Antoine de Saint-Exupery, to certain extent, can be compared to Leonardo Da Vinci, who, as one knows from the history, succeeded in painting, architecture as well as in exact sciences. Similarly, Saint-Exupery’s giftedness manifested itself in a number of directions: he studied architecture, worked as a sales manager and made a career in aviation (Schiff, 1994, p.22). However, the world nowadays knows him as a talented writer and the author of such well-known works as “The Little Prince” and “The Night Flight”. The present paper argues that Saint-Exupery’s earlier novel “The Night Flight” is based upon his experiences as a pilot, in particular, the memories of flying past the Andes, whereas “The Little Prince” reflect the happiness of his family life and is dedicated to the childhood memories and his wife Consuelo.
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“The Night Flight” (1931) is associated with the blossom of Saint-Exupery’s career in aviation as well as with the lengthy separation from his motherland. In 1929, he was appointed director of Aeroposta Argentina Company. This organization for responsible for delivering airmail around South America, and the ordinary pilot’s work was thus quite difficult. In order to bring mail from Chile, Patagonia or Paraguay to Buenos-Ayres, it was necessary to fly day-long pass the Andes, the seemingly endless mountains. The pilot is doomed if they face a natural disaster or aircraft malfunctioning (Schiff, 1994). As a people manager, Saint-Exupery was naturally concerned about the fate of his subordinates and tried to share their difficulties by trying and discovering new routes. However, accidents were inescapable and happened, by the whim of fortune, to Saint-Exupery’s closest friends, Mermose and Gyome. For instance, Mermose was once forced to land in the Andes on the rocky surface, around which there was nothing expect precipice. Mermose and his mechanical engineer spent two days trying to get out from this trap, but their bold effort failed. Therefore, Mermose opted for a fatal trick: he started the engine and directed the plane into the abyss; while falling, the aircraft increased its speed, so the man finally reached the point of destination. Gyome’s plane wrecked in the Andes in winter, and Saint-Exupery circled over the mountains for five days, rescuing his friend. However, Gyome appeared to survive in the collapse and walk five days through the mountains until he got to the nearest village (Schiff, 1994, p.47).
“The Night Flight” actually reveals the writer’s doubts and inner challenges as he was responsible for the lives and safety of his pilots. The protagonist, Riviere, is a top executive of a postal company which is enduring serious financial difficulties. In order to mitigate the constant loss, Riviere decides to set a new service and launches mail delivery in the nighttime (Saint-Exupery, 1974, p.30). He is so desperate to improve the company’s state that he ignores all additional risks his employees might face in the total darkness. Once upon a time, his good pal Fabien, while being on service, finds out he is run out of fuel and ascends increasingly higher, wishing to see the place of perfect calm. Even though Fabien dies in the subsequent catastrophe, Riviere does not give up the project of his life, demonstrating devotion to the company. The whole book is actually aimed at answering one simple question about the value of human life and whether there can be anything more precious than life. Along with both of his characters, he finds the right answer: Fabien is literally in love with his profession and believes nighttime flights are the most lyrical and romantic aspect of his work, so he obviously does not regret losing his life while performing his responsibilities; Riviere, in turn, is ready to sacrifice his pilot’s life for the prosperity of his business and the professional area in general. Introducing these characters and gradually expressing his worldview, idea by idea, through Riviere’s and Fabien’s thoughts, emotions and deeds, Saint-Exupery resolves his inner conflict and realizes human life is pointless unless it if filled by a interesting and socially useful activities, which constitute professional work. Obviously, by materializing his thoughts on the paper, the writer also reconciles himself to the fact of his own and his friends’ mortality and develops a belief that whereas human life is finite, one still can leave a notable and socially valuable “footprint” after themselves (Schiff, 1994, p.69). It needs to be noted that Saint-Exupery always followed his views and his heart’s calling: during WWII, he was distinguished for heroism , as in spite of his relatively old age (his forties), the writer readily took the riskiest missions and actually died protecting his motherland from invaders.
As opposed to “The Night Flight”, “The Little Prince” belongs to his later works, which he created being married to Consuelo. As Consuelo notes in his book, throughout his life, Saint-Exupery remained to great extent childish and naïve and one of his favorite sayings was that he came from the childhood (Saint-Exupery, 2003, p.17). The memories, associated with his formative years, seemed to the writer the sacred value which everyone should be able to preserve despite all life hardships and odds. In fact, during WWI, he was greatly interested in the missions, associated with protecting his native city of Lyon and the castle where he grew up. In the letters to his mother and wife, Saint-Exupery recounted that circling over the former family nest gave him the happiest moment of his life (Saint-Exupery, 2003, p.12). Thus, it is possible to say that the Little Prince actually represents the integral part of Saint-Exupery’s personality, closely tied with the childhood. Moreover, similarly to the author, the Little Prince was not fully understood by others and felt lonely. As one knows from Saint-Exupery’s biography, he experienced a number of frustration following his young years: at first, his family, suffered greatly under the pressure of constraint financial conditions; furthermore, he wandered a lot around the world, searching for his destiny and his place in life and survived poverty and deprivations, working as clerk, civil servant and sales manager (Schiff, 1994, p.38). His difficulties with social adaptation are reflected through depicting the discovery of Asteroid B-612. In fact, according to the Little Prince’s story, this celestial body was discovered by a Turkish astronomer, but while he was wearing his national clothes, Western scientists gave him no credit. Once he put on the European outfit, the asteroid was recognized by the scientific community. The Prince also sadly adds that people are excessively dependent upon the scientific or material measurements of objects: “ You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20, 000.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!” Just so, you might say to them: “The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep that is a proof that he exists.” And what good would it do to tell them that? They would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child” (Saint-Exupery, 2008, Ch. 4). Similarly, if the Prince says he lives in a cozy and warm home, nobody would take him seriously, whereas when he names the Asteroid B-612 as his home, others are more likely to understand him.
It also needs to be noted that in his journey, the Little Prince meets mostly self-important, egoistic people like the King, the Conceited Man and the Businessman. These people begin to give him orders once he enters their planets, without trying to establish psychological contact with the lonely Prince or “warming” him up emotionally. The two above mentioned aspect reflect the characteristics of society, which were the greatest negative surprise to Saint-Exupery. In fact, through his sharp irony, he asserts than the majority are addicted to material values and lack the psychological ability of “giving”, i.e. approaching others with sincere warms and friendliness without expecting anything in return. Children, however, still have this capacity, so the author is nostalgic about the period of joy and sincere, almost unconditional love for others.
The second notable line of the Prince’s narrative is his strong feelings for and care about the Rose, in whose description it is easy to recognize his spouse Consuelo. Although their family life was sometimes tremulous and unsteady, the relationships between Antoine were characterized with mutual respect, attention to one another’s spiritual needs and tenderness (Saint-Exupery, 2003, p.28). As stated in Consuelo’s memoirs, “Antoine had many names for Consuelo: she was his little girl, his sorceress, his Pimpenelle, his bird of the islands, but finally and most of all she was the Rose, unique in all the world, whom the Little Prince could not live with and could not live without” (Saint-Exupery, 2003, p.16). Through depicting the Rose as the passive actor in the relationships, Saint-Exupery confesses that his feelings for Consuelo are fully unselfish and his only desire consists in adoring and worshipping her.
As one can conclude, the two literary works represent two different dimensions of Saint-Exupery’s life. Whereas “The Night Flight” deals mainly with his psychological self-establishment in his profession, “The Little Prince” is the writer’s response to the hostile society and expression of his willingness to protect and preserve his family world, in particular, his “Rose” Consuelo, from the harsh realities of the Great Depression.
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- Saint-Exupery, A. 1974. The Night Flight. Harvest Books.
- Saint-Exupery, A. 2008. The Little Prince.
- Saint-Exupery, C. 2003. The Tale of the Rose. Random House.
- Schiff, S. 1994. Saint-Exupery: A Biography. Pimlico.