The Reflection of Life in Art in Station Eleven

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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.

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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.

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