Station Eleven: Exposing the Fragility of Society Through Fictional Characters
Station Eleven is a novel about a society devolving into a Dystopia, but it also explores what a society is. Mandel explores society through different perspectives by describing events prior to its downfall. For example, Arthur and Miranda’s migration from a small island into a larger city exhibits the disconnection between humans and nature. Though civilization appeals to Arthur and Miranda for the freedom it offers, the difficulty of describing their island home to others also illustrates the way that civilization also disconnects human beings from each other.
However, after the collapse, devices and technologies that had come to seem trivial are suddenly revealed to be revolutionary. In the depiction of modern society, people are isolated by their technology, but in a world without it, people are truly cut off from each other, unable to know what is going on in the world. In addition, the loss of medicine makes formerly routine infections suddenly threatening.
Station Eleven makes clear that a part of the reason people take the privileges of society for granted is our inability, or perhaps refusal, to see just how fragile society is. For example, Mandel shows that such a journey, passing across so many minds and hands, is miraculous but also sometimes seems to have never happened. In a sense, modern society is built on connections while at the same time hiding those connections. However, by highlighting how the connected world can accomplish such marvels, Mandel also captures the irony that this connectivity is what enables the downfall of the society. Because the society is so advanced and connected, the Georgia Flu was able to spread more effectively throughout the globe. Finally, by highlighting the human enterprise that goes into each object, Mandel emphasizes that even while our society has produced amazing technology, it is not technology that makes society, it’s people. In addition, the failure of society occurs not with the failure of technology, but with the mass death of human beings.
Station Eleven depicts both the society before its downfall and that same society as it is remembered by characters who have survived the Georgia Flu. For example, the novel shows how memory can be a source of hope for Kirsten as she seeks out possessions in abandoned homes in order to discover memories of people and the world. At the same time, the fact that Kristen needs reminders from the Travelling Symphony to regain some memories shows how easily memories can be lost and how the sense of losing one’s memories can be a source of terrible anxiety.
On the other hand, the novel also shows how lost memories can be a blessing. For example, Kirsten regards her inability to remember any of the events after the collapse of society as an escape from possible trauma. In addition, the Prophet’s actions show a resemblance to Arthur’s wife searching in pre-collapse days and suggests that he is acting out those memories in a way that allows him to gain his power. The novel also shows that even good memories can be damaging, as those who best remember the society before the collapse often miss it most after.
Station Eleven’s inciting incident is with Arthur’s death. Some people have witnessed Arthur’s death during his performance in King Lear like Kirsten and Jeevan, but others have viewed Arthur as an important part of their lives like Clark and Miranda. By doing this, Mandel shows how different people react to Arthur’s death. Through this comparison of a single death with many other deaths, the novel depicts how Arthur and those who died from the Georgia Flu are similar to Arthur.
In addition, Mandel also describes how some survivors have been affected. For instance, Elizabeth and Tyler believed that they survived because they were worthy to live unlike some other citizens. Furthermore, Mandel shows how citizens exert efforts to survive such as when Jeevan gets a call about the Georgia Flu and when Dr. Eleven becomes important for several survivors. The author’s imagined dystopian setting functions as a comment upon our current society because Mandel includes many views of a Dystopian society and compares its people, technologies, interactions to our current society. For example, Arthur and Miranda’s transition from a small native island to larger cities exhibits the disconnection between humans and nature. However, at the same time, by highlighting how the connected world can accomplish such marvels, Mandel also presents the irony that this connectivity is what causes the downfall of the society. Because the society is so advanced and connected, the Georgia Flu was able to spread more effectively. Finally, by highlighting the human enterprise that goes into each object, Mandel emphasizes that even though society has produced amazing technology including airplanes and the internet, it’s not technology that makes a society but rather it’s people. As a result, the downfall of a society occurs not with the failure of its technologies, but with the mass death of human beings. However, Mandel also makes clear that while society is made by humans, it's not what makes us human. During the pandemic, many people can’t accept that their society is devolving into a Dystopia. Instead, they believe that soon the society will save itself. Although these thoughts provide satisfaction with the citizens, they also express the idea in which human society is unstoppable and always progressing both positively and negatively. Because of the numerous conflicts that our current society is susceptible to that Station Eleven’s society experienced, the author emphasizes that our current society is like Station Eleven’s society in many ways including how our interconnection can accomplish many developments and advances as well as spread numerous negative things including disease and chaos and how the people are what truly define a society.During a production of King Lear in Toronto, Arthur Leander suffers from a heart attack. Jeevan tries to resuscitate Arthur but is unsuccessful. Instead, he comforts Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress of the production. Shortly after, Jeevan receives a call from one of his doctor friends who warns him to get out of the city as a mysterious Georgia Flu will soon become a pandemic.
Twenty years later Kirsten is part of a group known as the Travelling Symphony. Kirsten holds on to a set of graphic novels given to her by Arthur before his death called Dr. Eleven. During her time with the troupe, Kirsten scavenges abandoned homes looking for old tabloid magazines for traces of Arthur. After performing to different towns, the troupe realizes that the next town is under the control of the mysterious Prophet. The troupe quickly leaves and heads to the Museum of Civilization, which is actually a former airport, where they believe they might find their missing friends only to leave Kirsten by herself. The novel then goes back in time right after Arthur’s death. Clark, one of Arthur's friends informs Elizabeth that Arthur is dead. Clark, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's son, Tyler, happen to be on the same flight from New York to Toronto to go to Arthur's funeral. Clark ends up resettling in the airport post-pandemic and becomes the 'curator' of the Museum of Civilization. Elizabeth and Tyler grow increasingly religious and strange, believing that the epidemic happened for a reason and spared those who were good.
Back in Year Twenty, Kirsten is discovered by the Prophet himself who also enjoyed collecting Dr. Eleven comics. Just before the Prophet is about to kill her, he speaks some lines that she recognizes from Dr. Eleven. She quotes some back to him, distracting him long enough to where the Prophet is eventually killed. Kirsten continues to the Museum of Civilization where she is reunited with the Traveling Symphony. Clark, who has stayed at the museum for twenty years, realizes who Kirsten is, her attachment to Arthur and that the Prophet is the grown-up Tyler. Clark shows Kirsten from the watchtower of the airport that there is a town to the south that uses electricity, showing that society is beginning to take root again.
1. Name: Kristen Raymonde
a. Want: Kirsten joins the Traveling Symphony, a theatre troupe that travels among the small post-collapse societies of the Great Lakes area and performs music and Shakespeare plays to the surviving citizens.
b. Need: She is a believer in that humans must do more than just survive. Kirsten believes that art is the best way to truly live instead of merely surviving.
c. Ghost/Past: Kirsten the onstage death of Arthur Leander during a production of King Lear before the Georgia Flu strikes.
d. Lie/Secret: Kirsten spends her free time after the collapse of the civilization collecting tabloids to remember Arthur and the world before the flu. She is also constantly searching for any other copies of the Dr. Eleven comics which she claims to be her most prized possessions.
Through Kirsten and her ways that she responds to certain memories, the novel engages in an exploration of memory itself. One important memory from Kirsten is her idea that communities have an obligation to preserve and pass memories on. The transfer of skills and memories that pertain directly to survival or the preservation of knowledge makes it possible for the Dystopian like world to recreate its lost technology. More importantly, the novel portrays how shared memories build social bonds especially with Kirsten’s activity to remember Arthur.
2. Name: Arthur Leander
a. Want: Arthur is an extremely successful actor who believes that his fame can get him enough affection from others. However, his life is cut short when he dies of a heart attack from the Georgia Flu.
b. Need: Nearing the end of his life, Arthur comes to regret his actions and chooses to stop valuing his possessions to solve his social life. Weeks before his death, he decides to move to Israel and discard his old life in order to be closer with Tyler, the only thing he truly values.
c. Ghost/Past: Arthur has married and divorced three times. His first wife is Miranda, who is from the same small island as Arthur and wrote the Dr. Eleven Series. His second wife is Elizabeth, who is the mother of The Prophet. His third wife is Lydia Marks.
d. Lie/Secret: During his early life, Arthur rose to fame after an initial failure. However, his death is made more tragic as he is unable to follow through on his plans to live a better life and be a better father to his son.
This character’s complexity is significant to the larger theme of death in the text because Station Eleven’s inciting incident is with Arthur’s death. Some people have witnessed Arthur’s death during his performance in King Lear like Kirsten and Jeevan, but others have viewed Arthur as an important part of their lives like Clark and Miranda. By doing this, Mandel shows how different people react to Arthur’s death. Through this comparison of a single death with many other deaths, the novel depicts how Arthur and those who died from the Georgia Flu are similar to Arthur.
3. Name: Tyler Leander/The Prophet
a. Want: The Prophet wants to take control of many towns with the help of his highly trained religious “followers”. In addition, he takes multiple young girls usually by force and claims them to be his wives.
b. Need: Tyler depends on the obedience of others to legitimize his rule. After Arthur dies, he and his mother leave the airport just before the Flu hits them. As Tyler grows up, he becomes more powerful and starts calling himself the Prophet.
c. Ghost/Past: The Prophet is the son of Arthur Leader and Elizabeth Colton. He is raised in Israel by his mother after they divorced. During the collapse, Tyler becomes increasingly religious believing that the others deserved to die.
d. Lie/Secret: Tyler believes that the Georgia Flu was a cleansing of the population and that those who survived, including himself, did so for a reason.
e. This character’s complexity is significant to the larger theme of faith and fate in the text because
Faith for individuals can be the means of personal survival, but in society it can become a means for power and control. The Prophet takes on such power and then abuses it by forcing his will upon other people. However, they might also be representing a different idea of fate, one in which fate is not directed by some God but rather by the influences in people’s lives For example, Tyler is influenced to become the Prophet because of how Miranda’s Dr. Eleven series affected him, because of his mother’s religious belief in everything happening for a reason, and also because of Arthur’s own ways. On the flip side, Tyler isn’t fated to become the Prophet in the sense that he has no other choice, but rather in the sense that the things he has inherited from those connected to him have pushed him in that direction.
After the collapse, airplanes are a symbol of society. They represent the connectivity of the modern world before the Georgia Flu. After this pandemic, citizens would look towards the sky hoping to see planes. In addition, planes, also symbolize the irony of the society’s connectivity allowing it to facilitate the Georgia Flu. In the Severn City Airport, airplanes symbolize society and its collapse, but following the collapse symbolize hope and despair. Just as the Georgia Flu reaches its peak, an airplane lands at the Severn City Airport which causes some people to freak out. Clark who has been living in the Severn City Airport, chooses to leave this plane solitary fearing how other citizens would react. This plane symbolizes death, dread, and the difficult decisions made to keep survivors alive. Although this airport provides the opportunity for pilots to try to reconnect with the citizens of society, no airplanes end up landing here after the first one.
After its collapse, devices and technologies that had come to seem trivial are suddenly revealed to be revolutionary. In the depiction of modern society, people are isolated by their technology, but in a world without it, people are truly cut off from each other, unable to know what is going on in the world. In addition, Mandel emphasizes that even while our society has produced amazing technology, it is not technology that makes society, it’s people. In addition, the failure of society occurs not with the failure of technology, but with the mass death of human beings.
The paperweight symbolizes human connection. Clark first gets this by purchasing it. Clark then gives it as a gift to Miranda who later gives it to Arthur. However, Arthur has no memory of it, and to him, it is a symbol of the independence he has of certain items. Arthur immediately gives the paperweight to Kirsten moments before his death. This journey from person to person is a symbol of the interconnectivity of society. When she receives it, Kirsten continues to carry it because it means beauty to her. In this sense, the paperweight symbolizes appreciation of art and beauty as something that is essential for doing more than surviving.
The Traveling Symphony is preserving memories of the past by performing their art. Clark preserves memory of the past with his Museum of Civilization. In addition, the novel shows how memory can be a source of hope for Kirsten as she seeks out possessions in abandoned homes in order to discover memories of people and the world. At the same time, the fact that Kristen needs reminders from the Travelling Symphony to regain some memories shows how easily memories can be lost and how the sense of losing one’s memories can be a source of terrible anxiety. The themes of this text connect to my experiences not only because they were able to teach me lessons that I wish I had learned earlier but also because they allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of a Dystopian society in comparison to our current society especially when haunting events including a plague outbreak cause terror to people within a civilization. The most obvious them in Station Eleven is the importance of society which is significant to impacting my connection with the world because it emphasizes not only how people behave differently whether they are living within a society as certain ideas and developments can easily be spread but also how the connectivity of a society has the ability to enable the destruction of a society as certain problems can be more easily spread, too.
Another common theme in Station Eleven is the power of memories which is also significant because it fostered a newer understanding of the many effects memories can have on a certain person or a society that I never knew before such as how memory can be a comfort and source of hope and how it can influence a person’s behavior and identity. A third theme that stood out was the terrors of death which is significant to me because it allowed me to understand how any negative action or event including death is almost inevitable and that you must prepare at all costs for it before it comes. Furthermore, the themes of Station Eleven not only allowed me to understand how seemingly harmless or even helpful things can become a problem within society but also allowed me to understand my family members, friends, and other people’s process of thinking when dealing with certain issues especially when they relate to problems of a Dystopian society.
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