In Emily St John Mandel?s science fiction, dystopian novel Station Eleven, the majority of the population has been wiped out due to a Georgia-flu spreading and causing an apocalyptic world. In the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Arthur Leander. He is a top celebrity who died from a massive heart attack he had on stage during a production from Shakespeare?s King Lear in Toronto. Not too long after, the rest of the cast gets informed about the Georgia Flu spreading. The novel forwards to twenty years later after the disruption of the Georgia Flu and collapse of the civilization. One of the survivors is Kristen Raymonde. She is part of the Traveling Symphony, who is a group of actors that perform Shakespeare and travel from town to town. Kristen truly feels connected to Arthur as she mourns his death by collecting magazine clippings of him she finds in abandoned houses. The novel shows us the characters are somehow connected to Arthur in a way. As a fallen world, there are many elements that can contribute to that idea such as starvation, threats in communities and loneliness. Mandel tries to express the ideas of survival and death, nostalgia, memory and art more than anything else in the novel. I find that in the novel, there is often a reflection of the past life and they think about all the technology that existed before this apocalyptic world occurred. The most important factor to these characters now is the necessity to survive. For the most part, the characters have a good heart, holding onto memories and reflecting the old world. Mandel is able to explore the ideas of death and survival, fait and faith, memory, art and civilization all in this dystopian novel.
Throughout the novel, it expresses how the characters try to avoid death but how survival will always be linked to death in this world. Right away at the start of the novel, Arthur dies and quickly after, ninety nine percent of the population has been deceased from the spread of the worldwide flu. Mandel explores death in both a personal and global scale. Arthur?s on stage death affects all of the characters somehow. Some characters are affected by the fact that they witnessed it, such as Kristen and Jeevan, and others because they had an important and deep relationship with him such as Miranda. In this way, the novel is able to analyze how different people react to the death of Arthur. The novel does not just focus on the dead but also on the physical and psychological experiences of the main characters that have survived. The characters often ask themselves why they survived and why others didn?t make it. Especially for Tyler and Elizabeth, they have a big desire to figure out why they survived and want to find meaning to it. During the novel, the characters find themselves with struggles and difficulties with learning how to stay alive. The conductor gives a short line related to death and survival which is ?being alive is a risk.? This quote implies that after the collapse, the world is dangerous and is no longer ruled by law and order. Arthur?s pre-flu death and then followed by the collapse not too long after, indicates that everyone will die sometime. Part of being alive means we will always be exposed to some sort of danger. A very important quote found on page 58 is, ?all three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled such as, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient.? This quote is the Symphony?s motto and Kristen?s second tattoo. This quote speaks upon the idea that, for humans, simply surviving isn?t fair. It isn?t enough to stay alive. As living humans, we need to do something more. Something greater and bigger. We need to live with meaning. For the traveling symphony, that ?something more? is the performance of art. The message here is that, we as humans should do more than just survive, but to actually live. It expresses art and kindness as means of true living.
The author tries to connect survival and art in a very consequential way in the novel. Kristen reflects her thoughts after the collapse, ?what was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty?. Mandel points out that even after the loss of civilization, of almost every human, the world is still full of extraordinary beauty. Focusing on Kristen?s performance in the role of Titania, Mandel tries to make a connection with the creation of humanity and art while trying to deliver her message to the readers about beauty. During the production of A Midsummer Night?s Dream in St. Deborah?s by the water, surviving beauty is emphasized by realizing what still remains. ?I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth? is a line spoken by Dr. Eleven in one of Miranda?s ?Station Eleven? comic books. In the comic book there?s an image of Dr. Eleven next to his dog looking at the broken space station trying to forget how sweet it was to live on Earth. Dr. Eleven?s memory of Earth while being stuck can be related to those living in the collapse on earth with nostalgic memories of the world before the Georgia Flu. Part of moving on is forgetting what the old life had to offer and adapting to the new circumstances of the present life. Mandel tries to create a feeling of nostalgia of past life when expressing this section in the novel. In addition, she expresses the idea of forgetting and how important it is, that the primary characters adapt to the new world and how that will help them in surviving.
After the flu has wiped all modern inventions and technology, the beauty of Arts remain as an important part of society. The first scene of the book and the first scene after the collapse both feature Shakespeare?s famous play King Lear. One is a performance and the other is a rehearsal. The message the author is trying to send is that even after the collapse of civilization and the death of almost everyone, art remains alive. Art is powerful enough to survive the outbreak because it doesn?t really rely on technology or modernity. The novel implies that art survives because it is so fundamental and extremely connected to humans. The form of art offers people to understand the world and a way to connect to a world that is completely gone. ?Well it?s nice that at least the celebrity gossip survived.? Kristen makes this joke referring to what survives, particularly in the area of art. She uses Arthur as an example of how we are remembered as people when we die. Arthur is remembered in an artistic way throughout the novel. Mandel tries to show how art manages to survive in all aspects in the novel even after the collapse. The gossip shows what goes on in the civilization in general. The survival of celebrity gossip can be seen as the most unimportant element in the novel. Although it may seem like that, Kristen does collect magazine clippings of Arthur for personal value so that shows it?s not worthless. Mandel wants to show how art connects people to the shared history of humanity. People can feel connected to King Lear after the collapse even after all the catastrophe they?ve gone through and the world they know they?ve lost. Art may not be necessary to basic survival but the novel is trying to focus on the idea that for humans, ?survival is insufficient.? Again, this is a very important argument the author tries to express. It means that the human feeling to create and celebrate art makes us human. Therefore, art will exist as long as humanity does and as long as humanity exists, so will art.
Moving forward, there is so much more of art that is displayed in the novel that we can connect with survival and death. We learn that The Traveling Symphony perform variety of music but their theatre portion is mainly Shakespear. We find out that the audience seems to prefer Shakespear more than anything else: ?They?d performed more modern plays sometimes in the first few years, but what was startling, what no one would have anticipated, what was the audience seemed to prefer Shakespeare to their other theraical offerings.? Dieter feels that the people want what was best about the pre-collapse world. This quote explores the question of what art is kept, since Dieter indicates that people want to maintain and experience what is best in the world, which in his opinion is the best kind of art. However, ?high art? like Shakespear isn?t the only one that survived but there are other significant masterpieces that made it through the collapse that will continue with human growth and creativity. ?Your always half on Station Eleven,? Pablo said during a fight a week or so ago, ?and I don?t even understand your project. What are you actually going for here?? Pablo said these words to Miranda while having an argument of her comic book. Miranda being so proud of her work replied with, ?you don?t have to understand it. It?s mine.? Pablo says that she?s always ?half on Station Eleven?, meaning that she is always partially thinking of her comic book project and isn?t living the real present world. These lines reflect the relationship between art and artist expressed in the novel.
Station Eleven can be compared to other post apocalyptic novels such as The Road by Cormick McCarthy in which both share themes of death and survival. In The Road, death is so universally present and death must be taken into account in every action the characters take, similarly to the characters in Station Eleven. The main conflict in both of these post apocalyptic novels for the characters is adapting to the new physical, social and cultural landscape left behind a recent disaster. In these kinds of novels, there will most likely be left few people and societies, leaving the main focus on surviving and fighting for resources. For Station Eleven, we are aware of the outbreak that led to an apocalyptic world which is a super flu but on the other hand, in The Road, it is some unnamed or unknown disaster that led to a fallen world. Regardless of the type of disaster, the primary characters in both novels struggle with staying alive and with the aftermath of an apocalyptic world. In Mandel?s novel, we are aware of the names of the characters whereas in McCarthy?s novel the man and the boy are not given names. Furthermore, I discovered that both novels reflect back to the old world. Just like in Station Eleven with memories of what once the sweet world had to offer, there is reflection in The Road with the man having dreams and remembering his wife. The reasoning behind the title of the novel in Station Eleven is because of the comic books Miranda is holding onto and has a very similar story as to what is actually happening in real life. For in The Road, the man creates goals to justify his survival like reaching the coast or reaching south. This implies that the road becomes a great symbol for the struggle of survival. Both novels give off a title that can be linked to the importance of survival. Mandel and McCarthy did a great job with creating post apocalyptic novels and sending across messages to their readers. Even though we haven?t lived through that, we can only imagine the struggles and difficulties we would encounter if we were in the same place and circumstances like in the post apocalyptic novels. Station Eleven, science fiction dystopian novel by Emily St John Mandel explores the ideas of survival and death, art and memory with strong messages to the readers.
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