Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 808

Wind, Sand, and Stars was written for an adult audience, especially for the generation that had come of age right after World War I. Yet it has many elements of plot, setting, and theme that have traditionally appealed to young adult readers. The central character is a young man exploring...

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Wind, Sand, and Stars was written for an adult audience, especially for the generation that had come of age right after World War I. Yet it has many elements of plot, setting, and theme that have traditionally appealed to young adult readers. The central character is a young man exploring the world. His occupation is glamorous and dangerous, open only to a brave, skilled few. The work pits his courage and his strength against the elements of nature. He overcomes obstacles and tastes triumphs in brave solitude. He finds simple, deep friendships among his peers. He is unrestricted by routine. He is raw material ready for shaping by his own will or some higher power. Founded in fact, Saint-Exupéry’s story is nevertheless like an epic or a novel because it tells how a hero is made. The author is not a self-aggrandizer, but he relates his life with conventions that writers since Homer have used to communicate direction and purpose in a young person’s life.

Each chapter builds upon a dramatic event that tests one’s mettle, courage, and convictions. Sometimes this man is Saint-Exupéry, sometimes a fellow flier, sometimes a chance acquaintance. The enigmatic Guillaumet crash-landed in the isolated Andes mountains and, badly injured, walked down a mountain. On the Argentine coastline, Saint-Exupéry battled a clear-air cyclone that tried to blow his plane out to sea. With his mechanic, Saint-Exupéry survived several days and nights in the Sahara after their aircraft ran out of fuel. He describes how, as the Fascists battled Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, a stoic sergeant prepared to lead a suicidal patrol against superior forces.

Whoever is the hero of the moment, Saint-Exupéry the writer is anxious to get beyond the physical drama to the spiritual importance of the events. Therefore, he recounts dramatic events straightforwardly, in an almost deadpan manner. He has no need to invent details, embellish the tension, or hyperbolize the action. He is more attentive to the emotional consequences of the event, to the insight that it harbors, to the lesson that it offers about life. In the paragraphs about the spiritual meaning of his or other people’s actions, Saint-Exupéry writes most fluently with a poet’s sense of metaphor and rhythmic patterns of language.

Apprehending the meaning of things as a poet rather than as a philosopher, Saint-Exupéry does not systematize his ideas. He is confident that an idea need only be powerful and beautiful to be apprehended; it need not be defined or categorized. Throughout his memoirs, he returns continually to three concepts that can be seen as the heart of his thinking. Like the young aviator himself, these concepts are charged with energy, nobility, and sensitivity.

One idea is that life is fragile. Humanity’s love for the transient, beautiful things in nature is one indicator of this fact. The fate of pilots, destined to life or death by how the winds blow or the fog rises, is another sign. Society’s outposts, precariously placed in mid-desert oases or tucked along mountainsides or scattered across isolated plateaus, is a third indicator.

A second concept is that every person is a unique universe and thus ought to be revered and gazed at wonderingly. Landing at a remote village, Saint-Exupéry sees a young woman draw water from a fountain, contentedly wrapped in her own thoughts. “More surely than if she were on another planet,” he muses, “I feel her to be locked up in her language, in her secret, in her habits, in the singing echoes of her memory.” Watching a bored bureaucrat on a commuter bus, Saint-Exupéry wonders if the man had been born to that fate or if the “sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer” inside were never awakened.

The final concept is that happiness exists only in human relations. Paradoxically, the unique universe of an individual must make contact with another unique universe if it is to be happy. Without connection, there is no purpose or meaning to life, and without purpose, there is no courage to face life. Guillaumet walked out of the Andes because he knew that he was responsible to his fellow pilots. Sergeant R. calmly faced death in battle-scarred Madrid because he knew the faces of family members or friends whom this fight would avenge or set free. A Libyan, enslaved by nomadic Bedouins for decades, asked the French pilots who passed through to ransom him so that he could return to his family.

As a mixture of striking individual incidents punctuated by meditation upon the mysteries of being human, Wind, Sand, and Stars is a book to which a reader returns for a favorite chapter. As a writer whose youthful passions live in his pages, Saint-Exupéry is an author whom a reader shares with a friend.

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