I’m not a fan of this book – imo it’s not meant for women – the author likely would have thought his ideas would just confuse women. I’m not saying it’s overtly sexist – it’s just thoughtlessly so – but it is written by, for and about men in male roles – and there is a tone of superiority aboutt those men because of their roles.
Critics have attempted to define “mankind” as “humankind,” but that doesn’t work here without a LOT of very determined thinking. This is the same kind of male-bonding adventure story as male-bonding war stories – it’s just got some philosophy attached at the end.
Yes, of course this “sexism” is a part of the times in which it was written – and to include a woman in any significant role would be phony – it would change the story.
This is not to say I don’t appreciate the special quality of male bonding in times of danger. It’s just that I don’t identify at all and I don’t think the message has anything to do with me. This is the opposite of chic-lit, it’s a thinking man’s form of macho-lit.
I suppose one problem is that I’d just finished “River Thieves” by Michael Crummey and that has chapter after chapter of male-dominated river adventures and it got old. I may be hypersensitive at the moment.
To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one’s comrades. It is to feel, when setting one’s stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world. (p.17)
And this is not just a universal man we have here – in the next pages Exupéry carefully separates girls and women.
A girl’s reverie isolates her from me, and how shall I enter into it? What can one know of a girl who passes, walking with slow steps homeward, eyes lowered, smiling to herself, filled with adorable inventions and with fables? Out of the thoughts, the voice, the silences of a lover, she can form an empire, and thereafter she sees in all the world but him a people of barbarians. More surely than if she were on another planet, I feel her to be locked up in her language, in her secret, in her habits, in the singing echoes of her memory. Born yesterday of the volcanoes, of greenswards, of brine of the sea, she walks here already half divine.
And Exubery goes on to tell how Mademoiselle, home with her sewing, has no comprehension of what he tries to tell her. And the little girls he meets later seem like aliens, so strange are they – I’m sure little boys would have elicited an entirely different response. (Mother is obviously not mentioned – only “they” and “father.”) He wonders if they will find husbands (primo).
And then there’s the section about the blonde cousin and Dakar – (p. 40)
He’s about dead when he tells us he has a wife – WIFE?!? – heh But she just crosses his mind – nothing to dwell on out there in the desert with no water.
Another good go at war in Spain –
Their words were not the same, but their truths were identical. Why has this high communion never yet prevented men from dying in battle against each other.
But in the end the only glory given to women is as the mothers who rock the cradles (my words). I guess this is woman’s only worthy occupation. I wish I could apply the beautiful sentiments of the final chapter to the book as a whole, but I can’t. This book has been about males to this point (pilots and warriors and adventurers) and I don’t think it suddenly changes when it comes to the final words.