The Little Prince: Novel Summary :Section 16-20
Summary of Section XVI
The seventh planet was the earth, but it was not just another planet, for it is huge with two billion grown-ups. Earth once needed an army of lamplighters, and the global ceremony of lamplighting was grand, starting with New Zealand and Australia, then China and Siberia, then Russia and India, then Africa and Europe, and finally North and South America. The lamplighters at the north and south poles had the easiest jobs, for their lamps were lit or extinguished only twice a year.
Commentary on Section XVI
After seeing single types of humans, we now see the earth where there is great space and diversity. Yet, this first vision of the earth presents an impression of its grandeur and unity. The “ballet” of the lamplighting around the world, performed by an “ordered” “army” (p. 48) makes it appear every continent and country is doing its part, playing its role. Every nation is important; every spot on the globe has its own duty to perform. This picture of the unity of light from every country on the globe was a hopeful affirmation and reminder during the darkness of the world war.
Summary of Section XVII
The narrator’s voice now returns as he comments that being witty leads to lying, for what he just said about the lamplighters gives a false impression of the earth. Humans occupy very little space on earth even though they are convinced they take up a lot of room and think they are like baobabs.
When the little prince reached the earth, he did not see anyone. He was in the desert and met a snake. The snake tells him he is in African desert where there are no people. The little prince notices the stars and says his is right overhead. The snake asks him why he has come to earth. He replies, “I’m having difficulties with a flower” (p. 49). Then he remarks that it is lonely in the desert, and the snake says it is also lonely with people.
The prince remarks that the snake is as thin as a finger, but the snake says he is more powerful than a king’s finger. He coils around the prince’s ankle and says that whomever he touches he can send back to the land from which he came. The snake is moved by the little prince’s innocence and knows he comes from the stars. He feels sorry for him “being so weak on this granite earth” (p. 51) and promises if he gets too homesick he can help him. The prince knows what he is talking about.
Commentary on Section XVII
The author compares the human race to baobabs taking over the planet and consuming everything. The snake says he pities the little prince, who has come from the stars as an exceptional being, having to set foot on such a “granite” planet. The imagery suggests hardness and materiality. He lands in a desert without people, but the snake indicates that he will be just as lonely with the people of the earth. The snake says he can send the little prince back home, implying his power to kill with his poison. The snake is a personification of death. The little prince understands that he means death and asks why the snake has to speak in riddles. This brings to mind the snake in the Garden of Eden whose riddles and temptations led to the fall of Adam and Eve. The little prince is not intimidated or afraid of the snake’s threats. He knows what the snake can do and looks up to see his home overhead among the stars. This and following incidents are all previous to the time he meets the pilot. They are recounted by the narrator from the bits and pieces he was able to extract from the little prince.
Summary of Section XVIII
The little prince crosses the desert and sees “a flower of no consequence” with three petals (p. 51). He asks the flower where the people are, and the flower answers that it had once seen a caravan, but the people blow away because they have no roots.
Commentary on Section XVIII
The flower is of no consequence because it is not special, like his own flower. Its perspective is that humans have no roots, and so they cannot stay in one place. Symbolically, the author illustrates the human condition like many French authors of the period were doing, such as Andre Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Andre Gide. Humans feel rootless in a universe seemingly devoid of any inherent meaning. They must search for their own meaning and freedom beyond social custom. The desert conveys the feel of loneliness and thirst.
Summary of Section XIX
The little prince climbs a high mountain to see in the distance, perhaps to view all the people on the planet, but he sees only rocky peaks. He calls out but only hears his echo: “Let’s be friends. I’m lonely” (p. 54).
Commentary on Section XIX
The prince concludes from hearing the echoes that the people of earth just repeat things and have no imagination. He thinks the planet is too sharp and hard. He thinks lovingly of his flower. These are more images of the isolation of humans on earth. Life is hard and unsociable.
Summary of Section XX
Finally, the little prince finds a road and follows it. He finds a rose garden and says good morning to the roses. He asks who they are, and they say they are roses. He feels unhappy because he had thought his own rose unique and here are five thousand roses just alike. He realizes his rose would be quite annoyed to be so upstaged and would cough and pretend to be dying. Then he would have to pretend to nurse her so she wouldn’t really die. He falls down on the grass and weeps because he has only an ordinary rose after all. He does not feel very princely.
Commentary on Section XX
The little prince’s disillusionment is the one everyone goes through growing up. At home one might feel special or pampered, the way the rose and the little prince regard one another. In the wide world, one feels anonymous and common, lost among so many others. Nothing feels special or unique in a busy world where everyone strives to look and be the same. Uniqueness does not seem to be rewarded or even looked for. Once the prince of his own little world, he feels betrayed and ordinary. This disillusionment is his own great moment of loss of innocence. He has to learn there is something beyond this fall from grace.