Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246


Rivière (ree-VYAY), the director of an air-mail service. Completely dedicated to making night flying regular in spite of all its attendant dangers, he imposes on his men a rigid discipline that is taken for callousness. When Fabien and his wireless operator are lost in a storm, Rivière’s deep concern reveals that his unbending severity springs not from any lack of feeling for his pilots but from a complete sense of consecration to his mission.


Fabien (fah-BYAH[N]), a pilot. On a night flight carrying the mail from Patagonia to Buenos Aires, he and his wireless operator enter a violent storm and are lost. Their deaths prompt the revelation of Rivière’s real concern for his pilots in spite of his severe demands on them.


Robineau (roh-bee-NOH), the inspector. Inclined to make friends with the pilots, he resents Rivière’s undeviating discipline and insistence that the supervisors maintain complete impersonality toward those whom they may have to send to their deaths. Only after Fabien is lost does he realize Rivière’s real concern for his men and experience a sense of communion with him.


Pellerin (peh-leh-RA[N]), a pilot who comes safely through the great storm in which Fabien is lost.

Mme Fabien

Mme Fabien, Fabien’s bride of six weeks, who hears from Rivière of the enormous price men must pay to conquer the skies. She understands.


Roblet (roh-BLAY), an old former pilot.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355

Although Fabien's disappearance is the focus of the brief story, Night Flight, Riviere occupies the central role. Modeled on Saint-Exupery's own Operational Director, Didier Daurat, to whom the story is dedicated, Riviere reveals the author's admiration and respect for his director. Riviere is a complex character, severe, but not inhuman. When he demotes Riblet, a mechanic of twenty years, he feels pity for the decision he must nevertheless make. When faced with Fabien's wife, he disguises the grief he feels, and the night flights continue. His interior monologues carry the philosophical portion of the story, as he searches for the reason for the dangerous operation he directs. Yet like a vigilant parent, he keeps watch all night for his pilots on duty. Andre Gide, who wrote a preface to the book, admired Riviere, and "the paradoxical truth . . . that man's happiness lies not in freedom, but in the acceptance of duty."

Fabien, the tragic hero of the story, emerges through his experiences in the sky: his ecstasy when he rises through the stars, and his panic when he realizes that all is lost. Less complex than Riviere, he seems to mirror Saint-Exupery's own conflict between the love of a woman and flying, as he leaves his anxious wife on his lengthy mission. He tries desperately to cling to life, which he loses by flying too high, and tasting the forbidden fruit of the heavenly stars. His real life model was the pilot Elysee Negrin, who was lost in the waters of La Plata, near Montevideo in May 1930, the event which inspired the story.

Among the minor characters, Robineau, the inspector without much inventiveness, yet in need of companionship, whose sad duty it is to give reprimands, is depicted as a solitary yet faithful worker. Pellerin, whose name means pilgrim, returns successfully despite the snowstorms he has encountered; he represents man's victory over the elements of nature. Simone Fabien is the devoted young wife, who as in the medieval courtly love poems distrusts the love of adventure in her beloved and seeks his undivided attention. All emerge as true to life portraits, in their dialogue and action.

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