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Wind, Sand, and Stars recounts a decade in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life from 1926, when he enrolled as a pilot trainee with an airmail company, through 1936, when he traveled to Spain to observe the civil war. The book is not organized chronologically, however, but topically into chapters with headings...

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Wind, Sand, and Stars recounts a decade in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life from 1926, when he enrolled as a pilot trainee with an airmail company, through 1936, when he traveled to Spain to observe the civil war. The book is not organized chronologically, however, but topically into chapters with headings such as “The Craft,” “The Men,” and “Prisoner of the Sands.” This organization reflects Saint-Exupéry’s interests. His memoirs are not an inventory of the facts about ten years of flying but a reflection upon the emotions stirred by encounters with the elements of nature and a variety of brave individuals. His emotions ripen into ideas, and his ideas mature into an eclectic but hopeful philosophy of life.

What distinguishes Saint-Exupéry from virtually every other aviation writer is his language. He creates a poetic prose that is graceful and rich in imagery, and he believes that one individual’s experience has implications for understanding the larger issues of fate and destiny. He embodies poet William Blake’s principle that the creative mind can see “a World in a Grain of Sand// and Eternity in an hour.” Thus the pace of Wind, Sand, and Stars is leisurely. It is not to be read at a single sitting but one chapter at a time, with a lapse between readings to recall and reflect upon the writer’s words and thoughts.

As a pilot, Saint-Exupéry had a view of nature that earlier poets could only imagine. He could see the land and the sea from above, spread before and around him in a limitless vista. He could fly near peaks that once could be admired only from afar and cross in seconds landscapes that required weeks to pass by foot. He could surround himself with wind and clouds, not simply observe them from below. He could climb toward the stars until they seemed close enough to touch. John O’H. Cosgrave II’s ink drawings (without color except for a splash of royal blue to indicate sky or sea) head each chapter. They depict a village, seaport, or mountain range from the air, from a pilot’s perspective.

Despite Saint-Exupéry’s reflective and meditative bent, the book does not ignore the action, danger, and suspense that accompanies flying. The sky is unpredictably hostile and the land not always friendly to a crippled aircraft. Saint-Exupéry’s career spanned the early days of commercial aviation when planes were primitive, navigational aids rudimentary, and air routes in the process of being chartered. He flew across the deserts of North Africa and over the mountains of South America, delivering mail to remote outposts. From the fears and exhilaration of adventure as well as the joys and pains of exploration arises Saint-Exupéry’s insight into humanity and its destiny.

Places Discussed

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Airplane. After training as a pilot in the mid-1920’s, the author carries mail and passengers over oceans and continents. During his first years as a pilot, he flies a small, single-engine craft whose guidance system is mainly his own eyes and ears. In this plane, he is always acutely aware of the engine and of the possibility that if it fails, he may plunge to his death. Piloting gives him an exhilarating feeling of power and motion. In his comparatively primitive plane, the pilot senses his interactions with its controls more powerfully than he does later in his career—after engineering advances automate many piloting functions. Meanwhile, he cannot take for granted the reliability of his plane’s instrumentation. Within his cockpit, he experiences the violence of nature in new ways, for aloft there is no shelter from tornadoes, cyclones, and other extremes of weather, and even ordinary winds can be dangerous.

In compensation for the danger he faces in his plane, he enjoys new perspectives on the earth from vantage points thousands of feet above the planet’s surface and rediscovers nature. In this way, mechanical advances can promote spiritual advances, as from his aircraft the pilot appreciates natural places that he may never see on the surface of the earth.


*Sahara. Immense desert that extends across the entire width of northern Africa that provides the setting for much of the book. At least twice, aircraft malfunctions force the pilot down in the desert—once in Spanish colonial Africa on the western coast and once in the Libyan desert. His mishaps land him on a plateau with sides so steep as to make it inaccessible from the ground, leaving the pilot to suppose that he is the first person ever to stand on that location.

When the pilot and his mechanic, Prévot, go down in Libya, they do not know exactly where they are, beyond the fact that they are too far from the Mediterranean Sea to reach it on foot. They then begin walking eastward, across endless sand. After three days they see mirages—images that look like fortresses and patches of vegetation that turn out to be the shadows of cumulus clouds. Eventually, they return to their plane where they stave off thirst by capturing morning dew on parachute strips. The desert days are hot, but the nights are cold. When they again set forth on foot, they encounter Arabs who lead them to safety. Their desert experience teaches them that they have the courage and resourcefulness to survive hard conditions and that even this lonely and inhospitable place supports people who, though alien in speech, garb, and customs, possess great human kindness.


*Barcelona. Spanish port city near the Pyrenees, the mountains that separate France and Spain, that the pilot visits during the midst of the Spanish Civil War. From the air, the city’s wartime damage looks minimal; however, on the ground the pilot sees the war’s true devastation in the once-beautiful city, within which many people are still going about their daily business. He concludes that civil war is a “disease” afflicting the participants, whether communists, anarchists, or fascists.


*Madrid. Spain’s capital city, which to the author seems like a ship loaded with humanity that an enemy intends to sink. He witnesses a bombing of the city that kills and mutilates innocent civilians but also fortifies the citizens’ will to endure.


*Andes. South American mountain range where the pilot almost crashes during a strong downdraft near the coast of Argentina. From this experience he learns why some accidents occur in the mountains even when visibility is not obstructed by fog or rain. However, he himself does not crash because a sudden reversal of the wind sends him back high into the air. Then a cyclonic wind blows him out to sea. In a matter of a few minutes, he is carried, against his will, high over mountains, through a deep valley, and out over a rough Atlantic Ocean. Such a struggle against the elements, he discovers, can temporarily rob a person even of sensation.

*Punta Arenas

*Punta Arenas (poon-tah ah-ray-nahs). Town in northern Chile on whose central square the pilot spends an evening observing people and musing about not only the solitariness he feels as a stranger but also about the isolation of human beings generally, of the difficulty of entering the world of any other person.

Literary Techniques

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In 1939, Wind, Sand and Stars was proposed by the French Academy for the Grand Prix du Roman. The decision was disapproved by several purist Academicians, on the basis that it was not a novel. Henri Bordeaux, who favored it, noted, "It is well that a work like Wind, Sand and Stars brings us back to essential truths, and that it does so with a virile and poetic gravity, without posturing or ostentation. M. de Saint-Exupery's book is one of the most beautiful we have read in a long time." To the contention that it was not a novel, Bordeaux asked what other author they could produce who had shown such elegance of style, imbued his characters with so much life, and his narrative with so much zest, basic qualities of a novel. The Academy was convinced, and the prize was awarded. In fact, it became one of the most popular works of its time, and it remained on the French best-seller list until well into the 1970s.

A series of incidents loosely connected by personal reflections of the author, the book recalls his various flying expeditions. The central incident is his plane crash in the center of the Sahara. In the 1930s, before the days of radar, he had no idea where he was. The story is told with suspense and animation. The reader enters into the death thirst of the pilot and his mechanic Prevot, the mirages they experience, their anticipation of death and their indomitable will to live. In this well-developed incident, Saint-Exupery shows highly developed powers of narration, as he does in briefer stories, such as those of Guillaumet lost in the Andes, or the Moorish enemies of Captain Bonnafous, whose flight to France leaves them with no adversary, and consequently, no adventure.

There are many personal ruminations connecting the various incidents. Saint Exupery is saved from moralizing by his poetic talent. Descriptions of the clouds, the stars, and the earth emerge brilliantly through his images and symbols. The stars are "fires in the countryside that seek their food." "A night in the air, its hundred thousand stars, the serenity and sovereignty of a few hours-money cannot buy this." The author's reflections on human dignity, on the opposition of the earth and human beings, on the primacy of human communication, are often summed up in the proverbial-type utterances: "Love is not looking at one another; it is looking together in the same direction."

Actually all the important ideas of The Little Prince (1943) are expressed in a different form in Wind, Sand and Stars. Whereas The Little Prince is allegorical, Wind, Sand and Stars is personal, poetic, and at times mystical. The need for human communication that drove the Little Prince to earth is the same bond that unites the mail carrier pilots in their dangerous profession. The crash in the desert, the search for water, and the small desert foxes appear in both works. The sense of responsibility to other human beings and the desire for a humane world is central to each. A mixed genre, Wind, Sand and Stars is a positive challenge, and in the manner of the seventeenth- century writer Pierre Corneille, a call to duty, to responsibility, and to the better self within each person.

Literary Precedents

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The fairy-tale quality of Wind, Sand and Stars, as in The Little Prince, echoes Hans Christian Andersen, Saint-Exupery's favorite author from childhood. Saint-Exupery is most often compared to Joseph Conrad, because of the similarity of their professions, and their deep humanism and desire for human solidarity. Jules Verne, in his tales of travel, is also one of Saint-Exupery's literary ancestors. Although it is not a question of influence, the concept of action is similar in Saint-Exupery and Hemingway, a comparison aptly elaborated by Josette Smetana. Saint-Exupery declared Nietzsche to be one of his favorite authors. Although his tone is different, Saint-Exupery also insists on the supremacy of human beings in the universe.


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Cate, Curtis. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. New York: Putnam, 1970. Contains many informative details and is well written. Portrays Saint-Exupéry as an eccentric figure. This voluminous work serves as an excellent starting place.

Galantière, Lewis. “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.” Atlantic Monthly 179, no. 4 (April, 1947): 133-141. Galantière, who translated Wind, Sand, and Stars, discusses such aesthetic aspects of Saint-Exupéry’s writing as his philosophy of art and the influences on his development.

Migeo, Marcel. Saint-Exupéry. Paris: Flammarion, 1958. An interesting, reliable account of Saint-Exupéry’s life by someone who knew Saint-Exupéry during his military service. Migeo is mainly concerned with Saint-Exupéry’s personal life, but he also examines the role the author’s experiences as a pilot in the French military played in forming his theories of art.

Peyre, Henre. “The French Novel at Mid-century.” New Republic 129, no. 6 (September 7, 1953): 16-17. Useful for a literary analysis of Saint-Exupéry’s work. Provides a critical evaluation of Saint-Exupéry’s novels and places the author in the tradition of contemporary French novels.

Robinson, Joy D. Marie. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Explores the philosophies and themes that underlie all Saint-Exupéry’s works. The study is enriched by the extensive use of biographical material. Includes a chronology and a selected bibliography of English and French sources. Essential for any literary discussion of Saint-Exupéry.

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Critical Essays