The Little Prince: Novel Summary :Section 11-15
Summary of Section XI
The second planet belongs to a vain man who wants the little prince to admire him. He commands the little prince to clap his hands, and then he tips his hat to the applause. The little prince thinks this is entertaining, so he keeps clapping, and the man, who, in the drawing looks something like a clown, keeps bowing. Again, the little prince is bored with the game and leaves the planet.
Commentary on Section XI
The series of visits to different planets, that contain only one person on each, is a chance to critique different types of social personalities. The little prince is searching for wisdom and knowledge, and so far finds silly grown-ups who have nothing to offer him. The vain main is self-absorbed: “Vain men never hear anything but praise” (p. 34). Such a man could certainly not be capable of judging himself impartially or of any self-knowledge.
Summary of Section XII
The next planet belongs to a drunkard, and the illustration shows a disheveled man sitting at a table with bottles strewn around and a case of bottles next to him. This depresses the little prince who inquires why the man is drinking. He confesses it’s so he will forget that he is ashamed of drinking. The little prince is puzzled.
Commentary on Section XII
This is the sort of personality who has shirked responsibility to himself and others and engages in self-destructive activity to cover his shame. Responsibility was a big topic for the author and for the intellectuals of the time, who felt the political hopelessness was because too many people had abdicated their responsibility. This man is weak and cannot face life, drugging himself to become numb. It is a withdrawal from life.
Summary of Section XIII
The fourth planet belongs to a businessman. The drawing makes him red-faced and looking rather like a devil with horns on his head and a cigarette in his mouth. He is looking down at his list on his desk and never looks up. He is busy counting—five hundred and one million . . . The little prince asks him what he is counting, and he says stars. He is irritable at being interrupted for he is “serious” (p. 38). He claims he owns the stars. The king may “‘reign’ over” the stars, (p. 38) but he owns them and makes money from them. The little prince does not believe someone can own the stars, but the businessman says he can, because he thought of it first. The little prince accuses the businessman of not being useful to the stars and leaves.
Commentary on Section XIII
This episode is meant to illustrate the absurdity of the world of modern capitalism that makes everything into a commodity to buy and sell. The businessman does not even look up at the stars or understand that they represent an unbounded universe, far beyond his control. He argues that his type of control of “owning” is more meaningful than the king’s claim of “reigning over” something. Both claim control of that which is beyond human power. The little prince’s point that the businessman is not useful to the stars points out the key that both the king and the businessman miss—they have no relationship with the things they think they control. The little prince owns a flower, but there is a mutual relationship with the flower. The boy and flower are useful to one another through give and take. These deluded grown-ups just want to take. They have no relationship to anyone else or to the cosmos.
Summary of Section XIV
The fifth planet is the smallest with only enough room for a lamp and lamplighter. The little prince thinks the man is absurd, but less so than the others he has met, for his work has some meaning. He brings light to life and puts it to sleep. The lamplighter tells him he is doing his job because of “orders,” but he complains he can never rest because the sun is always rising and setting on his small planet. It used to be a reasonable job, but the planet keeps turning faster and faster, and the orders have not changed. The planet is revolving once a minute, and the lamp goes on and off. The little prince becomes fond of the lamplighter because he is so faithful to his orders.
The little prince tries to help him by showing him if he walks more slowly, he can stay in the daytime, or if he wants rest, he can walk in the dark. The lamplighter says he still would not be able to go to sleep. As the little prince leaves, he knows the king and the others would despise the lamplighter, but he is the only one the little prince can admire and would like to make friends with.
Commentary on Section XIV
The little prince is impressed with the lamplighter because “he’s thinking of something besides himself” (p. 43). The orders were once reasonable, but he stays at his post even when times are hard. Again, one thinks of the period when the author was writing, when it seemed as if the world was falling apart in wartime. Saint-Exupéry was himself like the lamplighter, one of the faithful, trying to do his duty and keep order in an absurd world. He regrets leaving the lamplighter, but there is no room for him on that planet. He could have seen even more sunsets than on his own planet.
Summary of Section XV
The sixth planet is bigger and inhabited by an old man at a desk who is writing big books. He thinks the little prince is an explorer; he is a geographer who records the discoveries of explorers. The little prince is impressed at finding someone with a real profession. He thinks the geographer’s planet is beautiful and asks if it has any oceans. The geographer replies, he doesn’t know. Mountains? He doesn’t know. The geographer says he is not an explorer. He is too important to look around. He questions the explorers, and if their information is interesting, he investigates their moral characters to make sure they are telling the truth. Otherwise, the geography books would contain lies. Once an explorer is trustworthy, then he must furnish proof of the discovery. First, the discovery is recorded in pencil, and ink is used after the proof is given. He treats the little prince as an explorer and wants to know about his planet.
The prince tells the geographer that on his planet he has a flower. The geographer refuses to record a flower because it is “ephemeral” and doesn’t last (p. 46). He records things that don’t change, like mountains. The prince feels his first regret when he realizes he has left the vulnerable flower alone who only has four thorns to protect herself. The prince asks where he should visit next, and the geographer tells him the earth has a good reputation.
Commentary on Section XV
The geographer is an impressive scholar, but on the other hand, he never goes out of his ivory tower to see life for himself. He gets information in a complicated way and only records what is deemed important and unchanging from a certain perspective. Like much of human knowledge, geography records what can be seen on the surface. Even so, the geographer never sees this for himself but gets it secondhand. To him, the flower that is so important to the little prince does not even exist. It is not worthy to be in his book. Instead of believing the geographer, the little prince suddenly realizes how vulnerable the flower is and how precious to him. It is because he sees how the world callously disregards his treasure that he treasures it the more and wants to protect it. The philosophical idea of the reality of the unseen is again brought up. The knowledge in the geographer’s book must be backed by physical proof, like a rock from the mountain. The little prince cannot prove the joy the flower gives him, and if he tried to bring proof of it, he would have to pick it and present a dead flower. He next travels to earth, his final destination, where he will see all the types of personalities he has already found, but much more as well.