The Little Prince | Study Guide

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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The Little Prince | Symbols

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The Desert

Both the narrator and the Little Prince "dropped down from the sky" to land in the Sahara Desert. The location is far from any human habitation and seemingly barren, with no water. The only inhabitant is a deadly snake. The narrator, who is a pilot, has crash-landed; the Little Prince is visiting Earth to learn about life.

The barren landscape represents the loneliness and lack of meaning in the lives of these two characters. The narrator, who is a pilot, has pushed on through existence as a reluctant grown-up, feeling out of place, lost, and friendless. The words describing the failure of his plane sound more personal in nature, as if he is describing himself: "Something broke down in my engine." Loneliness has driven the Little Prince from his planet, and a series of disappointing visits to other planets has taught him nothing about the true meaning of life.

Yet bleak as it looks, this desert hides a secret. It is not as desolate as it appears. All one has to do is look deeper to discover a well of water. And its water is sweeter than any imaginable and quenches more than physical thirst. In this way the desert also symbolizes a key idea in the story: what is important, or essential, is not visible to the eye. Appearances are deceiving. Look deeper, and there something wonderful awaits that will nourish the soul. The trick is to see with the heart. Only with the heart is it possible to see the invisible, to imagine and discover a hidden well of sweet, nourishing water in the desert, to discover other wonders that give life meaning.

The Baobabs

In Chapter 5 the narrator warns, "Children. Beware the baobabs!" He has learned that the Little Prince's planet, Asteroid B-612, is infested with their seeds. If left to grow the baobab trees would spread over the whole planet, and the roots would bore through it. The planet would be in danger of exploding.

The baobabs and their deceptively small seeds represent problems that may seem insignificant but, if left to grow unchecked, can become a threat to people's very existence. Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's point of reference for this symbol is the problems that grew unchecked and nearly destroyed the planet during World War II. However, the seeds of destruction are not confined to international affairs. They can unexpectedly infest all areas of life. The key is vigilance. Just as the Little Prince uproots the troublesome baobabs when they are very young, problems are best dealt with when they are small.

Water

From the time the narrator crashes in the desert, lack of water is a concern. By the eighth day his water is gone and the danger of dying of thirst seems overwhelming. The Little Prince suggests they go in search of a well. "I too am thirsty," he says, though he never appears to be. A while later the prince comments cryptically, "Water may also be good for the heart." When the well is found, and the narrator draws up water for the prince to drink, the child says, "I am thirsty for this water."

As it turns out, this water quenches more than bodily thirst. It nourishes the soul because it has been given with love, from one friend to another. These qualities, invisible to the eye, have enriched the water and made it good for the heart. This is the water the Little Prince has been thirsting for. Perceiving this, the narrator thinks back on a memorable Christmas from his childhood. With a flash of insight he grasps that such meaningful moments are rich with invisible qualities that add their own special sweetness and radiance. This is the stuff of happy memories.

So, in this way, water that nourishes the body is transformed. It becomes a symbol of the friendship, love, and other fine qualities people add to life, which nourish the soul and give meaning to existence.

The Snake

Snakes are often symbols of evil or betrayal, as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Here, however, Saint-Exupéry uses the snake to symbolize a means of rebirth or return: the snake is respectful of the Little Prince, biting him only when the Prince is ready to return to his home. This is not a Christian allegory of resurrection; it simply reminds readers that sometimes one must "die" figuratively in order to move into the next step of being human. Growth requires change, which sometimes requires sacrifice.

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