We’ve arrived to part 2 of Station Eleven! Part 2 begins with author Emily St. John Mandel suspending us over a scene somewhere near Lake Michigan as we are introduced to The Traveling Symphony. This group trekked in temperatures of “106 Fahrenheit” and were made up of numerous actors and musicians who aided in preserving and keeping the culture of art and theater alive in what remained of their desolate, destroyed country. We can easily see the juxtaposition of part 1 and part 2, with Mandel placing us in the moments before the downfall of mankind and now showing us readers what was left of mankind; close to nothing. We are reacquainted with Kirsten Raymond who is a Traveling Symphony member, who wore “sandals whose soles had been cut from an automobile tire, three knives in her belt”, (Mandel 35). This line helped me visualize the rawness of the scene and how set back mankind was because of this epidemic; using remnants of a world they once lived in to survive in the world that existed now.
Even time itself had been stopped and restarted at Year 1, as we see Mandel mention that by Year Three “all the gasoline had gone stale…and you can’t keep walking forever”, (Mandel 37). The gears of mankind were grinding slowly but surely with the help of the Traveling Symphony keeping the works of jazz and orchestral arrangements and Shakespeare alive. This seemed to suit Kirsten’s future, as she stated in Part 1 at such a young age that acting was the thing she loved most in the world. This also made me question why she was given a small nonspeaking role in King Lear, the production she’d been apart of until the final days of normal life as she knew it. I cannot even imagine living through two eras of completely differing times like Kirsten did, as she can barely remember what a computer screen looks like let alone her own mothers face and her street address on Mandel 40. Interestingly, Kirsten has flashes of memory retaining Arthur Leander, “a fleeting impression of kindness and gray hair”, (Mandel 41). Kirsten remembering Arthur but scarcely remembering her own mother reveals the essence of those days and how much working in that production really meant to her. Kirsten also memorizes the rare comic books in her possession gifted to her by Arthur himself, which she holds very close as if it were the absolute last piece of her life.
The quote on the bottom of chapter 8 really stood out while reading as it rang a similar sounding bell to the current situation Kirsten and the other remaining people were facing:
“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth”, (Mandel 42).
With only ruins and pieces of the humanity they had once been apart of, they were left to face the emptiness of what was ahead; they were left on square 1 of life with only themselves as support. We are reminded of the destroyed civilization when the Symphony settles into a former Walmart store in Chapter 9, as they arrive in the elusive and quiet town of St. Deborah. The repurposing of these stores that once served as shopping centers and restaurants shows how the remaining humans got by; scattering and settling in groups in places that were once big, electric cities. As they played music announcing their entrance into the town, “the music drew almost no onlookers as they passed”, (Mandel 43), suggesting immediately that something was odd about this particular stop in the Symphony’s tour. They even adjust their normal performance of King Lear to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in efforts to correspond with the dreary, strange town they would perform for.
The Symphony’s motto also stuck with me, as it pertained to their sole purpose. “Because survival is insufficient”, (Mandel 58). Surviving the pandemic wasn’t enough for them, and spreading the arts and creativity of artists and authors from their world before the Flu was so significant to their existence. They took it amongst themselves to protect and deliver the artistic remains of humanity, as to not let it be forgotten with the restart of their world.
Religion is revived in the form of a Prophet, someone who seems to control the small town of St. Deborah as he darkens the mood of Chapter 12 suggesting the occurrence of the epidemic was “perfect”.
“Earlier in the day I was contemplating the flu… and let me ask you this. Have you considered the perfection of the virus?… The flu, the great cleansing that we suffered twenty years ago, that flu was our flood”, (Mandel 60). This prophet’s speech following the performance casts a shadow over everything, as he suggests that this tragic human downfall happened for a reason. There’s a mysterious foreshadowing as Kirsten and the Prophet seem to have an edgy encounter with a long stare that suggests something possibly sinister beneath the words of faith and light from the Prophet. As the Symphony exits the town as fast as they’d arrived, Kirsten admires her paperweight which was first given to her in Chapter 1 during the chaotic death of Arthur Leander. This piece of her childhood symbolized the world that had existed once; the world that was now barren and gone with the wind.