Station Eleven and Monkey Beach: Navigating the Collapse

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Importance of Memory Preservation in Station Eleven
  • The Significance of Storytelling in Station Eleven and Monkey Beach
  • Conclusion


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel focuses on how individuals navigate through the collapse of civilization. The traumatic experiences during the Georgia Flu Pandemic and the transformation of society after it are key aspects of the novel, but what is more significant is how people choose to deal with the memories of pre – collapse and post – collapse. How people choose to remember and preserve the memories of the pre – collapse world allows the reader to determine the impact of the trauma. Kirsten Raymonde says “Some towns…want to talk about what happened, about the past. Other towns, discussion of the past is discouraged. We went to a place once where the children didn’t know the world had ever been different, although you’d think all the rusted – out automobiles and telephone wires would give them a clue” (Mandel 115). 

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The Importance of Memory Preservation in Station Eleven

Through this quotation one can see how many choose to move on, while many such as Kirsten herself and Clark Thompson choose to preserve memories of the past in Station Eleven. Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a travelling theater group that performs plays and music in different areas of the post – collapse world, they preserve memory through art, by performing old plays. Clark Thompson chooses to preserve memories of the pre – collapse world by creating the Museum of Civilization in the Severn City airport, which consists of artifacts such as cellphones, clothes and books from before the pandemic that give a glimpse into society of that time. While both Kirsten and Clark may have indirect or direct means of remembering, they both show courage by not allowing trauma to defeat them but using it as a means of navigating the post – collapse world through the preservation of memory. Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson focuses on how First Nations remember through storytelling, stories that are passed down from generation to generation that have beneficial universal messages and lessons. 

The Significance of Storytelling in Station Eleven and Monkey Beach

Unlike Station Eleven, the Haisla people in Monkey Beach if not right away, soon realize the significance of storytelling and the integral role that it plays. Through her grandmother, Ma – ma – ooo, Lisamarie Hill is exposed to the significance of storytelling in preserving the Haisla culture and also the preventive role that memories play. When Lisamarie starts to have spiritual encounters, she is unaware of how to respond to them, however after she informs Ma – ma – ooo of the encounters, she advises Lisamarie to be careful and respectful to the spirits which elders before Ma – ma – ooo did too. If it wasn’t for Ma – ma – ooo’s preservation of past tales of how to deal with the spirit world, Lisamarie would face much more difficulty and danger due to her lack of awareness. The role that memory plays in Monkey Beach also has an aspect of navigation; in the present when Lisamarie has to deal with the disappearance of her younger brother, Jimmy, she navigates through this tragedy and the grief that comes along with it through preserving him, remembering the levels of impact he had on her life and reflecting on what led to the current turn of events. 


As Selby states in Myth, Memory and Narrative: (Re)Inventing the Self in Canadian Fiction, “…we are all storytellers: we constantly narrate and interpret for ourselves and for each other the events of our lives. However, this narrative—like memory itself—is not static. It changes as we do and is subject to revision according to our ongoing experiences; it is also, as Worthington points out, open to misreading and misinterpretation and forgetfulness. For example, we can believe in things (or even people) that no longer exist, or that are frozen (perhaps inaccurately) in our memories. We can “rewrite” or revisit events in our memory and attach those narratives to places or objects to create memorials and souvenirs that commemorate events or people from our past.” (2), whether it be through performing plays, creating museums or storytelling, different cultures choose to remember in different ways, be that as it may, what is more impactful is that they simply choose to remember in times when that memory may bring more regret than happiness. 

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