Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 343

Less clear and definite in his humanistic convictions than in his later works, Saint-Exupery in this early novella presents the conflict between the value of a human life and progress in society. Illustrated in the person of Riviere, the general director of the mail-carriers in Buenos Aires, the dilemma occurs when Fabien, one of his best pilots, does not return from a mission. He faces Fabien's desolate wife of six weeks, Simone, and at the same time knows that it is his duty to keep the mail service going. He compares it to the loss of life in the construction of a bridge. People would at first reject the bridge, but they continue to build bridges. In the same way, human beings experience a compulsion toward progress, discovery, exploration. Yet the question remains, "Is it worth the risk?"

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Riviere is the model of devotion to duty. Somewhat like religious rites, often unintelligible, orders given by commanders change individuals into human beings, adults, and heroes. Riviere expects an unquestioning obedience from the pilots who work for him, yet somehow he creates fraternity with them. By insisting on courage and fidelity to duty, he calms the fears of timid pilots. Yet he insists on rigid hierarchical structures with his staff. Like his classical predecessors, Corneille and Racine, Saint-Exupery explores a theme dear to French literature, the conflict between duty and passion.

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Night Flight, as its title suggests, is an exaltation of night. Saint-Exupery's favorite time plays an important role in all his works. At the beginning of this touching story, and again towards the end, the pilot Fabien, who is destined to perish in a severe storm after his fuel supply has failed, glories in the beauties of the stars and the twinkling lights of distant homes. Along with the glories of the night and a near-paradise experience which is to bring destruction to Fabien, Saint-Exupery evokes the terror of storms which he describes graphically and fearfully. In short, the profession of aviator which he so loves occupies an important part of this early work.

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