Station Eleven


Emily St. John Mandel

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Station Eleven Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel was born in Comox, Canada, in 1979. She was raised in rural British Columbia on the tiny Denman Island, which she used as the basis for Delano Island in Station Eleven. Since the local schools were not very good, Mandel was homeschooled until the age of fifteen. At eighteen she left home to study dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, where she remained until her early twenties, when she decided to pursue something different and began writing professionally. Before Station Eleven, she wrote Last Night in Montreal (2009), The Singer’s Gun (2010), and The Lola Quartet (2012). Mandel has enjoyed critical success from Station Eleven, and she currently lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
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Historical Context of Station Eleven

While the novel does not include specific historical events as part of its plot, a number of events provide inspiration and resonance. The first is the spread of the bubonic plague (or Black Death) in Asia, Africa, and Europe during the 14th century, when about a quarter of the population perished. Bouts of the plague occasionally returned, and more than once closed theatres in Shakespeare’s England –which places Shakespeare’s plays, a great source of material for Mandel and her characters, in a distant yet similar context to the world devastated by the Georgia Flu. Other historical events of note are the 2009 “Swine Flu” pandemic, which generated tremendous fear and media coverage, as well as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which occurred around the time of the novel’s publication. Such outbreaks could be said to contribute to the fear surrounding deadly viruses and diseases, while lending some credibility to the future Mandel describes. In other words, while the Georgia Flu is fictional, something like it occurring is far from impossible. It could be considered a worst-case scenario of the Swine Flu or Ebola pandemics.

Other Books Related to Station Eleven

Station Eleven contains many explicit references to other works of art, and relies on them heavily for source material. The primary example of this is Shakespeare, specifically King Lear. Thematically, Mandel borrows from the tragedy, and she also stages two production of the play within her novel, one before and one after the collapse. The novel also includes references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and at the other end of the highbrow/lowbrow artistic spectrum, to the television show Star Trek: Voyager, which provides the Symphony with its motto: “survival is insufficient.” In terms of influences on Mandel, it is easy to look to other post-apocalyptic novels, specifically The Road by Cormick McCarthy, which Mandel has said paved the way for works with that subject matter to be seen as valuable literature instead of lesser fiction. However, Mandel pushes against the usual format of the genre, setting her novel many years after the collapse of civilization instead of focusing on the chaos of the fall itself.
Key Facts about Station Eleven
  • Full Title: Station Eleven
  • Where Written: Canada
  • When Published: 2014
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopia / Post-Apocalyptic / Literary Fiction
  • Setting: Toronto, Hollywood, post-apocalyptic Great Lakes region
  • Climax: The Georgia Flu Epidemic / Kirsten’s Confrontation with the Prophet
  • Antagonist: The Prophet (Tyler Leander)
  • Point of View: Third Person, With Focus on the Perspectives of Major Characters

Extra Credit for Station Eleven

High Praise. Station Eleven won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, which is given for the best science fiction novel in the United Kingdom, and the Toronto Book Award in the same year. The book was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award in Fiction in 2015 and the National Book Award in fiction in 2014.

Genre Pigeonholing. Mandel’s first three novels were classified as Crime Novels or Thrillers, and so she wrote Station Eleven in part to escape from being pigeonholed into one generic category. This book is often considered Science Fiction, and it even won a sci-fi award, but, as it does not contain any new technologies, Mandel believes it is simply literary fiction. In a way, the novel defies genre, as most post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels deal with the chaos that immediately follows the cataclysm; Station Eleven is mostly set before or fifteen to twenty years after the Georgia Flu outbreak.