Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207112-Saint_Exupery.jpg Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Published by Salem Press, Inc.

An original and accomplished prose stylist, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (sahn-tayg-zew-pay-REE) published his first two or three volumes as novels before arriving at his definitive literary form, a combination of essay, memoir, fable, and prose poem that is difficult to classify. To this latter category belong his best-known volumes: an autobiography in the form of a novel, Wind, Sand, and Stars; the posthumously published Citadelle (1948; The Wisdom of the Sands, 1950), consisting of philosophical observations and reflections; and Le Petit Prince (1943; The Little Prince, 1943), which, published with the author’s own watercolor illustrations, has since become an international children’s classic.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry drew critical attention early in his short life as perhaps the only pioneer aviator with the soul and talent of a poet. Although several other pilots, including Charles A. Lindbergh himself, had attempted to record on paper their impressions and reflections from the air, only “Saint-Ex,” as his friends came to call him, had the literary skill and sensitivity to produce documents, at first fictionalized, that proved to be of lasting value. Since his plane disappeared off the coast of Corsica in 1944, presumably shot down by German fighters, Saint-Exupéry’s writing has suffered somewhat from both critical and general neglect, perhaps in part because air travel has long since become commonplace. His style, however, remains as fresh and thought-provoking as when his works were first published. Reflective, unobtrusively “classical” in style, and showing erudition lightly worn, Saint-Exupéry’s works appear destined to survive and to be remembered long after they have outlived their “historical” or documentary value.

Both at home and abroad, Saint-Exupéry is perhaps best remembered as the author of The Little Prince, a substantial prose work written and destined for children but one that has found a wide and appreciative audience among adults as well. Perhaps best summarized as an illustrated parable of relativity, or at least of relative importance (thereby recapitulating the author’s major contributions as a writer-pilot), The Little Prince ostensibly recalls the author’s chance encounter, while stranded in the desert, with the child-prince and sole inhabitant of the distant asteroid B-612. The Little Prince is emphatically not a work of science fiction, even in juvenile form: Harking back to the venerable literary tradition of the imaginary voyage, exemplified by such eighteenth century masterpieces as Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (1721; Persian Letters, 1722), Voltaire’s Le Micromégas (1752; Micromegas, 1753), and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), The Little Prince invites the reader, young or old, to suspend preconceived judgments and view the universe through the oddly perceptive eyes of the ingenuous prince. Somewhat marred for today’s audience (even among the young) by a certain preciosity and triteness of expression, The Little Prince has nevertheless earned the stature of a true classic in the genre, thanks to the genuine wisdom and mature insight only half concealed among its hundred-odd pages.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What meaning does the act of flying take on for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?

What are Saint-Exupéry’s thoughts on the themes of loneliness and friendship that emerge in his writings?

In what ways can his writings be viewed as more than an autobiographical account of events?

What role does nature play in Saint-Exupéry’s stories?

From his writing, would you describe Saint-Exupéry as an idealist? Why or why not?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Breaux, Adele. Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942-1943: A Memoir. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971. A memoir covering Saint-Exuréry’s time in the United States during World War II.

Capestany, Edward J. The Dialectic of “The Little Prince.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982. A searching study of Saint-Exupéry’s use of myth. There is a chapter by chapter analysis, along with notes.

Higgins, James E. “The Little Prince”: A Reverie of Substance. New York: Twayne, 1996. Divided into literary and historical contexts (including the book’s critical reception) and a reading (emphasizing the “eye of innocence,” “the landscape of metaphor,” explorations of the spirit and of responsibility). There is an appendix on approaches to teaching the novel, as well as notes and an annotated bibliography.

Robinson, Joy D. Marie. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Chapter 1 discusses Saint-Exupéry’s childhood, chapter 2 his student and soldier years, chapter 3 his career as an aviator, with subsequent chapters following the development of both his life and writing. Includes chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography. This is perhaps the best book to consult for the beginning student of Saint-Exupery, since it is an unusually thorough study.

Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo de. The Tale of the Rose: The Passion That Inspired “The Little Prince.” Reprint. New York: Random House, 2003. The recently discovered memoir of the aviator’s one-time wife, the possible model for the Little Prince’s coquettish flower.

Schiff, Stacy. Saint-Exupéry. New York: Knopf, 1995. Contains considerable new material on Saint-Exupéry’s life and career, especially his experience as a war pilot. Drawing on extensive interviews, Schiff considers the relationship between Saint-Exupéry the aviator and writer. Includes very detailed notes and a bibliography.