The Space Between Then and Now

It seems that Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven transcends time. I am quite pleased to see that my prediction about time from my last post has proven correct so far. The question of, how much could things change between then and now? is recurring throughout parts two and three of the novel. It is interesting to think about how far society falls within 20 years, but it is just as fascinating to think about change across time in general. Change in people, thoughts, and society in Station Eleven seems  to reflect off of each other. One of the most crucial parts of Mandel’s Station Eleven is the change over time, change is consistently a focal point throughout the chapters and it’s presence is indispensable to the plot in the story.

One of the most telling lines in part three in regards to time is “Arthur wasn’t having dinner with a friend […] so much as having dinner with an audience. He felt sick with disgust. […] Thinking about the terrible gulf of years between eighteen and fifty.” (p.112) These lines are so incredibly compelling because they remind us that conflict isn’t always derived from things greater than us but that it can from places within ourselves so visceral that logic feels alien. Here, Clark is summarizing the five chapters worth of change that Arthur goes through, from someone embarrassed by fame to someone performing his life for strangers. There was a change in substance within Arthur throughout 33 years that was a catalyst for many things in the novel, such as the Station Eleven comic book, which was  revealed to be from Arthur’s ex-wife Miranda, and the beautiful paperweight from Arthur’s his longtime friend Clark, both objects now under the possession of Kirsten.

It seems that love lives on after the apocalypse. It is a little funny to see that amid the danger of a post-apocalyptic world, there is still room for drama. It seems almost ridiculous but it is true to life, we would never let ourselves become bored with life and much less succumb to it. In part two we find out the Kirsten cheated on Sayid with someone she happened to meet “more or less out of boredom”(p.45) and the drama generated from this was enough to tease her about. This seems like a direct reflection to how Arthur leaves Miranda for Elizabeth. It feels like the parallels between Arthur and Kirsten could go farther, and this leads to thoughts about whether Kirsten could have a similar death to Arthur’s, especially after the exchange between Jeevan and a young Kirsten in part 1, “‘…if acting was the last thing he ever did […] then the last thing he ever did was something that made him happy.’ ‘It’s the thing I love most in the world too, […] acting.'”(p.8-9)

Though these bits are important in terms of characterizing change within Arthur and Kirsten, I believe the most important display of change within parts two and three is the interview in the last chapter of part three. “The more we know about the former world, the better we’ll understand what happened when it fell. […] I believe in understanding history.”(p.114-115) It is crucial to understand history if something new is to progress and grow, change in society requires an understanding of the past so as not to commit the same mistakes. The world is Station Eleven is subject to this constantly and we see it reflected in the town of St. Deborah by the Water when the prophet asks for 15 year old Alexandra to be left behind as his bride. Small towns are just small societies, politics didn’t die with the victims of the Georgia flu, if the survivors can manage to learn from the past then humanity has a greater chance at survival.

Overall, parts two and three give us a bigger sense of change in both the past and the present. The novel is told through narratives of the most relevant people in the story, this clues us in as to who to pay attention to more because their story and point of view is given more presence over another. Everything is intertwined and if we can understand the past and connect it to the present then the space between then and now becomes clearer.

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