Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640

Terre des hommes was translated into English as Wind, Sand and Stars. The French title, meaning "earth of men," has a different emphasis than the English title. Saint-Exupery preferred the English version, since for him it evoked the atmosphere he wished to create. It was a new earth that the...

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Terre des hommes was translated into English as Wind, Sand and Stars. The French title, meaning "earth of men," has a different emphasis than the English title. Saint-Exupery preferred the English version, since for him it evoked the atmosphere he wished to create. It was a new earth that the pilot observed from the sky. Here he came in contact with natural elements and forces. For him, an airplane is "the means that helps one to analyze and discover the face and the secrets of the planet earth."

The title Terre des hommes stresses the humanistic side of the work, as well as the contact of human beings with the earth. The brief prologue, missing from the English edition, conveys this idea in the work. The earth teaches man more about himself than all the books, because it resists man. "Man discovers himself when he measures himself against the obstacle." The heroes exalted in the book have become heroes because they have overcome obstacles, and the whole story of progress and creation in the world is based on such a struggle.

Humanism for Saint-Exupery also implies the responsibility of people to each other, and to their duty. Guillaumet, the pilot lost in the Andes, is responsible for delivering the mail, for returning to his companions, and in case of death, for making sure that his body is found so that his wife will receive the proper insurance. Humanism also implies human dignity, such as the Moroccan slave Bark at Cape Juby, who when freed returns to his name and his people. Finally, humanism is the primacy of humanity over the individual; it is not mere existence, but the quality of life that matters. In the degradation of one individual or group of people, humanity is the loser. Such was the case with a number of Polish miners, on a long train trip to Russia, or as Curtis Cate comments, "an anguished cry of distress at the creeping march of a mechanized civilization where the . . . integrity of the poet or the painter finds it increasingly difficult to assert itself; where the peasant is uprooted and tossed, like one more human faggot, on to the mounting wood-pile of a mind and soulless proletariat."

Criticized by his staunch Catholic and conservative contemporary Brasillach, Saint-Exupery nevertheless maintains that people and nations should not oppose their respective ideologies on the basis of truth, for each one has a portion of the truth. Truth, he maintains, does not seek to dominate, but rather to simplify. This contention was especially meaningful in 1939, on the verge of World War II. In Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint-Exupery opposes war; he nevertheless was destined to serve with courage, and finally to disappear in a flight over Annecy in 1944. War, says Saint-Exupery, actually destroys what it seems to favor. Modern wars cannot vivify an entire race at the price of a little bloodshed. Modern technology has made them a "bloody surgery . . . Victory will come to the side that will decay the last. And both sides will decay together."

More positively, this work, which centers on aviation, glorifies the airplane, not as an end, but as a tool for communication, further discoveries, and construction of the universe for human beings. It enables one to come into contact with natural forces, to overcome obstacles. It can bring tragedy, such as in the author's crash in the Sahara, from which he was at the end miraculously saved. It also signifies companionship, the company of friends, for Saint-Exupery, Guillaumet, and Prevot. Once again, Saint-Exupery brings out human values. Finally the airplane, this technological wonder, is the product of intelligence, which, however, is not what governs the world. Saint-Exupery stresses the primacy of the Spirit over intelligence, and concludes with a biblically inspired phrase, "Only the Spirit, if it breathes upon the clay, can create Man."

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