Places: Night Flight

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Vol de nuit, 1931 (English translation, 1932)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Buenos Aires

*Buenos Night FlightAires. Capital city of Argentina, whose offices of the airmail service are the nerve center of air operations and of the central drama of the narrative. These offices are the command post from which Rivière, the operations chief, wages a war against the darkness of night, severe weather, and other hazards to aviation. In this heroic struggle, Rivière stations himself in Buenos Aires, the nerve center of an epic struggle. He feels that he must do away with the mystery, symbolized by such natural elements as the night, the ocean, the vast forces that constantly threaten to overwhelm and defeat humans. This mission is a moral one that challenges him to command events rather than be commanded by them. To do so is to become a creator of humanity’s future. This struggle imbues this outpost of humanity’s progress with universal significance, and Argentina symbolizes one of the last frontiers of human endeavor.

Night sky

Night sky. Saint-Exupéry’s metaphors repeatedly depict the night sky as an ocean traversed by the pilots in their airplanes, ships heading to port and weathering the storms. The airmail pilots are depicted as sea divers who descend to the sea floor in search of the sea’s mysteries, then make their way back to the surface, but the principal arena of their battle is the night sky above South America, symbol of humanity’s reach into the unknown.

In the sea of darkness that the pilots confront in their journey to and from Buenos Aires, the chief enemies are the darkness itself, which blinds them and threatens always to lead them off course, and the weather, whose powerful squalls, wind currents, and sudden changes constantly challenge pilots to perform heroically. The central issue of the narrative is whether humans can prevail against nature in their quest to extend the range of their activities, expand their presence in nature, and enlarge their significance in the universe. In the sky, especially the night sky, these heroic warriors are opposed by nature, which represents death, ignorance, and weakness.

The pilots represent the human struggle to advance against the darkness, and one of them, Fabien, gives his life in the struggle, waging war against a cyclone from his cockpit in the dark sky above Patagonia. His death demonstrates not only the hazards of night flight but the tremendous power of a natural force to overwhelm a mere mortal. The storm and the dark sky are his field of battle, which stands for any place in which humans struggle to survive in a noble cause.

Fabien’s home

Fabien’s home. As he prepares for one of his night flights, Fabien is depicted as a warrior suiting up for battle, his wife in admiring attendance. This homely scene balances the heroic drama taking place in the pilot’s cockpit and Rivière’s offices. This location symbolizes domesticity, motherhood, marriage, and personal happiness. To Rivière, it represents a truth that he cannot deny but, at the same time, cannot allow to enter his world, which places the struggle against nature above personal happiness.

The brief scene inside Fabien’s home contrasts sharply with the solitary, hard, unforgiving world of the pilot. This place is especially important, for it represents the powerful forces that home and family represent and shows that they are not diminished by the heroic battle in the night sky. One of the dominant images in the book is that of a solitary plane, deep in an ocean of stars and darkness, journeying toward home.

BibliographyCate, Curtis. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: His Life and Times. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1970. Born in France and educated in England and America, Cate wrote the first major biography of Saint-Exupéry in English. The author comments extensively on the airman’s literary works.Migeo, Marcel. Saint-Exupéry. Translated by Herma Briffault. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960. Shortly after the end of World War II, in the course of researching the life of Saint-Exupéry, the author interviewed Didier Daurat, the inspiration for Rivière.Rumbold, Richard, and Lady Margaret Stewart. The Winged Life: A Portrait of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Poet and Airman. New York: David McKay, 1953. Written by a World War II Royal Air Force pilot and the daughter of a former secretary of air in the British cabinet, the work is a sympathetic study of the famous French pilot.Schiff, Stacy. Saint-Exupéry: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1994. This well-written biography explores the connection between Saint-Exupéry the pilot and Saint-Exupéry the writer. It includes a comprehensive discussion of the circumstances and influences surrounding Night Flight.Smith, Maxwell A. Knight of the Air. London: Cassell, 1959. The author of this work concentrates not only on Saint-Exupéry’s life but also, more specifically, on his literary works, including an excellent analysis of Night Flight.
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