one appear. Friendship is something that has to be worked at.