Here is our analysis of The Little Prince, the story for children which makes everybody cry and has sold at 175 million copies around the world.
The Little Prince – Story analysis – Chapter XVII – The little prince meets the snake
The narrator starts strong: “When one wishes to play the wit, he sometimes wanders a little from the truth. I have not been altogether honest in what I have told you about the lamplighters.”
Reader’s pact and information distribution: the text thus opens again on speech mode, and for the first time the narrator addresses us readers directly. At this stage, he knows very well that the complicity between us and him is in full swing, and that he can thus allow himself to confess some of his false candor, surprising us with a new paradox: because this pretendingly sincere confession of his previous lack of sincerity looks too much like the famous paradox of the liar who is telling the truth when he says he is lying, and is lying when he says he is telling the truth. Here, we know that he is lying anyway since the description he made of the lamplighters is at best a humorous fantasy, and since at least the lucid adults and children readers know that all the story is nothing but fiction.
The narrator goes on: “And I realize that I run the risk of giving a false idea of our planet to those who do not know it. Men occupy a very small place upon the Earth. If the two billion inhabitants who people its surface were all to stand upright and somewhat crowded together, as they do for some big public assembly, they could easily be put into one public square twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. All humanity could be piled up on a small Pacific islet.”
This sentence, precisely, sounds exactly like a new trick, because who, in the readership, would be ignorant enough not to know anything about the planet he/she lives on? In short, the author is obviously continuing – and for our pleasure – to “play the wit”.
“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.”
Decidedly, Saint-Exupery was in an audacity mood when he wrote this zany chapter. He involves us in his own strategies, makes his weird allusions (baobabs, calculation) sound logic and even confidently dares stating down the fact we are trusting him, just after he has revealed and proved again how good he is as a liar… 🙂 Once this transition has been made, the story can finally flow “normally” again.
The little prince, who doubts having landed on the right planet, meets a snake who confirms they actually are on Earth, in the desert.
This character of snake could carry a reference to the Bible, because as in the Genesis, it bears evil and death in himself, and threatens purity and innocence.
The prince shows his planet – a star – to the snake, then confesses his reason for having left it away: “I have been having some trouble with a flower”. Silence.
Pattern repetition of the nostalgia towards the flower…
The little prince regrets meeting nobody. Then he dares frankly telling the snake that he finds him weird and weak, to which the snake retorts “I can carry you farther than any ship could take you”, while “twining himself around the little prince’s ankle”, as if to kill him… but he chooses, out of pity, to let him live. The prince says he understood what it was about.
The tension suddenly rises, the little prince is for the first time confronted to death… The tension falls back just after, which relieves us – but what a warning! The lucidity of the little prince facing such a serious theme – his own death – moves and stuns us…
The prince asks why the snake always speaks in riddles, the snake replies he “solves them all”. Back to the silence.
Another philosophical paradox since the riddle gets only solved by another riddle… By the way, the use of logics and paradoxes full of malice and wisdom is not so rare in the masterworks of literature for children, as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland, or Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, etc.
Themes and information distribution: silence here plays the role of a euphemism, it hides untold things: the nostalgia of the prince who thinks of his flower, with modesty, and the riddle of the snake, which will not clearly get solved.
Structure: this chapter was not really a plot, but a simple series of dialogues without dramatic value. The only truly narrative and dramatic element is this death threat from the snake to the little prince, which make the thematic exposition of the data of the plot that will tell the killing of the little prince by the snake in chapter XXVI.
Read our full analysis of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and improve your writing skills