Station Eleven

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Themes and Colors
Death and Survival Theme Icon
Faith and Fate Theme Icon
Civilization Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Art Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Station Eleven, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Memory Theme Icon

With its plot set both before and after the Georgia Flu pandemic, Station Eleven depicts both pre-collapse civilization as it was and that same civilization as it is remembered by characters who have survived. Through these characters, and the different way they experience and respond to their memories, the novel engages in a nuanced exploration of memory itself. Through Kristen alone, for instance, the novel shows how memory can be a comfort and source of hope, as Kristen seeks out books and gossip magazines in abandoned homes in order to spark memories of people and the world she used to know to keep her vision of that world alive. At the same time, the fact that Kristin even needs such “reminders” speaks to how easily memories can slip away and be lost, and how the sense of losing one’s memories can be a source of terrible anxiety.

And yet, further complicating things, the novel also shows how lost memories can be a blessing: Kristen regards her inability to remember any of Year One after the collapse as a gift, an escape from otherwise unbearable trauma. The novel also shows how memories of trauma can impact people. For instance, Tyler’s polygamy as the Prophet bears a sort of resemblance to his own father Arthur’s wife-hopping in pre-collapse days – wife-hopping that resulted in Arthur leaving Tyler and his mother – and seems to suggest that Tyler is in some sense re-enacting those memories in a twisted way that puts him in the position of power. The novel also shows that even good memories can be painful or damaging, as those who best remember civilization before the collapse often miss it most after. Through character after character, the novel shows how memories – both good and bad – can influence a person’s behavior and identity.

But it’s not just individuals who have to navigate memory in the novel. Mandel also explores what might be described as communal memory. Among the survivors, there are those who remember the pre-collapse world very well, those who are younger and remember it indistinctly, and those who were either so young when the collapse occurred or who were born post-collapse and therefore can only know of the pre-collapse from what they are told. Put another way, this last group only knows of the world before based on what other people remember and choose to tell them. Communal memory, then, has an element of choice to it, and the novel portrays different communities making different choices. Some towns decide to tell their children almost nothing about the pre-collapse world in the hopes of protecting their children from the pain of having lost out on that old world. In contrast, other characters see preserving memory of the past as critical. The Traveling Symphony can be seen as preserving memories of the past by performing their art. Clark preserves memory of the past with his Museum of Civilization.

Ultimately, the novel seems to side with the idea that communities have an obligation to preserve and pass memories on. Part of this obligation is immediately practical, such as the transfer of skills that pertain directly to survival or the preservation of knowledge that, in the particular setting of the novel, makes it possible for the post-collapse world to, perhaps, eventually recreate its lost technology. But even more importantly, the novel portrays how shared memories build social bonds. It shows how the strength of communities, in effect, are founded on communal memories, whether they are preserved in art, or museums, or stories told by the old to the young. Memory is valuable then, not only because it is practical, but also because engagement with communal memory is an engagement with human history, and contributing to and learning from communal memory is a way of holding on to humanity after the collapse.

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Memory Quotes in Station Eleven

Below you will find the important quotes in Station Eleven related to the theme of Memory.
Chapter 6 Quotes

No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position—but no, this wasn't true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Teenagers snuck into them to have sex. Rust blossomed and streaked.

Related Symbols: Airplanes
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are excerpted from Chapter 6, which begins “An Incomplete List:” and proceeds to list things that are lost in the collapse of civilization, including electricity and pharmaceuticals. This section of the list explains the end of air travel, and the end of the phenomenon of viewing towns and their shining lights through airplane windows. Along with this beauty, the small details of flying also vanish, such as putting tray tables in their “upright and locked positions.” By including both the beautiful aspects and the practical ones, Mandel shows the scope of what would be lost in the collapse of civilization, which eliminates both the ease and benefits of transportation and the opportunity to view the world from 30,000 feet.

The inclusion of rusting, dormant airplanes also indicates the vestiges of civilization that will remain as physical imprints of the past. No longer able to fly, they symbolize the civilization that once was, and their decay is at once sad, since they are no longer operational, and beautiful (“rust blossomed”) since they are converted for new uses in the changing post-collapse society.


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Chapter 7 Quotes

They'd performed more modern plays sometimes in the first few years, but what was startling, what no one would have anticipated, was that audiences seemed to prefer Shakespeare to their other theatrical offerings.

"People want what was best about the world," Dieter said.

Related Characters: Dieter (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In the introduction to The Traveling Symphony, we learn that they perform music of all varieties, but that their theatre portion is strictly Shakespearean. Though they tried to perform more modern plays in the first few years following the collapse, unexpectedly, audiences prefer Shakespeare to anything else. Dieter’s explanation for this phenomenon is that people want what was best about the pre-collapse world.

This quote in part explores the question of what art is preserved, since Dieter indicates that people want to preserve and experience what is best about the world, which in his opinion seems to be the very best art. Though ‘high-art’ like Shakespeare isn’t the only art that survives, it’s significant that some masterpieces are able to make it past the collapse and provide continuity for human progress and creativity, despite the seeming failure of the rest of civilization. Shakespeare’s own time period, which often experienced closed theatres due to the bubonic plague and was an era before electricity, also seems to relate better to the post-collapse world than a play written during modern civilization could.

Chapter 8 Quotes

I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.

Related Characters: Dr. Eleven (speaker), Kirsten Raymonde , Miranda Carroll
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

This line is spoken by Dr. Eleven in one of Miranda’s “Station Eleven” comic books. In the image accompanying this line, Dr. Eleven stands beside his dog Luli, surveying the broken space station and trying to forget how sweet it was to live on Earth. Dr. Eleven’s memory of a pleasant Earth while being stuck aboard a broken world is a parallel for those living in the post collapse world with perfect memories of the world before the Georgia Flu. Part of surviving, or moving on, is trying to forget just how sweet the old life was in favor of embracing (or enduring) the circumstances of a new life.

Chapter 11 Quotes

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Mandel provides this short list of what was lost, even shorter than Chapter Six’s “an incomplete list,” during the Symphony’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in St. Deborah by the Water. Mandel emphasizes that even after the loss of civilization, of almost every human, the world is still filled with exceptional beauty. This surviving beauty, however, isn’t just natural beauty. It’s also the beauty that humanity and art are capable of creating, indicated by Mandel’s focus on Kirsten’s performance in the role of Titania. The Symphony’s goal is to remind people that such beauty still exists, even after the loss of almost everything else.

Chapter 12 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Tyler Leander / The Prophet (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

After the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in St. Deborah by the Water, the prophet stands and delivers this small sermon to the townspeople in the audience and to the members of the Traveling Symphony. He says that the Georgia Flu was a cleansing equivalent to the biblical flood of Noah. Inner light or goodness is the personal “ark” (like Noah’s life-saving boat) of each person who survived the flu. The prophet believes that those who lived were saved because they are “the light” and because they are pure.

This sermon introduces an extreme religious response to the Flu, in which the death of billions is refigured as a divine cleansing, and survival is thought of as an intentional gift from above as opposed to random or lucky chance. The prophet uses faith to understand the flu and the post-collapse world, but he also uses it as a tool for his own power, as his sermon is clearly directed at the people he controls as well as the Symphony passing through his town.

Chapter 18 Quotes

Some towns … want to talk about what happened, about the past. Other towns, discussion of the past is discouraged. We went to a place once where the children didn't know the world had ever been different, although you'd think all the rusted-out automobiles and telephones wires would give them a clue.

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde (speaker), François Diallo
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are excerpted from an interview that François Diallo conducted with Kirsten in the town of New Petoskey in Year Fifteen. Here, Kirsten discusses the difference among small towns relating to the way they educate their children about the past. Some towns, she says, want to talk about the past and civilization. They (like New Petoskey, which has a library) build a communal memory and tell their children the way the world once was. Other towns, however, opt not to tell their children that the word was ever different, even though there are physical monuments and imprints (countless obsolete relics of the past) that should indicate to the children that somehow the world has changed. Such a debate speaks to the novel’s exploration of memory as communal and both a blessing and a curse. It can be extremely painful to remember the past, but it also can give hope and provide understanding of the full scope of the human story.

Chapter 25 Quotes

I was thinking about the island. It seems past-tense somehow, like a dream I had once. I walk down these streets and wander in and out of parks and dance in clubs and I think "once I walked along the beach with my best friend V., once I built forts with my little brother in the forest, once all I saw were trees" and all those true things sound false, it's like a fairy tale someone told me. I stand waiting for lights to change on corners in Toronto and that whole place, the island I mean, it seems like a different planet.

Related Characters: Arthur Leander (speaker), Victoria
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are excerpted from one of Arthur’s letters to his best friend Victoria, later published in the form of the book Dear V. In this letter, Arthur reflects on his hometown Delano Island while he is living in Toronto. On one hand, the letter is a reflection on how memory can be fleeting: Arthur’s memories of his childhood home appear false to him, like some sort of fairy tale. The strange inability to describe the island to others and the feeling that it doesn’t seem real is the very thing that continuously draws Arthur to Miranda, who uniquely understands where he is from.

But the letter also explores modern civilization, and the way that it feels for Arthur to move from an isolated island in nature to a large, interconnected city like Toronto, which to him feels like an entirely different planet. Later, we will learn that the city of Toronto, with its vastness and anonymity, was the only place that Arthur truly felt free during his life.

Chapter 34 Quotes

I’ve been thinking about immortality lately. … They're all immortal to me. First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.

Related Characters: Jeevan Chaudhary , Frank Chaudhary
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are from the book that Frank is ghostwriting about a philanthropist. While bored in the apartment, Jeevan asks his brother to read a segment of his work, and Frank reads the pages that include the quote. The lines are in contemplation of death, immortality, and memory, and later Jeevan will come to suspect that they are Frank’s own thoughts as opposed to the philanthropist’s. Frank has been thinking about immortality, and says people who have done great things are immortal to him. People want to be recognized, he says, but, more importantly, they want to be remembered. Such an idea is significant given the billions of people dead or dying during the time that Frank writes this quote. It is also important given Frank’s ultimate decision to sacrifice himself and commit suicide to increase Jeevan’s chances of survival.

Chapter 37 Quotes

I can't remember the year we spent on the road, and I think that means I can't remember the worst of it. But my point is, doesn't it seem to you that the people who have the hardest time in this—this current era, whatever you want to call it, the world after the Georgia Flu—doesn't it seem like the people who struggle the most with it are the people who remember the old world clearly?

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde (speaker), François Diallo
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another excerpt from Kirsten’s interview with François in Year Fifteen. In this moment, she tells François that she remembers nothing from Year One, which, she believes, means that she can’t remember the worst part of the collapse. In this way, the novel explores the idea that forgetting can be a blessing. We can recall that the prophet claimed earlier to remember everything he ever saw on the road, which might be part of the reason he is so violent and delusional.

Kirsten also believes that those who remember the world before the Flu seem to have the hardest time adjusting to the new world. Memory, then, especially of civilization as it once was, can be a hindrance for moving forward. So while memory can be an escape during painful situations, remembering things we would rather not can be painful in its own right, further complicating the way that memory functions in the novel.

Chapter 38 Quotes

“Well, it's nice that at least the celebrity gossip survived.'"

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde (speaker), August
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Kirsten offers this line to August after ransacking an un-looted house. She discovers an old tabloid to add to her collection with a picture of Arthur and Miranda at the theatre at which Kirsten and Arthur performed King Lear at the beginning of the novel. This short joke of hers speaks to the question of what survives, particularly what art, as well as how are we remembered as people. Throughout the novel, Mandel shows that both high art and low art manage to survive the collapse, both on an intentional and a random basis. The gossip tabloids also show what endures of civilization in general. The survival of celebrity gossip can be seen as the preservation of the most trivial element of society. At the same time, Kirsten’s joke is ironic, since she collects the tabloids featuring Arthur for the personal value they have—they aren’t really worthless at all.

Chapter 40 Quotes

I think about my childhood, the life I lived on Delano Island, that place was so small. Everyone knew me, not because I was special or anything just because everyone knew everyone, and the claustrophobia of that, I can't tell you. I just wanted some privacy. For as long as I could remember I just wanted to get out, and then I got to Toronto and no one knew me. Toronto felt like freedom.

Related Characters: Arthur Leander (speaker), Clark Thompson
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

While Clark is informing Elizabeth Colton of the news of Arthur’s death and his will’s stipulation that the funeral be held in Toronto, Clark remembers a conversation in which Arthur spoke the excerpted lines. Delano Island, Arthur said, was so small and isolated that everyone knew him there. This overwhelming lack of privacy was claustrophobic and intense, causing him to move away to Toronto, where no one knew him. Due to the anonymity and privacy it offered to Arthur, Toronto felt like freedom. In this way, the novel explores how modern civilization can be freeing, while being disconnected and isolated from civilization can feel claustrophobic. This type of freedom, the ability to live anonymously in a massive group of people, is something that completely vanishes during the collapse.

Chapter 45 Quotes

When it came down to it, François had realized, all of the Symphony's stories were the same, in two variations. Everyone else died, I walked, I found the Symphony. Or, I was very young when it happened, I was born after it happened, I have no memories or few memories of any other way of living, and I have been walking all my life.

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde , François Diallo
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines follow the end of François’ interview with Kirsten. At this time, he has also conducted interviews with most members of the Symphony as well. Through this process he has realized that the Symphony members’ stories all come in two forms: everyone died, I walked, I found the Symphony, or I remember basically nothing before the collapse, I have been walking with the Symphony all my life. These two stories represent the two generations in the Symphony and the way that one is required to pass on memories of life and civilization before the collapse on to the other. This also shows us that Kirsten’s experience of memory loss is not unique. Instead, it seems to be a common feature of her younger generation, those that were children at the time of the collapse. Of course, those born after the collapse represent a subgroup of this younger generation that has absolutely no memory of life before the collapse, since they were not even alive at the time.

Chapter 50 Quotes

She had once met an old man up near Kincardine who'd sworn that the murdered follow their killers to the grave, and she was thinking of this as they walked, the idea of dragging souls across the landscape like cans on a string. The way the archer had smiled, just at the end.

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Kirsten thinks about killing after an altercation with the prophet’s men in which she was forced to kill an archer. She thinks about an old man who told her that the murdered follow their killers to their grave. This she imagines visually, as if she is dragging the soul of her latest kill across the ground on a string. The archer smiled in his final moments, Kirsten remembers, likely because he died in service of the prophet and his faith.

Killing is also what Kirsten thinks about when she wonders what has changed most in the world since the collapse. To her, being required to take a life in self-defense is one of the most painful aspects of survival, and something that was (for most) completely foreign during modern civilization. Those Kirsten has killed, in contrast to those that might have tried to kill her in Year One, are forever ingrained in her memory and on her flesh in the form of knife tattoos.

Chapter 51 Quotes

She stepped back. “It isn't possible,” she said.
“But there it is. Look again.”
In the distance, pinpricks of light arranged into a grid. There, plainly visible on the side of a hill some miles distant: a town, or a village, whose streets were lit up with electricity.

Related Characters: Kirsten Raymonde , Clark Thompson
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

This exchange takes place in an air traffic control tower at Severn City Airport. The prophet is dead, and Kirsten has been reunited with Charlie and Jeremy. At the top of the tower, Clark has Kirsten look through a telescope into the distance, where she sees pinpoints of electric light, indicating that there is a town using electric streetlamps. Her first response is to suggest that it’s impossible, but the lights are real. Though the focus is on the light, Mandel’s insistence that civilization is essentially human means that this ending does not indicate a miraculous return of civilization and technology. Instead, it provides just a glimpse of hope, and shows that humanity is continuing to thrive, to survive, and, because survival is insufficient, to rebuild civilization and reincorporate technology into everyday life.