Creative Interpretation of Themes in Station Eleven
Station Eleven is about survivors and overcoming serious events. Emily St. John Mandel went through a series of different themes in the book, some maybe she didn’t realize she included. Themes of death and survival play a big part of the storyline and create a great story. The book starts out with the death of Arthur Leander, which portrays that there will be more deaths of others throughout the story. After the initial death of Arthur, the story jumps to portray a world where 99 percent of the population is wiped out from a global disease. Arthur dying and the world being wiped out shows how death can affect personally and globally. Arthur’s death affects Kirsten because she is so young and doesn’t understand death like Jeevan would because he is much older and more experienced in the world. Arthur was an important character in Kirsten and Jeevan’s lives and his death affected them. The novel is able to show us how differently people react to Arthur’s passing. Arthur was important to the people he worked with and when he passed, people were shocked and saddened. “In the lobby, the people gathered at the bar and clinked their glasses together. “To Arthur,” they said. They drank for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways in the storm” (Mandel 15). This quote shows how important Arthur was to them by having a toast in his honor before all going their separate ways. They all may be different but they all have one thing in common, and that is Arthur.
Similar to the theme of death, the theme of survival is frequently noticeable in the novel. Survivors of the epidemic wonder why they survived and others did not. The novel shows how surviving for some drove them to find their meaning in survival. For example, Elizabeth and Taylor both survived and their drive to find the meaning was becoming very religious. Jeevan is another one of the survivors, but him surviving is different from some of the other survivors. Jeevan surviving was purely luck because he had warning from a friend that the sickness was coming and that he needed to get out of the city as quickly as he could. Surviving a horrible sickness is always random, after the world collapses, the survivors have to continue to survive in the dangerous world that was once safe. Kirsten’s tattoos of the knives show just what they will do to survive. “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth” (Mandel 42). This quote shows how their survival has changed them and how they look at the world now that it is damaged and dangerous. The home they remember is now in shambles and they have to fight to survive.
Analysis of Symbolism and Themes in Station Eleven
On a snowy Torontonian night, the production of King Lear commences. On the same night, a swine flu pandemic known as the Georgian Flu commences as well. It is Year 0, the flu spreads rapidly in the city, killing the majority, “There was the flu that exploded like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth … everyone caught on that there was no place they could walk to where life continued as it had before” (37). The pandemic wipes out most of earth’s population, with those who remain struggling to find themselves in a world that once was. The survivors who continue to exist all seem to forget the past, leading to prevail an identity they did not endure before. In Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, remembering and imagining seem to be the heart of the novel. Through the characters of Kirsten, Tyler and Miranda, Station Eleven offers a way of giving readers a heartfelt dive into the theme of memory and identity loss, from pre-flu to post-flu.
Kirsten is apart of the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors who travel to different cities and perform Shakespearean plays for the remaining survivors. This connects to a part of her life before the pandemic, being a child actress during the production of King Lear. Kirsten uses the Travelling Symphony as a way to get fragments of memories back from before the dystopian world she currently lives in. During this time, Kirsten confesses that she has killed two people while trying to survive with her new life, “She turned her wrist to show the knife tattoos. Two.” (chapter 45). The first man, who symbolizes her first knife tattoo, tried to rape her during her first year with the Symphony, where at the time she was fifteen. The knife was thrown into his neck, killing him almost right away. Her second tattoo represents men who tried to rob her, along with other members in the Symphony. Without hesitation, she acted in order to survive. Kirsten proves herself to be a victim of identity loss, as killing those men was not something she would have done before the Georgian Flu. Kirsten merely remembers anything from her past, and nothing of the first year, but in order to try to preserve some of her memories, she collects Station Eleven comics and other tabloids. Miranda publishes the “Station Eleven” comics, which in turn have a great effect on Kirsten in the Post-flu world, “Dr. Eleven, Vol. I, No. I: Station Eleven and Dr. Eleven, Vol. 2: The Pursuit. By Year Twenty, Kirsten has them memorized” (42). She uses these as a way to keep her vision of the ‘original’ earth alive. Yet, this further proves that Kirsten needs ‘reminders’ due to the fact that her memories can easily slip away.
Tyler is introduced into the novel as someone who becomes stranded at Severn Airport as the pandemic hits. Throughout the novel, Tyler displays memories of trauma which impacts him negatively. He resembles his father (Arthur) as he was before the flu by how he was hopping around from wife to wife. This led to his father leaving Tyler and his mother, “Arthur had promised to be in Jerusalem for Tyler’s birthday, but he’d made that promise ten months ago and had frankly forgotten about it until Tyler had called him yesterday. Arthur’s apologies hadn’t landed” (chapter 53). He uses this trauma in the future and twists it, giving him his position of power. In the future, Tyler creates a religious group where he is known as the prophet. He believes the flu is delivered to the world on purpose to cleanse the population, “The flu, the great cleansing that we suffered twenty years ago, that flu was our flood. The light we carry within us is the ark that carried Noah and his people over the face of the terrible waters, and I submit that we were saved not only to bring the light, to spread the light, but to be the light. We were saved because we are the light. We are the pure.’ (chapter 12). This religious view overcomes him where he too is subjected to identity loss. During his time as the prophet, he resembles his father where he begins to marry multiple wives some who are underage, usually by force. He tends to signify the disgusting nature of humans as soon as they have some sort of power – and start to abuse it, “He suggested that we consider leaving Alexandra, as a guarantee of future good relations between the Symphony and the town … He said he’s looking for another bride” (65). His dominance causes him to lack empathy for other people and commits vile acts with no remorse. What Tyler has experienced in his past life is implemented to his current life where his memories got the best of him and causes him to lose his identity.
Miranda looses herself in both before and after the Georgian Flu. When introduced into the novel, Miranda is someone who is not involved with aspiring for lime light and expensive things. She can even be seen calling someone a “dira” for wanting something expensive. As she dresses expensively and strictly focus on her appearance as she is about to meet Arthur, it shows readers how anyone can lose their identity to wealth, “Miranda spent some time on her appearance before she left the hotel room, trying to make herself look as little as her old self as possible. She pinned and slicked her hair … and dressed in her favourite suit” (208). The physical change reflects her state of mind, and shows how easy it is to lose yourself. Miranda usually repeats the phrase, “I regret nothing” (206) Miranda usually repeats this phrase when she does something out of character, in this case, caring about her physical appearance. She reflects her past life and acknowledges the difference in her now. This becomes her coping mechanism to use to cope with the sad reality of losing herself. Just like her change in identity, she understands her memories of earth must fade away, “I stood looking over my damaged home … earth” (84). Miranda struggles with having to forget the amenities of earthly life in order to move on. Although Miranda is the only character in the novel who represents changes in identity from before the pandemic, it is safe to say that her memories are the catalyst for this change.
Through the characters of Kirsten, Tyler and Miranda, Station Eleven represents how memories account for one’s identity change. Kirsten uses old comics to remember how everything used to be and how much she has changed. Tyler uses power and dominance like his father, to show readers how his past memories have changed the way he lives life. Miranda’s identity is lost before and after the Georgian Flu, who is the only character to do so. The Georgian Flu has changed the way survivor’s live their life, positively and negatively.
The Reflection of Life in Art in Station Eleven
Thousands of decades ago, civilization created a language, symbols and cultures all over the world and the moment this all appeared researches have called it “the cultural big bang” (UAAU,Ollivier Dyens, 2014). The reason the world is what it is today is because humanity has brought the art from the past to the present life. Humans have done this because society knows that art is enhancing the civilization and it is helping the world solve challenges that humanity faces in the world today. Humans are always looking for “new history” because people know art/history is what moves the world forward. Throughout the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, there are many characters; Kirsten, Jeeven, Clark, Miranda, and Arthur, that show the readers why “survival is insufficient” throughout life. Kirsten has this tattooed on her because she believes that people have to live life for more than people take for granted. The novel also shows the lengths that people go to for survival in their life, as the characters in Station Eleven killed people just to stay alive. Throughout the novel Emily St. John Mandel hints at how the art and memories from the past help to move humanity and the civilization forward when the world goes to a complete collapse. Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven seeks to prove why “survival is insufficient”, noting the means people will take in order to survive as well as how art and memories of the past help maintain normality and humanity within society.
Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, is a pre and post apocalyptic novel were “ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent” (60) of the world’s population is destroyed by a mass pandemic known as the Georgia Flu. When the collapse occurred the characters in Station Eleven needed to cope, survive, and deal efficiently with the terrific collapse that wiped out the civilization. The novel has a random beginning as one of the main characters, Arthur Leander, died on the stage while performing, King Lear, the play. Arthur’s death had a massive effect on all the other main characters: Kirsten, Jeeven, Clark, and Miranda, because they are all connected in a way with him. The characters in Station Eleven needed to survive and live differently after the collapse of civilization. Kirsten is a person that is able to cope and deal well with the situation of the total collapse of the “new world” because she has trouble remembering Year One in the first place and is always looking for the past to keep the society surviving. As there are other characters, the people at the Museum of Civilization, who tried to remember the past and bring back all the “lost” art. The people in the novel are all in the need for survival, but people do this in different ways. Kirsten has knife tattoos on her wrist because they show the lengths that people will go to survive and she knows “There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do” (139), meaning that people will do anything to make sure their life does not end. Kirsten also joined the travelling symphony because she knew just like the others in the symphony that if civilization is going to live on, the world can not lose human relationships and need to stick together.
Clark in the Severn City Airport made a museum to bring the people together and to teach people about the past. Through the novel Emily St. John Mandel shows how close survival is to the death of people. She shows that for humanity to stay alive there needs to be human relationships and people need to rebuild the communities that were lost, so the people at the airport, the symphony and the people following the Prophet are showing the small communities that are regeneration the world. The novel proves that humans need to do more than just “live”, they need others on their side and they need the art and relationships to have the true meaning of living.
Throughout the novel, Station Eleven, “art reflects life” is shown perfectly as art and the history of art is very crucial for the survival of the characters. In Year 0 on “a winter night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto” (1) in the novel, Arthur Leander died while performing a piece of art and a tragedy made by Shakespeare called, King Lear, the night right before the collapse occurred. Ironically after ninety nine percent of the population has died and the societal collapse, the art from before did not die and is still alive. The point the novel Station Eleven is hinting at is that art is stronger and closer to humanity than people think because it is powerful enough that it can withstand and survive a deadly pandemic. The art in the novel is what keeps the characters still in contact with the past and to help rebuild the culture that was lost during the pandemic. To do this the travelling symphony goes around to different settlements of people to perform old Shakespeare plays to remind people of the past and the art that is never lost. The symphony does this to give people the knowledge of the world and to help people understand the world that is gone from the collapse.
On the symphonies travels to different settlements, the group “performed music-classical, jazz, orchestral arrangements of pre-collapse pop songs-and Shakespeare” (37), for everyone in the group and the people watching to help people escape from the world and remember the past. Kirsten who joined the travelling symphony knows that art is something beautiful and will always survive because, “What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty” (57), meaning even though “ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent” (60) of civilization was destroyed the art has never. She knows no matter how much is gone, that the art will never be gone as long as life exists. Kirsten has “survival is insufficient” (119) tattooed onto her left forearm, which is from the show Star Trek. Before the pandemic, people would drag along with regret and be committed to what they think as “living”. The characters tried to hide their disappointment under wealth, makeup, and higher smiles.
After the collapse, all the survivors realized that to survive, the civilization needed more than bare essentials and everyone needs a new journey to create and cultivate beauty. Losing electricity, citizens, water supply and almost everything it forced the survivors to see life differently as it was previously just overlooked. The collapse made the comic books and Clark’s museum collections take on a new meaning. This shows that “art reflects life” and that people need more than the basics and that to live. People just living and surviving in life is not enough anymore, so civilization needs relationships, art, memories, history, artifacts, and beauty or the survival of human lives are just hopelessly insufficient.
Station Eleven is a novel that the characters need to store their memories and history from the past close with them throughout their life because it kept them thinking and rebuilding the society. The characters that survived through the collapse/pandemic, live in a “new world”, a world that is destroyed, but these survivors always remember the civilization as it was before the collapse. Through the novel, characters such as Kirsten and Clark are very important to the people that always remember the past and help move civilization in the right direction. Kirsten’s memory is foggy from Year One in the novel, “I can’t remember the year we spent on the road, and I think that means I can’t remember the worst of it.” (195), she is determined that the reason she can not recall anything from that year is because it was the worst year and the worst things happened. As she believes this, she is always wanting to find out more about the year she can not remember, so to do this Kirsten is always looking for gossip magazines and comics to hopefully spark memories about the world before the collapse. Kirsten is always seeking for information about the old world to connect to her childhood and thinks “Well, it’s nice that at least the celebrity gossip survived” (201), because all the artifacts from the past help people remember. The characters search for artifacts from the past because the memory from before the collapse is a comfort zone and a place for them to escape to “the garden” and have hope that everything is going to return to normal. To get this “return to the garden” feel, Clark is a character in the novel that also provides artifacts from the pre-collapsed world to the people in the post-collapsed world. Clark’s Museum of Civilization in the Severn City Airport “seemed to be a limitless number of objects in the world that had no practical use but that people wanted to preserve:” (258) because he realized that people need to show acknowledgment to the world before the pandemic and to help teach the newlings about the history of the world. The museum is also to help connect all of the survivors together, so they can retain historical memories and rebuild society. Through these events Station Eleven shows how the memories shared between people from different years help a civilization rebuild itself and shows that human relationships and keeping people connected keep societies strong and “unbreakable”. This shows how powerful the connecting of people is through the Museum of Civilization, art, and through telling stories from the pre-pandemic life. Memories in Station Eleven are very significant because they are collected by people and groups to engage everyone in human history, to rebuild and regain a grasp on humanity after the pandemic broke free.
The novel, Station Eleven, shows and proves why “survival is insufficient” in human lives, providing evidence on the lengths people will go to for survival and how the art and memories from the pre-pandemic world help the civilization control normality and humanity. Throughout the novel Emily St. John Mandel has proven that people need to have human relationships in order to cope in terrible situations and for human survival. She also shows that the world needs and lives off of art from the past to move civilization forward and proves that “art reflects life” because with the art there is hope and freedom through it. As the novel goes on there are instances that the reader realizes that memories and artifacts from the past help build human relationships and keep people in contact with each other. Emily St. John Mandel has proven clearly why “survival is insufficient” through her novel Station Eleven and has proved that art is a major part in why we are where we are today. Without the survival of art from the prehistoric ages decades ago the world and people would not be here today. Art is apart of the civilization and will always be apart of the future.
Emily St. John Mandel is a Canadian Science Fiction Writer and Your ‘Station Eleven’
One of the most timeless and universal concepts in our existence is art. Even cavemen, the most primitive of our species, used art to express themselves, even before a spoken language, and far earlier than a written one. Arts including singing, dancing, drawing, painting or even acting can be found throughout all of time, enjoyed by rich and poor alike; a truly universal concept. These arts hold a special and important place in our society, playing a great role in our lives. In the post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, art is used as a means of bringing people together through hope and inspiration. Art carries this importance because it has the unique ability to convey thoughts and emotions across time, cultural differences, and all lifestyles. Regardless of when art is created or by whom it was created, all people can understand it, appreciate it, and see the perspectives of others. Throughout the book, art helps people come together, shows the perspectives of others, and allows anyone to freely express themselves, whether to convey a message or to vent their emotions.
A strong sense of togetherness is arguably necessary to human survival and happiness. One of the Station Eleven’s largest overarching themes is the importance of a sense of community and bringing people together, and art is in a large part responsible for that. Throughout the beginning sections of the novel, the author introduces characters of the Symphony, along with their backstories. Many of these characters backstories follow a similar structure, with the character traveling alone, enduring hardship, when they found the Symphony and became a part of it. For example, towards the beginning of the novel, the members of the Symphony are introduced, including a girl named Alexandra, who”..was fifteen, the Symphony’s youngest actor. They found her on the road as a baby’. Another example comes at the beginning of chapter 45, when Francois is interviewing people, and he learns that “Viola had a harrowing story… burnt-out ruins… grievously harmed… walking alone for a hundred miles…” about her life before joining the Symphony. Another example comes soon after with the story of “The third cello had buried his parents after both died… spent four years holed up… feared he’d lose his mind…” All of these examples show the terror and danger of life alone, and conclude with a joyous life after the characters found one another and began to perform together. This in turn helps create the image that art brings people together, and is essential to our society.
When people are judged in today’s society, it is often said that one should “Walk a mile in their shoes” first. The idea behind this saying is that everyone has a different perspective in life, and being able to view life from someone else’s eyes can not only help change your view on life, but can help you understand the actions of others. This principle is used quite often in the novel, with art being the median through which one can view another’s perspective. In the beginning of chapter 12, Kirsten is concluding a performance when she notices “A man in the front row had tears in his eyes”, and another man who “alone had sat on a chair… raised his hands over his head”. All these characters were brought together by experiencing Kirstens art, and seeing her perspective and her past through her artwork, and in turn relinquishing their own past. This as well helps contribute to arts importance in our society.
Freedom of expression can be argued as one of the most important and necessary freedoms in our life. It is common knowledge that expressing one’s own thoughts and feelings is therapeutic and healthy for the mind. Art is one of the many ways people can use to express themselves, and this theme is very evident in Station Eleven. In the opening paragraph of Chapter 12, Kirsten is finishing a performance and receiving a standing ovation, as she was overcome with “a sense of having flown very high and landed incompletely, her soul pulling upward out of her chest”. The connotation associated with the words “flown very high” and “soul pulling upward” insinuate that Kirsten is in a moment of utter joy, utmost happiness that she achieved through performing. The text reads that this sensation “always came over her” after her performances, illustrating the fact that when she performs, this almost magical feeling comes over her every time. This helps demonstrate the fact that the arts have the power of expression, and putting your heart and soul into your art for others to enjoy has a therapy like effect, and truly heals the soul, solidifying the importance of art in society and human identity.
Art indeed has many aspects to it, being sung, written, acted, by the rich and the poor, the old and the young, in ancient times as well as recent ones. It’s incredible ability to bring people joy as an artist does their work is a magical thing, and it also brings communities together, only furthering its impact on our lives. Over time, art has proven to be truly important to our society and to our identity as humans, and will continue to do so until the end of time.
Station Eleven’ Life-affirming Heroes
In Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 science fiction, dystopian novel Station Eleven, a majority of the world is deceased due to the Georgia-flu pandemic spread unknowingly by a passenger on a flight from Russia to The United States causing an apocalyptic world. All technology and modern inventions during have collapsed but, the Arts remain as an important part of society even after the fall of civilization. While the preserved, broken technologies remain only in abandoned houses and the Severn airport museum of civilization unable to be used, the arts were one of only a few pre-pandemic aspects actively preserved in the aftermath of the Georgia flu. In this novel the arts function as a measure of how stable society is. When the arts begin to diminish, society begins to fall and when the arts slowly begin to strengthen again, as does society. This idea stated above is further supported in a research paper published by Princeton University entitled “How the Arts Impact Communities: An introduction to the literature on arts impact studies” written by Joshua Guetzkow, it is argued that the arts have a positive impact on the development of communities and society. This article acts as a lens to understand why members of the travelling symphony were able to collect themselves in the aftermath of the apocalypse and live thriving, productive lives. To explain why the arts help communities and society, Guetzkow uses three main pillars that can be found throughout Station Eleven. The first pillar in Guetzkow’s article argues that a direct involvement in the arts fosters the health of those involved in the arts by “Build[ing interpersonal ties and increaseing opportunities for self-expression and enjoyment” . The second pillar of Guetzkow’s article argues that a direct involvement in the arts allows for positive cognitive and psychological impacts through an “Increased sense of individual efficacy and self-esteem [and an] Improved sense of belonging or attachment to a community.” The third and final pillar in the article argues that amongst the aforementioned benefit’s, direct involvement in the arts improves one’s interpersonal skills by giving an “Enhanced ability to work with others and communicate ideas.”
Each of these skills acquired from the incorporation of the arts in a person’s life are a key part to explaining why the amount and quality of the arts found in a society is a measure of societies competence. Simply put, the more art in society the more interpersonal ties, self-expression, sense of belonging, and communication there will be. Each of these things, provided by the arts, create a competent society especially in Station Eleven. Initially in the first chapter of Mandels novel, the arts, specifically a rendition of Shakespeare’s play king Lear, are spoken of as an important aspect to the plot of the novel. Before the other character and the audience of the play realize Arthur is having a heart attack “there was a change in his face, he stumbled, he reached for a column but misjudged the distance and struck it hard with the side of his hand.” From one perspective this could be judged as Arthur ruining the play and in turn the arts being diminished as a whole. Following Arthurs death, and a decline in the arts because of his death and the ruined play, a mass death began. This is the first case of the amount and quality of art corresponding to the condition of society. This situation also relates to the first pillar of Guetzkow’s paper because when Arthur died the play ended and the other actors lost their way of self-expression then society went into a downward spiral into the apocalypse. Chronologically, the next example happens towards the end of the novel but it is in a flashback that takes place at the beginning of the apocalypse. While sitting in the Severn-City airport the first winter after the epidemic, everything began to stop working. by the third day in the airport “all the vending machines in the airport were empty of snacks, and the battery on Tyler’s Nintendo console was dead.”
Although video games are an unconventional form of art, time magazine argues that video games should be considered art because “They include many forms of traditional artistic expression sculpture in the form of 3D modeling, illustration, narrative arcs, and dynamic music that combine to create something that transcends any one type.” With the idea that video games are art in mind, Tyler’s Nintendo console dying is considered another type of are crashing as society crashes after the epidemic. When he found out his gaming console had died and wouldn’t be functional again “Tyler wept, inconsolable” as if he knew that society was worsening as the arts, his video game console, fell. Tyler’s loss of his video game console relates to the second pillar of Guetzkow’s paper because the loss of his video makes Tyler feel like he is losing his sense of belonging to his former life.
Another important case of the arts relating to how society is functioning happens when the novel fast forwards twenty years to the post plague world were once again people are beginning to live together in small groups or towns. The travelling Shakespearean company stops in a town named St. Deborah by the water to put on a performance. After their performance, once the traveling symphony left St. Deborah’s by the water they found a stow away twelve-year-old girl by the name of Eleanor. According to Eleanor she “was going to be next wife” because “he had a dream where god told him he was to repopulate the earth”. Everyone in the symphony was disgusted by the prophet and kept asking “why would he marry a twelve-year-old” By stowing away in the travelling symphonies caravan to get out of St. Deborah by the water, Eleanor escaped a life of being betrothed to someone she didn’t love. Therefore, the rekindling of the arts through the travelling symphony gave Eleanor her freedom and bettered society by setting the precedence that it is wrong for a twelve-year-old to marry a grown man. Finally, at the end of the travelling symphony stays in the Severn City Airport for five weeks. During this time, life for the traveling symphony slowly begins to return back to the way it was pre-pandemic as members of the symphony began incorporating music into their daily activities as they had done before the Georgia flu changed their lives.
One afternoon while still in the Airport “Garrett hummed a Brandenburg concerto while he worked in the gardens.”First, this quote is important because it shows the people in the symphony doing relaxing everyday chores that they couldn’t do post plague due to the condition of the world. Secondly, this quote shows the reemergence of music during these everyday chores meaning the world is beginning to heal. After garret was singing, Dolores was found “whispering fragments of Shakespeare to herself while she swept the concourse floor” prior to living in the airport, while the symphony was moving around and camping in different places each night, they would never have swept. It is the “fragments of Shakespeare” Dolores was whispering that pulled her through the apocalypse into this time where she could be whispering them while sweeping like in her time before the flu hit. All of the people from the symphony coming together and doing different household chores while they were living in the airport is a blatant example of the third pillar of Guetzkow’s paper; as the arts were reintroduced into everyday activities the symphony began to work together more efficiently to take care of one another. Overall, it is the amount of music, plays, paintings, and all other forms of art in Station Eleven that measures how competent society is. In the beginning of the Georgia flu outbreak art began to fall as society did. However, when the symphony began travelling and spreading the arts, society began to revive itself by reverting back to its old ways while also adopting new customs.
Theme of Survival in “The Travelling Symphony”
Some would argue that the most important thing in this life is to survive, to live and breathe each day. But others would argue that survival is simply just not enough. The Traveling Symphony has it painted on the side of their caravan and Kirsten has it tattooed on the side of her arm, “…survival is insufficient” (Mandel 58). When faced with the question of what matters most one can’t put their finger directly on one item, not one person or calling. However, art manages to encompass a broad range of topics and prove a reason to live in itself; the idea that art is important to life is expressed beautifully throughout Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book proves that art is one of the most important things in life and that it gives many a will and reason to live.
In the event that one is going through a hardship, they may turn to art in order to lift them up or encourage them to keep going. For instance, when Kirsten was crying at the beginning of the book she was given a piece of art to pacify her, “…and Kirsten, teary-eyed and breathless, a few days shy of her eighth birthday, gazed at the object and thought it was the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the strangest thing anyone had ever given her. It was a lump of glass with a storm cloud trapped inside” (15). The paperweight signifies a part of Kirsten and her childhood, art that represents where she has come from and all she has gone through. The cloud in glass was given to her to cheer her up in a moment of darkness and she held onto it throughout her life, showing the importance the object held in her life. Often through hard times one looks for something to brighten up the darkness around them. A good example of this is demonstrated in how the emotional hardship of taking someone’s life is represented through the art of a tattoo. This shows that beauty can spring up from a difficult time, near the end of the book it states, “Is there a tattooist here, Charlie?” Charlie brushed her fingertips over Kirsten’s right wrist, the two black knives inked two years apart. “How many?” “One. An archer on the road” (306). The act of tattooing the number of kills on one’s wrist shows that the act was done and that there will be no forgetting of it.
Continuing, during the hardships of living in the fallen world art has the power to transform the space that people exist in even for just a limited amount of time. The Traveling Symphony offered many types of shows and yet it states, “…what no one would have anticipated, was that the audience seemed to prefer Shakespeare to their other theatrical offerings. “People want what was best about the world,” Dieter said” (38). Art transports people back to what they believe would have been a better time. Another thing that art gives the characters is history, for instance, the museum that Clark makes can be thought of art itself. These relics of the old world have turned into art as Kirsten says, “Because we are always looking for the former world, before all the traces of the former world are gone” (130). Another old relic in the book was electricity and the internet. In life nowadays, people believe the internet to bring many people together and connect them, as it states in the book, “They were told about the Internet, how it was everywhere and connected everything, how it was us” (262). However, in a different world the thing that unites people is art. A great example of this is how the Traveling Symphony brings people together through its art making of music and shows. Correspondingly, the Traveling Symphony doesn’t just bring together the performers and their audiences but it unites all of the performers as a family, Emily St. John Mandel wrote, ““…but the truth was that the Symphony was their only home” (48). Art provides an outlet to meet people of similar beliefs who appreciate the same things. After years on the road with these people, Kirsten grows many bonds with the various people in the Symphony and it’s no wonder why the quote, “Hell is the absence of the people you long for” (144) is proven true when those she is close with get taken from her. Art provides a way to bring people together and unite them into a family that can be very tight-knit.
In addition, a particular art that is very beneficial during stressful times is music. Music has the power to transform any space into what one wishes. Just like how the Traveling Symphony transforms the fallen world for its audiences. Music gives life to everything, radios, tv, movies, live performances, remixes, there are many streaming sources to present this art to listeners. Art takes us to a special place, during troublesome times. Words can be a particularly important part to music and can hold lots of weight, such as the lyrics to a song or words to a story or poem. For example, August wrote a poem for Kirsten to help put her at ease even though he rarely shares his poetry with anyone, “A fragment for my friend-, If your soul left this earth I would follow and find you, Silent, my starship suspended in night” (141). Another work of written words in the book that is highly discussed is Station Eleven, the comics. It is safe to say that the comics represent art through the drawings that Miranda illustrated inside of it and by the story and words used to portray the story and its characters and how that relates to Kirsten and her life in the fallen world. A particularly beautiful quote states, “Station Eleven is all around them” (107). Depicting the idea that the characters are living in a similar state and showing that art encases their lives as well.
Arguably one of the most important quotes in the book states, “All three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled as such, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient” (58). This quote shows the reader that surviving is nothing without a purpose to live. What the Symphony does shows people why surviving can be made better through art. During Jeevan’s time as a paparazzi, he states within his talk with Miranda, “… he says, “I live on that kind of gossip, actually. As in, it pays my rent. What I live for is something different.” “What do you live for?” “Truth and beauty,” he says, deadpan” (102). The simplicity of his words show how important these things are to him and how much art can impact a life and give someone something to live for.
In essence, art is what gives human life meaning and allows humans to flourish. What matters most is not just surviving, finding food and continuing to breathe. What matters most is finding a way to live, finding what one lives for and not on. Art presents a beautiful way to live throughout the book of Station Eleven. Art represents a way to unite people, to get through hardship and stressful times, and something to live for. Art will always survive through all disasters and if art can survive, who’s to say that humans can’t?
A Role of Art in Station Eleven Novel
The Importance of Art
Art is all around us. Art exists in the architecture of the buildings we enter and the homes we live in. It exists in the design of the car we drive and in the music we listen to while driving that car. Art also exists in books, and it exists in the stories living in those books. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is no exception. In Station Eleven, even the collapse of civilization caused by a fast-spreading disease cannot destroy the significance of art. For the characters in Station Eleven, whether its with Kirsten’s acting or the Prophet’s public speaking and manipulation, art is a way of going beyond surviving; it is a way of remaining human “Because survival is insufficient” (Mandel 58). In the post-collapse world, art is the most important thing in life because art will never die or fade away like family or memories can.
After the collapse, everyone faced great loss. When a person is faced with an absence of something that was once vital or loved, there is a sense of urgency to fill that void. A new passion, a new purpose, or a new direction is needed. For many after the collapse, this filler was art as shown in the following quote, “What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot in the mysteriously named town of St. Deborah by the Water, Lake Michigan shining a half mile away” (57). Art allowed many characters to find beauty in an otherwise dull and depressing world. There was immense loss from the disease that caused this collapse of civilization, but art was not a complete victim of this collapse as many things and people were. Remnants of art still existed, and these remnants were used to help connect to the past and feel beauty once again through an expressive outlet.
Similarly, art reminds us that we actually have not lost everything. We are still living. We are still human. We can still feel. Art moves us in a way that transforms us and inspires us, even in the most miserable of times. After a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The audience rose for a standing ovation. Kirsten stood in the state of suspension that always came over her at the end of performances, a sense of having flown very high and landed incompletely, her soul pulling upward out of her chest. A man in the front row had tears in his eyes” (59). In this quote, there is so much emotion because of a form of art. Kirsten feels elated, and in the book, Kirsten only finds this sense of euphoria through acting. When reality is too bleak, escaping into a new reality as a new person, even for a short period of time, can be the difference between going insane and staying sane. This effect is not specific to Kirsten either. You find this effect in the man in the front row that is moved to tears by the performance. The wonderful thing about this feeling is that it will not be killed by disease, starvation, or bad memory. The effect of art is something we carry from the moment we are born, where we are amused by our parents’ smiles, to the time we grow old, where we are inspired by the works of the younger generations.
Furthermore, art was a source of happiness even before collapse. This pre-collapse love for art is seen in both Arthur Leander’s acting and Miranda’s dedication to her comic book series bearing the same title as the book, Station Eleven. Art is versatile in that it can be kept personal; like it was with Miranda, or it can be an open passion like it was with Arthur. For Arthur, it was crucial that any talent he had be recognized; this desire for recognition was the motivation for most of his actions, even one when he was not on stage or in front of a camera. If there was no recognition, there was less happiness involved in his art. For Miranda, it did not matter if Station Eleven was a huge success read by every pair of eyes on earth; “’What’s the point of doing all that work’, Tesch asks, ‘if no one sees it?’ ‘It makes me happy. It’s peaceful, spending hours working on it. It doesn’t really matter to me if anyone else sees it’” (95). If you think about why writers write or why artists paint, it would make no sense to believe they do it purely for an audience; they do it for themselves. Miranda craved an outlet to express how she was feeling, which is apparent in how so many characters in Station Eleven were based on people outside of the comic. Miranda did not crave fame like Arthur did; instead, she was more than satisfied with her comic book series only existing in the form of ten copies. Art is different from one person to the next, and that is part of its charm. Art allowed the characters to be passionate about something, even before everything else was loss. The significance of art does not begin and end with the collapse; the significant of art begins with the start and end of time.
Despite the circumstances of either an unsatisfactory life or a collapsed world, art gives the characters something they can truly believe in. Often we find ourselves in situations where we cannot really depend on anyone, but what we can depend on is a script, a clarinet reed, or a pencil. This dependency is such a comfort, and the characters realized this too; “There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigorating about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night” (119). For these characters, even though they are fictional, their methods for dealing with their circumstances are real.
Obviously, The Traveling Symphony’s, along with every other character’s, life was made easier by the significance of art in their lives. This is apparent in Kirsten, Miranda, Arthur, Clark, and every other character intertwined in the story. Mandel did not create this importance for art out of thin air; you find this importance in the lives saved and transformed by all types of art. Art is powerful and vital because of how it can help us express ourselves and escape from what is often a disheartening world. This story relies so much on art that without it, it could not exist. Art is significant to the story as a whole and to each page in the story also, and this type of significance cannot be found in any other part of the characters’ lives.
Past and Its Significance in Station Eleven Novel
Station Eleven: The Undying Past
The past identifies people, whether it is good or bad, whether people want it to be forgotten or remembered, the past stays with people throughout their entire lives. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is about a post-pandemic world where 80% of the world’s population had been wiped out. This book focuses on two main characters: Arthur Leander, a successful actor before the world’s collapse, and Kirsten, an actress of the Traveling Symphony during the new age. Throughout the novel, the author switches back and forth between past and present events and point of views, showing just how deeply entangled the past and present are. The past never fades away entirely as there are always traces that remain in the present.
Artifacts are man-made objects that hold historical value. In Station Eleven, almost everything from the old world can be considered as an artifact as it reminds people of the past. The author’s constant reference to the paperweight supports this idea. In chapter 12, when Kirsten muses over the contents in her backpack, she mentions that the paperweight “was of no practical use whatsoever, nothing but dead weight in the bag but she found it beautiful” (Mandel 24). Even the paperweight, a small and useless object, has a story of its own to tell. The story of how it started out as a present given to Arthur by his best friend, and then its journey through the hands of multiple people and finally ending up in Kirsten’s possession. This paperweight also serves another purpose – like any artifact, it effectively establishes a connection between the past and the present.
Media, such as magazines and movies, also effectively preserves the past. When we watch movies, staring at “the faces of long-dead actors on the screen”, we come to realize that these actors “never truly die… They’re all immortal” (Mandel 66), This concept also applies to other forms of media, which can be either a good or bad thing. As Kirsten had said, “Because of my collection, the [magazine] clippings, I understand something about permanent records” (Mandel 93). Media has a tendency to record everything, ranging from groundbreaking achievements to scandalous affairs, that last literally forever. Some of these records are not exactly what people want to be remembered for by future generations. Even though the owners of the paperweight and the celebrities gossiped about in magazines are long dead, the things they leave behind still exist for years afterward as evidence that history is never completely wiped away. They serve as some sort of confirmation that the people of the past had once breathed, walked, lived, and made an impact on this earth.
The past also lives on in the forms of people’s memories and of the stories they pass down to the younger generations. Although many events are not recorded down, they are still remembered through people’s own memories. “Dieter had been twenty years old when the world ended. The main difference between Dieter and Kirsten was that Dieter remembered everything” (Mandel 47). And so people like Dieter would tell the younger children about the great wonders of the old world. Airplanes, air conditioners, running water… “A few of the younger Symphony members… remembered the stories they’d been told about WiFi and the impossible-to-imagine Cloud, wondered if the Internet might still be out there somehow” (Mandel 14). Perhaps someday, the secrets of the age of technology will be rediscovered. Even though the children of the new world have never actually seen functioning cars or laptops, these stories not only help keep the past alive, but also kindle sparks of hope in people.
The past is never entirely forgotten as it lives on in various ways such as artifacts, media, and memories. While some people believe that “the past should be left in the past, otherwise it can destroy your future,” it is also important to be knowledgeable about the past and to be able to accept and learn from it. As William Faulkner had said in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Although the past defines who people are today, it should not dictate their future actions. Humans are in control of their own destinies, and they should live their lives to the fullest despite past events. Rather than fearing it like a haunting nightmare, the past should be seen as a source of power and hope.
The Issue of Reestablishment of a Society in the Book ‘station Eleven’
When viewing the reestablishment of a society through an outside perspective, such as presented in the book Station Eleven, one can recognize and determine the most important components of a society, community, and culture. The foundations of a society often center around its ability to establish and maintain a sense of “normality”, which in the case of the current United States, is the ability to use technology, freely travel, work, create a home, and live an ideal lifestyle. The loss of such normality, as shown in the novel, is disastrous and completely collapses the social laws and norms, causing a need for society to rebuild itself. Rebuilding a society after being destroyed is extremely difficult and takes an incredible amount of time; however, not only is such a task possible with the correct resources and sufficient number of individuals, but it also provides an opportunity to build an even better, more sustainable society for the future. To attempt rebuilding society, one must understand exactly what a society is.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a society is “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends”. In a broader explanation, a society is a self-sufficient, sustainable group or community of individuals who can come together and create their own culture and identity. Societies commonly possess a legal system, and a form of hierarchy which governs and determines the types of laws the society should be subjected to; furthermore, they often have a structured economic system and language. The unity provided by a society helps to protect and promote order amongst those in the community, and also helps to promote prosperity for every individual. In general, the commonly accepted idea of a society can be found amongst all groups of people in the world, and is found alongside the many building blocks which help to shape and form a community. While many building blocks of a society exist, such as family life, legal system, and economic stability, certain building blocks are crucial in helping to form a new and sustainable community. In a situation where a society must be reconstructed from the ashes of an older society, such as the society in Station Eleven, focusing on the building blocks of human relationships, sustainability, and hope for a better future are all the most valuable. A society cannot be built or sustain itself if the individuals in the community do not share a common goal of a better future, have commitment to the society, and “…aspire to ‘do’ as they would be ‘done by’ and to live good lives that serve good ends”.
Moral and ethical laws are the key aspects in preventing a society from becoming corrupt, and respect, consideration, equality, and fairness all should be factors in how individuals relate to and treat one another. As shown in Station Eleven, a society under a dictator and built on fear will not be able to sustain itself for a long time, nor will the community prosper; therefore, focusing on human relations and a hope for a better future are incredibly important to any society, especially a new one, keeping hope alive and a positive attitude in the community stems from the society’s ability to provide a sustainable life for its inhabitants. Any successful society is built upon the building block of sustainability and should have the ability to survive on its own. A community should possess a consistent supply of food, water, a safe location for individuals to inhabit, and should be able to successfully defend itself from any harm. Developing such sustainability is important for any community, as it insures individuals possess time to focus their attention on making life more convenient, and eventually building a society which is superior to the previous one. The ability to scavenge and learn how to recreate many of the conveniences lost, such as electricity, cell phones, and automobiles is beneficial, and every capable individual in the society should attempt “…to rediscover how the world works and then exploit that knowledge for…improving…life”. This time also allows for creativity, and for individuals to explore new options which may advance society farther than before, such as more renewable energy and less pollution.
In Station Eleven, the ability of survivors to find practicality in so many items taken for granted today proves how useful extra time can be, how much hope it can bring, and how crucial such time is for improving life after a catastrophic event. The previously listed three building blocks, when combined together, are fundamental to rebuilding a society; however, to fully reestablish a new society, one must look deeper into how exactly societies should be reconstructed after all normality is lost. As with the list of building blocks, a list of steps to rebuild society also exists.
Firstly, individuals should survive the catastrophic event which wipes out nearly the entirety of the human race. As in Station Eleven, chance, fate, and pure circumstance are the biggest factors for survival, and a lot of individuals may choose to die voluntarily. Once the main portion of the catastrophic event has passed and survivors are scantily left all over the world, reestablishing any form of a community or society requires individuals to join together peacefully and willingly. Such a task may be difficult, as many will feel defensive and be willing to fight for basic life necessities; however, as with any society, different groups of individuals with similar mindsets and culture traits will eventually come together, such as the Traveling Symphony and their bond of music and Shakespeare. Finding others and forming a community comprise the second and third steps of the list to reestablish society.
The fourth step closely follows the second building block mentioned previously: sustainability. Food, water, a secure location to live, and renewable resources all are fundamental to a society; furthermore, to insure sustainability, a society should possess political stability and order, democracy, resilience, appropriately balanced demographics as related to gender and age, and good quality soil. While all of these may be difficult to obtain due to the consequences of the disastrous event which destroyed society, a community should attempt to possess all of these traits to be truly sustainable. A society should not only be able to sustain current members, but as addressed in Station Eleven, children and future inhabitants of the society must also be able to add to the society, and the population should continue to grow as long as the available resources permit it. Although in Station Eleven works had to preserve items from the past, such a task is not important; rather, the community should focus on creating new inventions and ideas to make their society even more practical than before. The fifth and final step in rebuilding society is to continuously work to make the society the best it can possibly be. In truth, the work of building a truly great society is never done; issues to solve will always exist, and problems to fix will always arise. Of the many items which will be left behind in a completely collapsed society, only one utmost important characteristic exists: “…the one thing you would need to preserve to reboot a civilization as quickly as possible and to accelerate that redevelopment would be the scientific method”.
Process, trial and error, and continually attempting to solve for new and greater ideas to add to a growing and expanding society are all integral parts in expanding a new world. Concepts such as fully green energy, new government systems, and organic communities can be used in a new society if desired, and even newer and brighter ideas could surface by new circumstances faced in the world. Working to rebuild society to its original state would be convenient; however, working towards a society which is superior to the old in more ways than one is truly the best any society could do. Reconstructing society after a catastrophic event would take considerable time, endurance, resilience, and persistence. To reestablish a feeling of normality and true sustainability amongst a group of people would be difficult, but most certainly not impossible. As shown in the society built in the Severn City Airport, human desire to possess a common culture and identity will always prevail and produce a society which desires to mimic the old; furthermore, a community may even be able to surpass the old in progress and produce something beautiful from tragedy.
Main Message of Station Eleven Book
In the modern world today people are able to take many things for granted. How people get their food, how peoples houses stay warm, and how the masses get from place to place are all examples of things everyone takes for granted. In Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel the world is a place portrayed as a haven for blissful ignorance. People go about their daily lives without the knowledge of their impending doom until its right on top of them. They also don’t realize that since their whole world is interrelated that if one thing stops working then lots of other things wont work because of it. People in Station Eleven’s world live in blissful ignorance before becoming aware of impending doom after its too late, which is then mimicked in the current world that we live in.
After Jeevan Receives a call from Hua explaining that the Georgia Flu has hit his hospital and that its out of control. He goes on to say that it is likely that this will get out into the general public and it will run unchecked due to both the lack of medical services and the lack of things that those medical services could provide. Jeevan decides to then call up his wife to warn her to get out of the city because of the concerns Hua raised.
“Are you watching the news?’
‘Should I be?’
‘There’s a flu epidemic, Laura. It’s serious.’
‘That thing in Russia or wherever? I knew about that.’…
‘It’s here now. It’s worse than anyone thought. I’ve just been talking to Hua. You have to leave the city.’.
‘Have to? What? Where are you, Jeevan?’…
‘Just turn on the news, Laura.’
‘You know I don’t like to watch the news before bed. Are you having a panic attack?’
‘What? No. I’m going to my brother’s place to make sure he’s okay.’
‘Why wouldn’t he be?’
‘You’re not even listening.”1
When Jeevan presents significant evidence to suggest that Laura should turn on the news and to watch it she decided not to because she doesn’t “like to watch the news before bed.” If she had known that it actually was a massive epidemic where most of the worlds population would be wiped out, then she may have taken it more seriously, Because of the ignorant bliss that people are allowed to live in they then think any apocalyptic level disaster that they hear about is just a joke or don’t take it seriously. These are the circumstances many people that are characters of the story live in. these are the same circumstances that many of today humans live in.
One example of how in the current modern world people can overlook the prospect of a large scale disaster is the build up to 9/11 and the inability for the United States Intelligence Service to prevent an “imminent” disaster caused by Al-Qaida. Al-Qaida had made it clear in the years and months leading up to the attack that they wanted to attack America and kill as many Americans as possible.
“During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as one report put it, ‘something very, very, very big.’ Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told us, ‘The system was blinking red.”2
When its this easy to prevent a disaster then why wouldn’t it be prevented? Because people don’t take it seriously and they think that some cave dwelling terrorist isn’t going to be able to kill lots of Americans. Once 9/11 happened people “woke up” from being blind to the fact that danger to our country exists. Since then the has government has moved away from its Cold War era ignorant bliss onto extreme vigilance towards unknown threats. This is the same awaking that happened to Europeans when the black death ravage their populations as written by Dr.Dameron over 200+ years.
Dr.Dameron equivocates the Black Death to the Georgia Flu. Although the Black death is known to have killed many people its isn’t the same kind of “slate wipe” as the Georgia Flu portrayed in Mandel’s book. The Black Death killed close to half the population of Europe, whereas the Georgia Flu killed 99% of people world wide if not more. Sure the plague brought on the dark ages for Europe but it didn’t stop it dead in its tracks. During the time of the black death society was not eroded enough to where the people needed to set up a museum, when the Georgia flu hit, a new era in human existence was started whereas when the black death hit, human existence started anew.
“Clark placed his useless iPhone on the top shelf. What else? Max had left on the last flight to Los Angeles, but his Amex card was still gathering dust on the counter of the Concourse B Mexican restaurant. Beside it, Lily Patterson’s driver’s license. Clark took these artifacts back to the Skymiles Lounge and laid them side by side under the glass. They looked insubstantial there, so he added his laptop, and this was the beginning of the Museum of Civilization.”3
In Europe during the black death they didn’t take the books and chess sets and put them in a museum because the old world had passed, they also didn’t restart time from when the major life loss was present. They kept using those things even as they normally would and they realized life goes on despite great tragedy. After the black death started hitting they started to be aware of the disease and they tried to avoid it. They became aware and then started to keep life going. They were able to keep going because there wasn’t a large enough life lost to erode the fabric of society. The characters in Station Eleven didn’t have that opportunity because some many more people died that there was no way for the current world to stay around.
The general populous of Station Eleven lived their lives before the onslaught of the Georgia Flu ignorant of it’s power and it’s sharpened skills of killing unchecked. Once most people heard about it, it was already too late for them to do anything. When a serious threat presented itself they didn’t take it seriously and then paid the price for it. In our modern world we saw that same type of thinking being embraced by the people who’s job it is to think that the most remote chances of a significant loss of life are the most important. When life is lost it depends on the scale of life lost to justify whether or not its time to start civilization anew or those people are able to push on through whatever hardships are presented.