Table of Contents
- Chapters XXI–XXIII
- Chapters XXIV–XXV
- Chapters XXVI–XXVII
The episode with the fox requires a note on Saint-Exupéry’s use of the verb “tame.” In English, this word connotes domestication and subservience. But the French have two verbs that mean “to tame.” One “domestiquer” does, in fact, mean to make a wild animal subservient and submissive. The Little Prince, however, uses the verb “apprivoiser,”which implies a more reciprocal and loving connection. The distinction between these two words is important, since the original French word does not have the connotations of mastery and domination that unfortunately accompany the English translation. The fox’s disclosure of his secret neatly sums up a moral that runs through the novel: that which is secret is also what is most important.
Beginning with the narrator’s insistence that the hidden image in Drawing Number One is the most important one, the significance of secrecy is hinted at throughout The Little Prince, but the fox’s words make it explicit. In 1939, Saint-Exupéry wrote, “Don’t you understand that somewhere along the way we have gone astray? we lack something essential, which we find it difficult to describe. We feel less human; somewhere we have lost our mysterious prerogatives.” This “something essential,” and these “mysterious prerogatives” are the invisible secrets that the fox urges the prince to value. The fox’s lessons must be learned rather than taught, and when the fox reveals his secret, he really only confirms what the prince has already learned for himself in his explorations. The little prince’s journey allows him to explore himself as well as the world around him, but the fox shows that even the hardiest of explorers need validation.
The fox is a mentor figure who points out the important things the prince has learned and helps him clear his thoughts. When the fox explains what it means to be tamed, the prince realizes that he has already been tamed by his rose, even though he didn’t know that the process had a name. The fox urges the prince to revisit the rose garden, but the prince learns the second part of the fox’s secret — that the time he has devoted to his rose is what makes her unique — on his own.
After stressing in Chapter XXI that devoting time to one another is what creates the special bonds between different beings, The Little Prince offers two examples of time poorly spent, where technology speeds people along at the expense of things that have genuine value. The trains race by at lightning speed, but only the children are able to appreciate what is worthwhile about the trip. The switchman points out that all their moving does not make the grown-ups any happier. The sales clerk with his water pills also emphasizes time-saving, telling the prince that his pills can save people up to fifty-three minutes a day. The little prince’s retort that these extra minutes would best be put to use walking slowly toward a cool fountain undermines the purpose of the salesman’s thirst-quenching product.
In Chapters XXIV and XXV, the narrator learns through experience the lessons that the prince learned while with the fox. The search for the well in the desert makes it clear to the narrator that people must discover the true meaning of things for themselves in order for those things to have value. The narrator finds the well while he is on his own, holding the sleeping little prince in his arms. Once the narrator has learned this lesson about how the process of discovery makes the results worthwhile, he takes it to heart and is able to apply it to the emotions and intuitions of his past, as he does when he reminisces over the mysterious house of his childhood. Even though the story shows us all of the prince’s discoveries and encounters, Saint-Exupéry is trying to inform us that we will not truly understand unless we search for meaning ourselves. Even the narrator, who is a firsthand witness to the prince’s story, needs to learn the fox’s lessons for himself through experience instead of simply being told them. Before they search for the well, the prince tells the narrator about meeting a salesclerk who sold thirst-quenching pills. One might think that such pills are exactly what the narrator and prince need to survive in the desert, but they never once find themselves wishing for them. When the narrator drinks from the well, he receives more than simple physical nourishment. The water also revives his heart, and he finds it more like a Christmas present than anything else. He says that what makes the water taste so delightful is all the hard work that went into finding it, emphasizing that relationships, objects, and experiences are rewarding only when you invest time and effort in them.
Besides demonstrating important moral lessons, the relationship between the pilot and the little prince is also very human. The prince gently mocks the narrator’s drawings, and the narrator is struck by a deep concern for the prince’s safety. Their relationship grounds the story, and though their conversation introduces weighty topics like spirituality and morality, the friendship between the narrator and the little prince keeps the conversation casual.
For us, as for the narrator, the story of the little prince ends in mystery. We are left to figure out whether the prince has managed to save his rose. At times, the narrator is sure that the prince’s life on his planet is a happy one. Other times, the narrator hears only the sound of tears. The only thing that is certain is that one of the prince’s first questions, about whether the sheep will eat his rose, has emerged in the end as the most important question of all. The narrator does not downplay the deep pain he felt because of his friendship with the little prince. Although the narrator mentions that he has other friends, the departure of this one has taken as much from him as it has given him. The story has no qualms about the fact that losing a loved one is painful, and its ending offers no consolation that the narrator’s wounds will heal. On one level, these final chapters are an allegory about dealing with the death of a loved one.
In spite of all this sadness, however, the story staunchly insists that relationships are worth the trouble. The fox and the narrator may both lose the little prince, but their world is enhanced nevertheless — wheat fields and night skies come alive.
To emphasize this positive aspect of lost relationships, the narrator describes his desolate final drawing of the barren landscape where the prince fell as both the saddest and the loveliest place in the world. The Little Prince, though it deals with serious and even upsetting issues, emphasizes the idea that good can be derived from sad events. The little prince learns that his rose must die, but this knowledge fires his love for her. The relationship between the narrator and the prince reaches new levels of intensity only after the prince makes it clear that he will depart.