Throughout back and forth between before and after

Throughout the plot of the 2014 novel Station Eleven by
Emily St. John Mandel, many themes appear and affect the characters and the
book as a whole. One of the themes that seems to have the greatest effect on
the characters is the question whether remembering or forgetting the memories
they made before the Georgia Flu hit is the preferable option. The novel
switches back and forth between before and after the Georgia Flu, allowing the
readers to see the characters in both situations. The novel starts with the
play King Lear, which is being performed before the pandemic kills
ninety-nine percent of the population. This play turns out to be a significant
event in Kirsten’s life, one of the main characters of the novel whom was very
young when this play occurred. Arthur Leander, the actor who played the main character
in the play, has a heart attack on stage. Another significant character that
was affected by the outcome of this event was Arthur Leander’s son Tyler, who
later becomes more religious and becomes the Prophet. Not long after this major
event occurs, the novel switches to after the Georgia Flu has occurred. It then
introduces the reader to the Traveling Symphony, a group that performs
Shakespeare plays to people in the area. The novel continues in this pattern
and follows the characters who make up that group, back and forth between the
past and the present pandemic-ridden world. The thoughts and rationales of the
characters are provided through the explanation of a third-person omniscient
narrator, a God-like figure that can see all the thoughts and actions of the
characters. The two characters that were mentioned above stand out in the novel
due to their standings and opinions on the theme of remembering versus
forgetting. Kirsten longs to remember her life before the Georgia Flu changed
society as she knew it. She collects mementos of her past life, specifically of
the play she attended starring Arthur Leander, to keep those memories fresh.
This is made clear many times throughout the novel as she continued to build
upon her collections of items that mentioned the past and Arthur Leander.

“There were
countless things about the pre-collapse world that Kirsten couldn’t
remember—her street address, her mother’s face, the TV shows that August never
stopped talking about—but she did remember Arthur Leander, and after that first
sighting she went through every magazine she could find in search of him. She
collected fragments, stored in a ziplock bag in her backpack.” (Mandel, 2014,
p. 47)

Unlike Kirsten, Tyler is keen on the life that he develops after
the Flu hits due to his new religious beliefs and the power he gains as time
passes. 

Kirsten is one of the main characters in the
novel, therefore the readers are given many instances where she is affected by
this theme. She holds onto the memory she has of the play and the death of
Arthur Leander, it is a significant reason why she is so devoted to acting,
even when society has resorted to merely surviving. Jeevan says to Kirsten “he
was doing the thing he loved best in the world” and to reassure her he followed
with “my point is, if acting was the last thing he ever did then the last thing
he ever did was something that made him happy” (pp. 15-16). Kirsten held these
words near and dear to her since she related to them so strongly. Kirsten wants
to remember her memories of the past because it drives her need to contribute
more to society, this is reflected also by the Traveling Symphony’s willingness
to contribute to the arts. But, Kirsten’s opinions on this subject get slightly
complicated when it comes to the year following the spread of the Georgia Flu.
She doesn’t remember that period of her life, but unlike her memories of before
the pandemic, but she isn’t torn up about the loss of these memories like she
is about the memories of her family and Arthur. Kirsten doesn’t dig to remember
what happened to her during that time, she will happily leave those memories in
the past. Kirsten doesn’t want to remember the events that occurred in that
period because she will subject herself to all of the pain of what she’s lost
and all that she will never regain. Kirsten discusses her views on memory and
the year after the Georgia Flu when she says, “What I mean to say is, the more
you remember, the more you’ve lost” (p. 195).

The next character that is quite an influential
character throughout the novel is Tyler, another survivor of the pandemic who
takes refuge in the airport but later becomes the character known as the
Prophet due to his religious journey and devout following. But, unlike Kirsten,
Tyler’s views on remembering the past are quite the opposite. What Tyler has
developed and acquired during his transition into the Prophet is something that
he likes and prefers over what he knew in his past life. Before his death,
Arthur subjected Tyler to a lot of emotional trauma, such as having multiple
wives over the years. Due to the behavior that he watched his father portray,
Tyler would force girls to marry him as Eleanor said “I’m promised to the
Prophet. I didn’t have a choice, I was going to be his next wife” (pp. 99-100).
While he and others were living in the airport, Tyler’s mother, Elizabeth, the
second of Arthur Leander’s multiple wives and an actress, would tell Tyler and
the others that “everything happens for a reason” (p. 79). This belief was said
many times to Tyler while he grew up, it contributed to his religious beliefs
and his development into the Prophet since he believes and repeats this
throughout the novel. 

“The flu,” the
prophet said, “the great cleansing that we suffered twenty years ago, that flu
was our flood. The light we carry within us is the ark that carried Noah and
his people over the face of the terrible waters, and I submit that we were
saved”—his voice was rising—”not only to bring the light, to spread the light,
but to be the light. We were saved because we are the light. We are the pure.”
(p. 66)

But, before the Flu broke out, another significant event that
occurred early in the spread of the Georgia Flu was the arrival of a second
airplane to the airport where the current refugees were taking cover. But in
order to protect themselves from falling victim to the Georgia Flu they
sacrificed the people on the plane by keeping it sealed. As Tyler became more
religious, he would go out to the abandoned airplane and read to the dying
people who still resided on it. He would read them passages from the bible and say,
“I just want them to know that it happened for a reason” (p. 206). 

This theme is something that all the characters
struggle with, deciding whether they want to risk remembering something that
they may never get to experience again or forgetting their loved ones and the
moments they treasured. Before the pandemic hit, society was at a technological
level that had never been reached before and the human race was getting smarter.
But since the Georgia Flu wiped out much of the population, society went back
to the basics of technology. As the years pass and generations are born into
the post-pandemic society, “Some towns… want to talk about what happened, about
the past. Other towns, discussion of the past is discouraged” (p. 115). The
characters must decide whether they want to remember before the Georgia Flu or
forget all of the memories they created and start over with what they have now.
Kirsten and the Prophet do not feel the same about memory throughout this
novel. Kirsten holds the memories she has of the pre-pandemic world close to
her heart while the Prophet would rather leave those memories in the past and
focus on building upon the life has created after the Georgia Flu. 

The theme of memory in this novel is not one that
can have a quick simple answer. Choosing whether to remember or forget the
memories of the pre-pandemic time is something that the characters struggled
with throughout the novel. Kirsten’s will to remember her past has a strong
connection to Arthur Leander and their shared passion for acting. I agree with
thoughts on memory because I would also want to remember the people around me
and those that matter to me but another reason that I would want to remember
the past is so that I could try to rebuild it. Before the Georgia Flu wiped
ninety-nine percent of the population, technology was at its most advanced
level yet and forgetting the past would be a disadvantage for the remaining
population and the future generations. I also relate to the Prophet a small
amount; I would want to forget the past due to the trauma it caused me. If I
had to witness other people dying from such a painful illness, I also would
prefer to forget those memories as well. I relate to both of these characters
in the novel; picking a preferable option between remembering and forgetting a
large part of your life is not an easy decision.