This fox asks the prince to tame him (the word in French is closer to "befriend" or even "socialize") for only in being tamed and forming that sort of relationship does he become unique. The fox says, "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..." (Ch. 21) it is this which gives color to the world. In taming the fox, and learning that establishing ties and relationships is what gives meaning to life, the prince comes to understand that his rose is unique, because she has a relationship with him. The idea that it is relationships, commitments, and sacrifices which define and give meaning to life is one which continues through-out Exupery's life and work. "One sees clearly only with the heart," the fox informs the prince, and it is this secret which the prince teaches in turn to his tamed pilot. It is the secret that teaches him that he must die to return to his rose.
The rose which is like any other rose, and yet absolutely unique, is a central figure in the Little Prince, because in the end she is the one for whom he will live and die. According to some biographers -- most notably Consuela herself -- the rose in this story was based on Exupery's wife, Consuela. She quotes him as saying to her, "I can't forgive myself for not dedicating it to you..." (C. Exupery, 303) and of speaking to her of the next part of the story which would be written when the war had ended: "You'll never again be a rose with thorns, you'll be the dream princess who always waits for the Little Prince." (C. Exupery, 303) According to all accounts, the relationship between the Exupery pair was very stormy for most of the years of their relationship, due in part to their passionate natures, his need for change and flight, and flirtations and affairs on both their parts. It would be no wonder if the finicky, thorned rose were based on Consuela, or if their frequent absences from on another were part of the inspiration behind the words, "Love and distrust cannot live in the same house... I was too young to know how to love her."
The little prince leaves his rose because he feels stifled by her demands, by her self-centeredness, and by her dependence. Yet in the end he returns determined to battle the baobabs for her, and to face death for their reunion. It is relationships, even difficult ones, which make life important.
The snake, which speaks always in riddles, is in the end the means by which the little prince goes home. The snake is an interesting mythological choice here -- in Christian/Jewish Garden of Eden myth, the snake offers wisdom which leads to mortality of the body. The garden myth is directly referenced in the line "you haven't even any feet," (ch 17) as the removal of the snake's feet was explained as part of that myth. However, in more ancient mythologies of Egypt and Britain, the snake was a symbol of wisdom that led to transcendent life beyond death. "An ancient Egyptian belief was that death by snake bite would secure immortality..." (Linde) This is the riddle of the snake, of course -- is it a trickster who wishes to kill and bite the prince, or is it a friend who (as it claims) "can take you further than a ship." And lead him home? In the end, the prince falls as if he is dead. His body must be exchanged for flight: "I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy," he says. (ch 26)
The idea of the body as something which is meant to be exchanged for a higher calling was extremely important to Exupery as the war in Europe progressed and France (his native country and home) was overrun. "The body, he discovers, is a means and not an end....it is itself a going beyond, and its meaning comes only from its acts.... And the body is a currency to be exchanged for this community." (Brosman, ed)
So the snake kills the boy to send him home, and he falls --apparently dead. Yet in the morning, his body cannot be found. He has exchanged it for the freedom to return home. This shows the conviction of Exupery that the body of the innocent and true can be exchanged for the welfare of those he loves. This mythos continued to grow through all his work and in his life, as he volunteered for mission after mission over occupied France. Despite the fact that he was strictly unqualified to fly due to age and injury, he insisted time and again on going up. The night before he was to be grounded forever, Exupery disappeared over occupied lands. His body has never been found, though some claim to have found his ship, or have records of it being gunned down. Quite literally, Exupery changed his body for the freedom of those he loved in his home, to keep it from being overrun by the baobabs of fascism. He was, himself, a messianic figure -- embodying for his fellow pilots much the same principles that the little prince had embodied for a pilot stranded in the African desert: courage, love, dedication, and a willingness to sacrifice one's self in order to transcend life and death.
Brosman, Catharine (ed). Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 72: French Novelists, 1930-1960. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. The Gale Group, 1988. pp. 314-330. [Gale online database]
Linde. "Goddess in the Wheel of the Year." Matrifocus, 2003 vol 3.1. http://matrifocus.com/SAM03/wheel.htm
Mitchell, Bonner. "Le Petit Prince and Citadelle: Two Experiments in the Didactic Style," in the French Review, April, 1960, pp. 454-61. [Gale online database]
Robinson, Joy D. Marie. "Antoine de St. Exupery," in Twayne's World Authors Series Online New York G.K. Hall & Co., 1999 [Gale online database]
Saint-Exupery, Antonio de. The Little Prince. [edition details]