Antoine de Saint-Exupéry World Literature Analysis - Essay

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s works often contain autobiographical elements and are characterized by poetic lyricism and philosophical meditation. Although he is celebrated internationally for The Little Prince, which has become a children’s classic, in his native France he is known for his reflective stories on the early days of aviation.

Saint-Exupéry’s writings are mostly drawn from his experiences as a pilot. Some of his works are overtly autobiographical, including Terre des hommes (1939; Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939), Pilote de guerre (1942; Flight to Arras, 1942), and The Wisdom of the Sands, which was published posthumously. Others are stories inspired by his adventures, including the novels Southern Mail, Night Flight, and the children’s tale The Little Prince. As a result of his training and knowledge, his descriptions of flight captured the world of aviation when it was still a developing field. His stories depict various aspects of the pilot’s life that resonate on a more universal level—the risk of embarking on a journey; the longing for freedom, solitude, and comradeship; the devotion to duty; and the search for understanding among humankind.

The subject of flying also becomes a vehicle of expression for the author. His stories are steeped in the imagery of flight—soaring, survival, loneliness, and wandering. The journeys his characters take are as much internal as they are external. Even when his stories have a clear narrative, Saint-Exupéry often weaves in the reflections of his characters or of himself as the narrator, as is true of the novel Night Flight. In flight and in travel, the characters are in a sort of exile, far from home and in search of a suitable place to land. In their explorations, the characters make note of the people and sights around them, taking on the outside observer’s point of view, as the narrator does in Wind, Sand, and Stars. In this sense, even while the characters experience the thrill of adventure, there is always the pervasive longing for a deeper connection with another human being. This interconnection is experienced through the companionship of shared experience, just as in the pilots’ brotherly support of one another in their devotion to their mission. In The Little Prince, friendship is experienced through the time the characters spend gaining understanding of one another.

Flying and writing were the two propelling forces of Saint-Exupéry’s life. He has been likened to writer Joseph Conrad in that both were men of action and men of thought. Drawing from his personal experiences and observations, Saint-Exupéry’s writing is infused with the life he so fully lived. His tales of adventure, imbued with his ideals of self-transcendence, beauty, and devotion, continue to inspire and captivate readers.

Night Flight

First published: Vol de nuit, 1931 (English translation, 1932)

Type of work: Novel

Riviere, the director of the airmail services in Buenos Aires, must keep his company running, even after losing one of his pilots in flight.

Night Flight, Saint-Exupéry’s second novel, won the Prix Femina, a French literary prize awarded by a female jury, in 1931, the same year it was published. The award helped establish his fame in the literary world. The book is based on Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as a mail pilot and as the director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company. The book’s main character, Riviere, is based on Saint-Exupéry’s actual operational director in Argentina, Didier Daurat, to whom Saint-Exupéry dedicated the book.

The story is about the pilots who make night flights to deliver mail from Patagonia, Chile, and Paraguay to Argentina. During these early days of aviation, such journeys were extremely dangerous, and these courageous men risked their lives for their work. The two central characters are Fabien, one of the best pilots of the company, and Riviere, the director. One night, Fabien is lost in a storm, and when he does not return from his flight, Riviere is faced with the possibility of having lost his best pilot.

The narrative weaves back and forth between Fabien in flight, Riviere waiting back at the station, and Fabien’s wife, who waits in worry at home. The central conflict, however, takes place in the thoughts of Riviere, which make up most of the story. Torn between the devastation of Fabien’s disappearance and his duty as operational director, Riviere maintains a stern exterior, even while he grieves over the loss of his pilot internally. He is viewed as severe and even heartless by his men, whom he must continue to send out on night flights to deliver mail in order to keep the mail service running. Riviere also has the responsibility of informing Fabien’s wife of six weeks that he has been lost in flight.

This story displays the sort of philosophical rumination that Saint-Exupéry is known for, but it is more strongly rooted in narrative than his other works. Through the characters of Fabien, his wife, and Riviere,...

(The entire section is 2121 words.)