The Little Prince

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Themes and Colors
Relationships Theme Icon
The True and the Essential Theme Icon
Exploration vs. Narrowmindedness Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Little Prince, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The True and the Essential Theme Icon

At the beginning of his journey, the little prince is most concerned with the truth. He leaves his planet after catching his rose telling a lie, and although they reconcile just before he departs, he decides to explore the universe in order to discover what's true. As he encounters more on his travels, however, he realizes that what's true is not always what's essential—his rose's lies were less important than the fact that he cared for her and was therefore responsible for her. This turning point comes when the little prince meets the fox, which tells him, "What is essential is invisible to the eye." Similarly, motivated by the fact that he will die without water, the pilot is mostly focused on fixing his engine at the beginning of the story. As he begins talking to the little prince, however, this fact—or truth—becomes less essential. He finds himself comforting the boy instead of fixing his engine, and when they finally abandon the project to start walking to find water, what's essential isn't that they find the water and therefore live—it's that they found the water together and that it's sweeter for the walk they took under the stars to find it.

The story also contains double meanings that require the reader to decide on the truth. The snake suggests that he can help the little prince return to his planet, alluding to death—but then, when the narrator returns to retrieve the little prince's body at the end of the story, the body is gone, suggesting that the prince really did embark on some kind of journey, maybe to return to his planet.

The True and the Essential ThemeTracker

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The True and the Essential Quotes in The Little Prince

Below you will find the important quotes in The Little Prince related to the theme of The True and the Essential.
Chapter 4 Quotes

For I do not want any one to read my book carelessly. I have suffered too much grief in setting down these memories. Six years have already passed since my friend went away from me, with his sheep. If I try to describe him here, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him. To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown−ups who are no longer interested in anything but figures...

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The pilot has apologized for not beginning his book with "Once upon a time..." and states that although he looks down upon the obsession of grown-ups with precise facts and figures, he reluctantly decided to be as precise as possible at the beginning. His reason for doing so, however, is so as not to become like the adults he scorns. Part of what these grown-ups miss, according to the pilot, is the joy and beauty that comes from deep, meaningful relationships. This sort of relationship is something that the pilot has had with the little prince, and he recognizes that it is precious and rare enough that he should do all he can so as not to forget him.

The pilot/narrator thus seems to foretell a rather melancholy ending to the story, since it seems that it will end with the separation between the pilot and the little prince. What rescues the story from being a tragedy though, is, at the very least, the fact that the pilot has gained something essential through his relationship with the prince.

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In certain more important details I shall make mistakes, also. But that is something that will not be my fault. My friend never explained anything to me. He thought, perhaps, that I was like himself. But I, alas, do not know how to see sheep through the walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown−ups. I have had to grow old.

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator continues to explain why he has tried to be as precise as possible - in order to never forget his friend, the little prince - he acknowledges that he will sometimes make mistakes or fail to tell the story exactly as it was. The way the narrator excuses himself from these mistakes is by referencing the fundamental difference between himself and the prince. As the epitome of childhood innocence and beauty, the prince is creative and imaginative - he can "see sheep through the walls of boxes," a gift that allows him to be flexible and, more importantly, to see through what is only seemingly there into the essential truth lying beneath. 

Although the narrator tends to consider childhood and adulthood as two separate, totally distinct things, here he admits that this separation can be blurred. Children, of course, grow up, and part of the bittersweet tone of this passage stems from the narrator's wistfulness at having to lose the innocence of youth as he has grown old. Still, he insists and will continue to insist that childhood is a state of mind as much as it is a physical range of ages: it is something that can easily be lost as one ages, but if one works hard enough, one can also try to keep it from slipping away.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"I don't believe you! Flowers are weak creatures. They are naïve. They reassure themselves as best they can. They believe that their thorns are terrible weapons..."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

As the pilot attempts to fix the motor on his plane, the prince continues to ask him question after question. Just before this passage, in a tone of frustration, the pilot has finally told the prince that since thorns will not stop sheep from eating roses, the roses must have thorns simply out of spite.

The prince is clearly deeply upset by this opinion. Thinking, almost certainly, of his own rose, he attempts to convince himself that flowers are not spiteful but simply weak, needful of someone to protect them. For the prince, it is important to consider such flowers as innocent, for by doing so he can continue to believe in his rose's essential goodness.

"I know a planet where there is a certain red−faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: 'I am busy with matters of consequence!' And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man—he is a mushroom!"

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Businessman
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince is growing increasingly frustrated with the pilot, who is, in turn, frustrated with the prince for distracting him while he attempts to fix the motor of his plane. When the pilot finally exclaims that he is dealing with "matters of consequence," the prince is appalled: he has thought that the pilot was unlike the grown-ups he has seen, but now he realizes that the pilot reminds him of a particularly unsavory grown-up - the "red-faced gentleman" who does nothing but add up facts and figures. 

The prince has nothing but scorn for this gentleman, who believes that nothing in the world could be more important than his work. In reality, according to the prince, the man is so narrow-mindedly focused on his job (a job that, in the scheme of things, isn't actually all that important) that he is unable to see the fascinating, inviting world around him. Not only does the man remain fixated on the meaningless numbers before him, but he is also unable to develop true relationships with others, since these figures are all that concern him. The businessman is a reminder to the pilot, once again, of how perilously easy it is for him to slip out of the mentality of childhood and embrace the sorry, limited concerns of adulthood.

"If someone loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, 'Somewhere, my flower is there...' But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened... And you think that is not important!"

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Pilot/Narrator, The Rose/Flower
Related Symbols: Stars
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

The prince objects to the hierarchy created by the pilot, forcing him to reconsider what he assumes to be more or less important. For the pilot, the most pressing task of the moment is the obvious problem with his plane's motor. Fanciful stories about far-away roses in danger simply do not seem relevant to him.

But the little prince's speech implies that there may be a better way to think about what is important than simply equating it with what is immediate, present, and materially urgent. Instead, importance for the prince rests on the significance of relationships – even when there is no physical presence to bear witness to a certain relationship. As the prince looks out towards the stars, he can derive joy from knowing that the rose he loves is there, somewhere, even if he cannot see her. This distance, however, makes the relationship perilously fragile, even as it underlines how essential the rose is to the prince.

Chapter 10 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: The King (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Although the prince has essentially given up on the king as another one of those grown-ups who are only concerned with their own affairs and lack a spirit of curiosity and openness towards the world, this statement by the king does actually show some degree of wisdom. The king is attempting to get the prince to stay on his planet, so he suggests that the prince become his Minister of Justice. Since there is no one else to judge, the king says he must simply judge himself. Part of what the prince will learn in the course of the book is, precisely, to take a critical perspective on his own beliefs and actions, in order to see through appearances to what is essential. It is ironic that it takes the wild conjectures of the king to suggest this, but this is also a reminder that the essential can come in all kinds of guises.

Chapter 13 Quotes

"Oh, no. Little golden objects that set lazy men to idle dreaming. As for me, I am concerned with matters of consequence. There is no time for idle dreaming in my life."

Related Characters: The Businessman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Stars
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

The prince and the businessman are both actually interested in some of the same things: here, namely, the stars in the sky. But while for the little prince these stars are an object of wonder and admiration, the businessman has nothing but contempt for the curiosity and dreaming that these "little golden objects" might inspire. Instead, the interest he has in them is purely material: he is interested by the stars in terms of what they can do for him, the riches that they can gain for him. These riches are what count for the businessman as "matters of consequence," a term that comes up again and again in the book. We are meant, of course, to see that what the businessman considers so important actually is entirely inessential and irrelevant to stars in their essential beauty. 

"I myself own a flower," he continued his conversation with the businessman, "which I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week (for I also clean out the one that is extinct; one never knows). It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars..."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Businessman
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The prince is attempting to continue his conversation with the businessman, and as he does so he tries to understand what the businessman is saying by making some kind of a connection to his own experience. The businessman has told him that it is important that he own the stars because, even if he cannot take them with him, he can put them in his bank - or at least put the record of them in his bank. The prince finds this incomprehensible, because for him something is valuable if it can be of use to someone: for instance, owning the volcanoes allows him to take care of them as well as to protect his rose.

Ownership, then, for the prince, has more to do with caretaking, protection, and the development of relationships than it has to do with pure numbers and figures. Once again, an adult seems to have lost all sense of what it really means, or should mean, to own something.

Chapter 14 Quotes

"It may well be that this man is absurd. But he is not so absurd as the king, the conceited man, the businessman, and the tippler. For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The King, The Conceited Man, The Businessman, The Lamplighter
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince observes the lamplighter on a small planet with no other inhabitants, who nonetheless lights the lamp each morning and each night. Here, the prince attempts to distinguish this task from the tasks of the king, conceited man, and businessman, and asks himself why such tasks seem so different. He settles on the notion of beauty.

For the prince, use and ownership are not only related to a sense of care and protection: they also gain meaning by supporting beauty in the world. However, for him beauty is also something that only makes sense in terms of relationships - allowing another person to experience beauty is one of the greatest gifts he can imagine. This sense of generosity, as well as the creative mind that allows the prince to think in such a way, is another reminder of what distinguishes him from grown-ups.

"That man," said the little prince to himself, as he continued farther on his journey, "that man would be scorned by all the others: by the king, by the conceited man, by the tippler, by the businessman. Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The King, The Conceited Man, The Tippler, The Businessman, The Lamplighter
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

The lamplighter, according to the questions that the little prince has asked him, is not a saint: he is growing frustrated by the shorter and shorter length of the day on his planet, and he does complain to the prince. However, the prince believes that the lamplighter is more dignified and important than any of the other people he's met, people who believed themselves to be so essential despite their narrow-mindedness. T

The lamplighter's entire profession is based on a task whose sole purpose is to light the way for others, to ease a journey and to help people to see. For the prince, this emphasis on others is something that too many grown-ups have lost (it's also ironic that the king and business man would almost certainly look down on the lamplighter, thinking his menial job is beneath them).

Chapter 15 Quotes

"My flower is ephemeral," the little prince said to himself, "and she has only four thorns to defend herself against the world. And I have left her on my planet, all alone!"

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Rose/Flower
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

As the geographer asks the prince about the qualities of the prince's planet, he soon brushes off the prince's description of his flower by saying that he does not deal with "ephemeral" things - that is, qualities of a place or landscape that can easily disappear.

For the geographer, a flower can easily wilt or be trampled, making it unimportant relative to the mountains, forests, and seas that he deems significant enough to study. But for the prince, of course, that very fragility is frightening, since he thinks of the rose not as a key to his own map but rather as an innocent being that needs his help and care, as something that he loves. When the geographer describes the rose as ephemeral it is an insult, a dismissal. But for the prince, the rose's very ephemerality, the fact that it can be lost or destroyed, is part of what binds him to it and makes him love and want to care for it.

Chapter 17 Quotes

All humanity could be piled up on a small Pacific islet.

The grown−ups, to be sure, will not believe you when you tell them that. They imagine that they fill a great deal of space. They fancy themselves as important as the baobabs. You should advise them, then, to make their own calculations. They adore figures, and that will please them. But do not waste your time on this extra task. It is unnecessary. You have, I know, confidence in me.

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator shifts his focus from the prince's adventures on the tiny planets he has visited to the planet Earth, where in the story he is about to land. He has just contrasted Earth to the small planets and their solitary inhabitants, but now he suggests that, although humans take up a great deal of space as they live now, they could in fact be confined to almost as small a surface as those minuscule planets. 

That grown-ups would refuse to believe this statement, according to the narrator, is not because they are skeptical of such mathematical calculations – indeed, the pilot notes how much adults adore such figures – but because they have such an inflated sense of self-worth. In the minds of adults, in addition, taking up physical space is equivalent to being important – an equivalence that is just another reminder, in the book, about the silly mistakes that can stem from adults' narrow-minded focus on what is in front of their eyes, as opposed to what is really valuable. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

And he was overcome with sadness. His flower had told him that she was the only one of her kind in all the universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in one single garden!

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince, The Rose/Flower
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In wandering around the planet Earth, the prince has stumbled upon a garden with thousands and thousands of roses. Although this garden is beautiful, the prince is horrified. He had believed his own rose when she had claimed she was unique in the universe: indeed, he had taken such good care of her in large part because he believed that she was irreplaceable. Now, the prince must grapple with the difficult realization that the flower that he loves, that he has tended to with such care, is literally one among thousands. 

At the moment, the prince cannot do anything other than cry. He is too distraught to fully come to terms with what this realization means. This scene, however, can be thought of as a turning point, in that the prince must now think about how to value what he loves for reasons other than that the object of his love is unique. Indeed, what it means to be unique, beyond simply one-of-a-kind in the universe, will be a question that he will return to.

Chapter 21 Quotes

"To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."

"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Fox (speaker)
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Still recovering from the painful realization about the roses, the little prince nonetheless is granted a chance to learn how he can reconsider what it means to value and love something as unique. The fox helps the little prince along in this understanding by explaining to him what "taming" means: by choosing one fox out of thousands to teach and to relate to, the prince chooses to treat it as unique in the universe, even though it may not be literally unique.

This is thus a more complex view of the value of relationships than the one the prince originally had. People choose to love and respect each other not necessarily because they cannot imagine finding anyone else similar to or even better than them, but because there is value in the choice itself. In some ways, this is another example of the point that the book has been making about the importance of valuing something in and of itself, rather than based on what it can do for you. 

"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."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Related Characters: The Fox (speaker), The Little Prince
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

The fox has wanted the little prince to tame him, but now it has become clear to him that the prince will leave him to go on to other places. Before he leaves, the fox gives him one last piece of advice – advice, however, that he has been preparing the prince for all throughout their time spent together. The lesson of taming has introduced the prince to the idea that value and uniqueness might have less to do with the external qualities of the loved thing or being, and more with the act of loving – of attempting to see through the external and superficial to what is essential.

By making this lesson explicit, the fox reminds the prince to continue to ponder this difficult lesson – difficult especially since the rose, whom the prince loves, is indeed externally beautiful. But rather than fixating either on her outer beauty or on her superficial weaknesses, like vanity or a propensity to lie, the prince must learn to look with his heart and not his eye.

Chapter 22 Quotes

"Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..."

"They are lucky," the switchman said.

Related Characters: The Little Prince (speaker), The Railway Switchman (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

The little prince is speaking with a railway switchman, who tells him that the adults on the train journeys are usually bored and restless, their reasons for travel seeming pointless, while the children are fascinated by what is outside their windows. The prince mulls over this difference. For him, it is yet another example of what grown-ups are missing: as they focus on the destination, even if that destination is of questionable importance, they miss the beauty of what lies between two points, and they miss out on the opportunity to be struck with admiration or awe.

Still, the prince doesn't make a contrast between goal-driven adults and aimless children: instead, he argues that children are more likely to know what they are looking for, because they focus on what is important rather than growing obsessed with irrelevant, even random goals. The switchman seems to acknowledge that adults have lost something wonderful, even as he hears the story of children crying when a rag doll is taken away from them: he seems to imply that choosing to cherish something freely and lovingly is a gift in itself, even if it may risk being taken away.

Chapter 24 Quotes

"Yes," I said to the little prince. "The house, the stars, the desert—what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!"

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

The prince and the pilot are walking together through the desert in search of water, when the pilot begins to realize that the fact that water is hidden in the desert is what makes it so alluring. Ironically, it is the pilot's goal-driven, very adult focus on finding water that pushes him to learn an entirely different lesson.

He recognizes that, just as the fox had told the little prince, beauty truly does lie in what is invisible. Equipped with this realization, the pilot looks around him with new eyes. Ready and willing to believe that there is more to the world than what he sees and for which he possesses material evidence, the pilot is imbued with wonder. 

I said to myself, again: "What moves me so deeply, about this little prince who is sleeping here, is his loyalty to a flower—the image of a rose that shines through his whole being like the flame of a lamp, even when he is asleep..." And I felt him to be more fragile still. I felt the need of protecting him, as if he himself were a flame that might be extinguished by a little puff of wind...

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince, The Rose/Flower
Page Number: 93-94
Explanation and Analysis:
As the pilot watches the little prince sleep, he too begins to learn a valuable lesson about friendship and love. Just as the prince has chosen to love a rose and take care of her as best he can, making her unique in the world as his chosen object of love (if not as the only rose in the world), the pilot has developed a true friendship with the prince. As a result, he too feels the need to protect the prince and to keep him innocent, free from the corruption of the world and the schemes of the adults who have lost their sense of wonder and compassion. At the same time as the prince is learning more about what it means to seek out the essential beyond the superficial, the pilot too is learning to modify his adult understanding of the world.
Chapter 27 Quotes

Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has—yes or no?—eaten a rose...

Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes...

And no grown−up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!

Related Characters: The Pilot/Narrator (speaker), The Little Prince, The Rose/Flower
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator comes to the end of his story, he directly addresses the reader, asking us to align ourselves with the world view that he has developed through his relationship with the little prince. Throughout The Little Prince, we have seen a contrast between two ways of thinking: there is the grown-up way of thinking, which chooses what to value based on strange, distanced, and close-minded calculations; and there is the child's way of thinking, which chooses what to cherish based on essential, real values. Children do not need to think about whether what they love is "valuable" in economic or political terms: instead, their very act of choosing to love is what creates value. 

If the sheep has eaten the flower, this will undeniably be a great, painful loss for the prince, and the fact that even one person has loved the flower should make it a loss for us too. As he closes, then, the narrator challenges us to think about what is essential and what is truly valuable, and to break out of the way of thinking that most adults are condemned to follow.