Merriam-Webster defines culture as the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time (Culture | Definition of Culture by Merriam-Webster ). Integral to this simplistic interpretation of culture is the idea that culture and our existence are inseparable. In other words, if we exist, we will have some culture. What happens if our existence begins to crumble, such as in an apocalypse?
In Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel examines this reality. More specifically, Mandel creates a world that is crumbling from a highly contagious pandemic. Having said this, amid a collapsing world, Mandel spends a great deal of time examining the culture in this collapsing world. In my opinion, this was intentional. Not only does she use the Travelling Symphony to show how a new culture was created in this apocalyptic world, but she also uses the culture of the world prior to the apocalyptic pandemic to influence the actions of the characters in the story. An example of this latter point is the creation of the Prophet through the literary work of Miranda in this story. Ironically, this literary work was also called Station Eleven.
What was Mandel trying to accomplish with this intertwinement of culture in her apocalyptic narrative? In my opinion, I think that she was just trying to emphasis the significance of literature, art and music in apocalyptic times. Evidence for this can be seen near the end of the novel when almost all the characters examined throughout the story convene at the Museum of Civilization. I view this as evidence simply because at the heart of this rebirthing civilization was a location of cultural significance. In other words, it seemed to me that the author was subliminally suggesting that civilization could not be reborn without a foundation of culture.
Does this mean that our survival in an upcoming apocalypse will heavily depend upon culture? I believe it does, and I am glad I was able to examine this crucial and often forgotten aspect in Mandel’s novel. If we are missing cultural elements of our world pre-apocalypse, it will be difficult to rebuild the world as we know it post-apocalypse.
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This blog was created by Bobby Leeper. He is a student at Wright State University studying both biological sciences and Spanish.