The protagonist of the short novel is the Little Prince. He is a simple, yet mystical, creature from asteroid B-612. One day a seed arrives on his planet and blooms into a beautiful flower. Though the flower is lovely, it is vain and irritates the Prince. Finally he leaves his planet, to escape the flower. After visiting several asteroids, the Little Prince reaches Earth, where he meets the narrator in the Sahara Desert.
The problem, or antagonist, of the Little Prince is his thirst for answers. He visits many planets and meets many people, whom he questions about life. In particular, he wants to understand the existence and pastimes of adults on Earth. He tries to find his answers from a snake, a fox, and the narrator.
The climax of the plot occurs when the Little Prince decides to return to his planet and care for his special flower. He has learned from the fox that the important things in life cannot be seen with the eye, only felt with the heart. This lesson eventually makes the Little Prince realize that the flower from which he has fled is really very special. After meeting the narrator and explaining all that he has learned since he left his planet, the Prince accepts that he really loves the flower because she is his responsibility, and he has invested time and trouble in her survival. As a result, he decides that he must go back to his star to take care of his special rose.
The story ends in comedy. The Little Prince finds the answers to his questions about what is important in life. When he realizes his love for the flower, he accepts that he must return to his star to care for the rose. He makes arrangements with the poisonous snake to bite him, which will insure his safe passage back home. Before he departs, the Little Prince makes a profound impression on the narrator.
The narrator begins the tale with an explanation of his dislike of adults; he claims he does not enjoy them, for they are much too practical. Instead, he prefers the company of children, who are natural and curious.
The narrator next tells of how his plane crashed in the desert, where he met the Little Prince, a mystical creature from another planet. The narrator tells why the Prince left his planet and where he visited before coming to Earth. His adventures on six different planets are recounted, including the encounters with the king, the conceited man, the tippler, the businessman, the lamplighter, the geographer, the snake, the desert flower, the garden of roses, the railway switchman, the merchant, the fox, and the narrator.
The narrator and the Prince share a rewarding relationship on the desert, and when the Little Prince departs, the narrator misses his company. He writes the novel in memory of the Little Prince.
In The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry explains the importance of seeing the whole truth in order to find beauty. He believes that visible things are only shells that hint at the real worth hidden inside. He points out that man has not learned to look beneath the surface, or perhaps, has forgotten how to do so. Because adults never look inside, they will never know themselves or others.
All his life, Saint-Exupéry thought that grown-ups cared mostly about inconsequential matters, such as golf and neckties. When they talked about important matters, they always became dull and boring. They seemed afraid to open up their hearts to the real issues of life; instead, they chose to function on a surface level.
In the book, the fox teaches that one can see only what is important in life by looking with the heart. Because of this lesson, Saint-Exupéry leaves the desert as a different person. He has accepted the Little Prince's thought that “'the stars are beautiful because of a flower that cannot be seen.” In essence, the fox’s lesson is about how to love, a most important lesson for everybody to learn. The fox points out that it is the time that one “wastes” on someone or something that makes it important. The fox also tells the readers that love can overcome existentialism: “One only knows the things that one tames.... Men buy things already made in the stores. But as there are no stores where friends can be bought, men no longer have friends.” A human must earn a friendship, not buy it.
Finally, Saint-Exupéry explains how all joy and pleasure must be earned, not given or received. As an example, he shows the joy that the Little Prince and the pilot feel when they taste the water from the well. Its sweetness comes from their journey under the stars and the work of the pilot’s arms making the pulley sing. In the end, the Little Prince again experiences a new joy. Leaving his “shell” behind, he has gone to the most beautiful place he can imagine -- his star, which is his love; he has returned to his own little heaven.
Saint-Exupéry scorns man’s obsession with the wrong things, such as wealth, power, and technology; he uses the King, the Businessman, and the Lamplighter to highlight this theme. The king puts a great deal of importance into being obeyed, even though he orders only what would happen anyway. The businessman takes great pride in owning all the stars, but he is too busy counting them to gain any pleasure from their beauty. The Little Prince tries to teach him the pointlessness of his “property.” The Little Prince also scorns the Lamplighter’s fascination with science and technology. He is so caught up in the importance of lighting his lamp, that he misses what is important in life.
The need to have faith is another minor theme in the book. The Little Prince arrives on the Earth during a spiritually troubled phase and stays until he has resolved his confusions. During his stay, he teaches the narrator the importance of having faith and belief. Many critics have called the Little Prince a Christ-figure, for he is described as being free of sin. He also believes in a life after death. At the end of the book, he returns to his star, his heaven.
The mood is mostly adventurous and mysterious, with a philosophical overtone. At first the Little Prince does not reveal his identity, creating an initial sense of mystery. Then as the Little Prince recounts his travels, the mood becomes adventurous. As he questions the fox and the narrator, the mood becomes philosophic. At the end, when the Prince arranges to be bitten by the snake, the mood again becomes mysterious. Although he seems to die from the snake bite, the narrator cannot find the Prince’s body when he looks for it the next morning. He can only assume that the Prince successfully returns to his star.