Various passages in Station Elevencontrast the old world versus the new world after the pandemic. Basic comforts and amenities are wistfully recounted and compared to the wilder, nomadic life of the post-illness world. The characters are forced to scavenge for rations from houses that still have the hallmarks of the comfortable old world, juxtaposing the domestic life before the Georgia flu and the nomadic life after.
The Creation of Art
A major theme in the book is the pursuit of artistic creation. In both the pre- and post-flu worlds, characters pursue their art. Miranda creates her graphic novel and Arthur pursues acting; The Symphony performs Shakespeare and plays music throughout the new towns and villages. The basic human need to express oneself and create exists no matter the circumstances.
The character of The Prophet is an example of the new religious order in the post-flu world. He uses the human need for religion to exploit communities and gain political power, gathering followers and loyalists who will kill and fight on his command. Tyler is raised reading Elizabeth's copy of the bible; as The Prophet, he twists the book of Revelation to suit his own goals.
Arthur Leander ruminates on his life in his final hours of living and marks the regrets he has in the way he has conducted his life. He reflects on his failed marriages with Miranda, Elizabeth, and Lydia, and revisits his friendship with Clark only to find that he has allowed the relationship to disintegrate. The theme of regret is more present in the pre-flu stories, since, later, the need for survival drowns out the luxury of analyzing one's life.
The line from Star Trek "survival is insufficient" appears multiple times throughout the novel, from the Station Eleven graphic novel written by Miranda to physical tattoos that characters have. The need for survival and the lengths people will go to find it in the new world draws a contrast with the need for survival in Hollywood, corporate, and even urban life in the pre-flu era. Survival means working with a team like the Symphony or working as a lone wolf, like Jeevan.
Luck in a Crisis
There is both a sense of the randomness of those who survive the epidemic and the luck of circumstance that leads to characters' survival. Miranda, through no fault of her own, does not survive the flu, whereas Arthur dies of unrelated causes around the same time. The stroke of luck that gets Clark and Elizabeth and Tyler to the airport on their way to Arthur's funeral shows the how the fact of their happening to be traveling leads to their survival.
A major through-line in Station Eleven is the presence of death as an everyday occurrence. Death becomes commonplace to the characters, as Kristen and the troupe cavalierly pass decaying bodies while they scavenge for supplies. Death from the flu still exists, but the danger of death in the world now comes from other human beings as well as the dangers of living in this wild world.
The novel explores what people choose to remember about their past, both in respect to those living before and after the Georgia Flu. Kirsten remembers bits and pieces of her old life before the flu, but these memories tend to be surprising. She doesn't remember her mother's face, but she remembers a time when she was coloring in Arthur's dressing room. The act of choosing to remember certain aspects of life is also a theme; Arthur before his death ultimately chooses to remember joy over his regrets.
Station Eleven Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Station Eleven is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.