We Don’t Belong

In Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven we continue to get a taste of the present and past. Many things have changed from before the pandemic. Population has decreased. Communities have gotten smaller. Some places go on peacefully whereas some places have leaders. There is also constant fear among the people, not knowing what may happen now. The only thing that has not changed is the feeling of not belonging.

The Traveling Symphony ends up visiting a town that they have already been in the past. They have been wandering for many years, “traveling back and forth along the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan.” (37)  This is just one of the many towns that does have a leader of some sort. This was once a place where you would see many children but now you only see two or three. Multiple families would be living in the fast food restaurants but now you see those same places boarded up. A armed guard can also be seen in the middle of the town, not like it was before. We are introduced to a man who we know as “The Prophet.” Not much has been said about him but it seems that he does run this place. His orders, his opinions do hold value to these people.

During this time Kirsten is looking for her friend who she finds out are no longer residing in this town. Kirsten comes across a midwife who informs her that her friend “rejected the prophets advances.” (51) She also tells her that her friend had to leave town and to stop asking questions and leave immediately. This shows that this town is not as safe as it once was and also that Kirsten and The Symphony might not be welcomed here the way they thought they were. The Symphony does eventually perform in the town, this is their first encounter with The Prophet. He acknowledges their presence but Kirsten feels otherwise. “Something in his tone made Kirsten want to run, a suggestion of a trapdoor waiting under every word.” (59) Kirsten feels odd and as if The Prophet has something else in mind for them. The way he is towards them makes her feel uncomfortable. Eventually The Symphony does end up leaving the town.

Similarly, in the past Arthur’s first wife Miranda also feels out of place. Their love story might seem so perfect in the eyes of others. Two people who grew up on the same island and one day end up together. However, Arthur is set to make a name for himself. He wants to pursue a career in acting. He wants to do what he loves. Miranda on the other hand keeps to herself, she is not one for the crowd. Fast forward to the night of their third anniversary, instead of having an intimate dinner or getaway of some sort they are surrounded by a few other people. They are celebrating their anniversary and the opening weekend figures to his movie. Arthur says, “two birds with one stone.” (91) Instead of feeling comfortable and seated next to Arthur she is at the opposite end of the table. She wonders why theres distance, why these people are here and why she can’t catch her husbands eye. She starts to feel small, she realizes that her marriage is over. Her husband is having an affair with his costar who is seated right next to her husband. Later that night she whispers to her dog after Arthur dismisses the conversation she was trying to initiate about his affair, “this life was never ours.” (101) She admits that no matter how much time passes, she can never be like these people. The attention, the cameras, the crowds it is just not her.

Whether it be the past or the present, sometimes you are just not welcomed or a part of a place the way you might have thought you were. Things change. People can’t always adapt.

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