The Elements of Dystopian World in Mandel's Station Eleven
In Emily St John Mandel’s science fiction dystopian novel, Station Eleven, the majority of the population has been wiped out due to the 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. On page 66, “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. 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. “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. 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 billions, art remains. 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 vital and extremely connected to humans. Art offers the people to understand the world and a way to connect to a world that is completely gone. It offers a way to connect to each other, artist to audience and audience member to audience member. Miranda seems to explore, process and escape her own life through art. Lastly, art connects people to the shared history of humanity. People can feel connected to King Lear after the collapse despite the hardships of their lives 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.” That means that the human instinct 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.
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