The Lifetime Memories Of The Past And Present In Station Eleven And Monkey Beach

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Individuals experience many things over their lifetime that make them who they are. Joyful, stressful, exciting and traumatic experiences are often things every individual goes through; the one thing that connects all of them is memory. Memory allows one to reflect on experiences that are of two completely different extremes, which can be seen as a good thing or bad thing. Memories allow some people an escape from their current reality, but for others a reminder of their past. How a person utilizes their memory reflects the impact that it has had on their life and ultimately, how they view the world. In Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, memory plays a key role in supporting the non-linear structure of the novels and in the actual themes of both narratives. Both narratives show a present day full of hardship and reflect on events that eventually lead to the hardship. The narratives use memories as a means to guide the readers to the present day but also use memories to explain why a character is the way that they are. Through both Station Eleven and Monkey Beach readers are informed on how individuals themselves determine the significance or insignificance of different memories, specifically the need to preserve them.

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). 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. 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. 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. 

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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.

Memories play a crucial role in the make-up of a person, specifically how they deal with and utilize these memories to handle their current and future situations. Kirsten Raymonde in Station Eleven, has supressed her memories of the Georgia Flu Pandemic so much that she has no memory of that time at all, however, as a contrast to this, she specifically makes it her mission to remember how things were before the pandemic through collecting tabloids. Kirsten’s ability to utilize her memory by forgetting the trauma and trying to remember the pre-collapse world allow her to navigate as a strong, fearless and independent women in the post – collapse world. If it weren’t for her suppression of the traumatic events of the pandemic, she might have been the opposite of what she is and potentially could have been among the people hiding away from everyone and everything. Yet turning her memory into more of a companion than an enemy, she is able to handle the situations in her life with courage. On the other hand, Lisamarie Hill in Monkey Beach deals with the loss of loved ones such as her uncle, Mick and Ma – ma – ooo and their memories more negatively; utilizing the nagging memory of their deaths to hurt her present and future. Mick’s death is the beginning of Lisamarie’s fall, the joy and the hurt that memories before Mick’s death and after his death bring are reflected in Lisamarie’s inattentiveness in school. Lisamarie’s complete fall is seen in her flip from innocence to delinquency as a result of Ma – ma – ooo’s death, being unable to escape from the pervasive memories of Ma – ma – ooo in her mind, she leaves school and begins to party as a means of escaping the trauma. As Selby states, “In addition to allowing us access to our past, the narrative of memory provides an opportunity both to understand and to control (or at least come to terms with) the external forces that act upon us.”(3), both Kirsten and Lisamarie do what Selby says, in that they use memory to control or come to terms with their situations, however they do this differently, one could say, drastically differently, as Kirsten chooses to not let trauma define her and “defeats” these memories as a means to move on positively, whereas Lisamarie as much as she tries doesn’t “defeat” her pervasive memories, but lets them win the battle, ultimately sacrificing who she is as a result.

Every experience in an individual’s life, whether positive or negative, is stored in his or her memory, therefore without memory, you essentially wouldn’t have experience. In Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, memory plays a crucial role in recounting, retelling and supressing past experiences. 

The characters in both novels decide what significance or insignificance certain memories have in their lives, Kirsten, Clark and Ma – ma – ooo establish the importance of remembering through preservation; whether it be in the form of theatrics, artifacts or storytelling. The novels also explore a loss of familiarity, whether it be through the loss of civilization in Station Eleven or the deaths of Mick and Mama – ooo in Monkey Beach, these losses of familiarity eventually lead to trauma. As de Vries states “People often prefer familiar stimuli, presumably because familiarity signals safety. Tuning accounts of mood hold that positive mood signals a safe environment, whereas negative mood signals an unsafe environment.” (1) Kirsten supresses the horrific memories associated with the loss of familiarity of the pre–collapse world and its safety, and instead focuses on moving forward. Whereas Lisamarie’s loss of familiarity is harmful, as de Vries states above, the safety that comes with the familiarity is gone for Lisamarie with loss of the two people who understood her the best, and their nagging memories don’t leave her psyche, leading her down a self – destructive path. All in all, the impact of memory is that of inner bliss or inner destruction, depending on the significance one gives it.

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