In her critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel, “Station Eleven,” author Emily St. John Mandel undeniably exerts her literary prowess, as is exemplified in the many parallelisms she draws between her work, and that of such Renaissance contemporary pieces as William Shakespeare’s, “King Lear.” Of the many faculties that Mandel utilizes in order to illustrate these similarities, the most substantial can be found in the characterization of Arthur Leander, in which she personifies the overarching theme of Shakespeare’s playwright, which is that of the conceptualization of The Great Chain of Being. Popularized by the Greeks through both Plotinus and Plato, the ideology argued that everything in the known multiverse had its own place in a divinely composited hierarchical chain which was preordained by God for the intended purpose of creating order and connectivity amongst all things, with a strong emphasis placed on the continuity and correspondence that links all things. In the case of, “King Lear,” this notion was demonstrated in the way that the foolish King connected all of the characters and events within the drama, and ultimately in the way that his actions lead to disorder amongst his kingdom. Similarly, Mandel’s plot driven novel follows in Shakespeare’s footsteps in the many relationships that manifest between characters and event’s through their association with the deceased Arthur Leander. The most obvious demonstration of this found in the protagonist, Kirsten Raymond, and her fascination with collecting Arthur Leander memorabilia in the collapsed society that she finds herself apart of, as well as in the various contact zones that are central to the main conflict of the book, all of which bond together through some affiliation with his character.
With everything kept into consideration, Arthur Leander is one of, if not the most important character in, “Station Eleven.” This fact is substantiated in the way that Mandel leverages his character as a means to interconnect the different characters, contact zones, and with them, the events in the novel, thus personifying the great chain of being.
One of the most brilliant affirmations of how Mandel intertwines all the characters within her novel through Arthur Leander is found in the peculiar characteristic demonstrated by Kirsten Raymond, as is found in the following excerpt:
“When in the houses, she searched for gossip magazines, because once
she found one that reminded her of her past which read: Reunion: Arther
Leander Picks up Son Tyler in LAX…Kirsten’s taken care of the (Station
(Eleven) comics as best as she can…(Mandel 41,42) “.
On a microscopic level, Kirsten’s behavior serves as a means to cope with the new reality that she has found herself a part of. However, on a much larger scale, it acts to reconnect her with the way society use to be at a time when Arthur Leander, and everyone that was associated with him was still alive. This fact is further bolstered in the Station Eleven comic strips that are her prized possessions. These artifacts, created by Arthur’s first wife Miranda Carrol, unifies Kirsten to Arthur, and through him, his wives, as well as his child Tyler, and in a domino effect like manner, the various groups within the work such as the Traveling Symphony, the people at St. Deborah by the Water, and the group found at The Museum of Civilization. Even more profoundly, by employing the stagnant character, Jeevan Chaudhary, as a journalist who followed Arthur Leader, there are very serious implications that he took the photographs in the magazines she clings so passionately to, and thus completes the circle so to speak in interlinking the characters he interacts with to that of the stories central characters. That being said, there is unquestionably both a correspondence and a continuity between all characters in Mandel’s work, all of which is depicted in the simple action of Arthur giving a small child a cartoon strip in which the novel gets its name from. While Kirsten’s fixation on Arthur Leander memorabilia provides ample evidence as to how Leander’s character acts to personify the great chain of being, the amalgamation between contact zones and events, namely that found in the Museum of Civilization, which was previously Tavern City Airport, and the central conflict at St. Deborah by the Water, through his character, further strengthens this stipulation.
In her article entitled, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pretty defines a contact zone as, “social spaces where cultures, meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power.” With regard to Mandel’s, “Station Eleven,” the two major contact zones within the work occur at the Museum of Civilization, immediately after society’s collapse, and at St. Deborah by the Water. In the first instance, this tension is demonstrated in the passage of the book that reads, “ I’m worried about your son…Right now he’s over by the quarantined plane, Clark said, reading aloud to the dead from the Book of Revelation (Mandel 260)”. For those participating within this setting, this is a relatively transparent demonstration of the types of palpable pressures that can arise when participating within said contact zone; one that would not be resolved until the boy and his mother left with what one could only describe as a religious cult. However, when bearing in mind the broader scope of, “Station Eleven,” this scene is of incalculable significance in that it further reiterates how Arthur Leander embodies the great chain of being. In this microcosm of individuals sharing this same experience, Mandel cleverly situates Elizabeth Colton and Tyler Leander, his second wife and son, as well as his best friend Clark Thompson all within what could be described as the crossroad of, “Station Eleven.” Through prolific foreshadowing, Mandel sets the stage for the events that cause for Arthur’s Leander’s son to turn into the Prophet, the stories main antagonist, in addition to the chain of events that will bring the survivors of the Traveling Symphony to their final destination at the Museum of Civilization. In so doing, Mandel not only links all of the major characters in her novel through Arthur Leander, but also links the major events, physical locations, and sources of conflict as well. Even though the circumstances that take place within the contact zone that is the Museum of Civilization provides sufficient evidence as to how Arthur Leader’s character combines the various elements of Mandel’s work together, the progression of events that lead up to, “Station Eleven’s” climax at St. Deborah by the Water proves this point almost without a doubt.
In Mandel’s, “Station Eleven,” the primary conflict found in the social space that is St. Deborah by the Water between the Traveling Symphony in which Kirsten finds herself a part of, and the followers of the Prophet can be best summarized in the passage that reads, “You misunderstand me. I’m not speaking of the variations of physical death, but rather the death of the soul. When the fallen slink without permission we hold funerals for them because to us they’re dead,” spoken by the prophet himself (Mandel 62). As a result, this speech reveals to the members of the Traveling Symphony the type of radical ideology that the Prophet preaches to his followers, one that is not void of killing those that do not share the same beliefs, all of which cause for the group of minstrels to flee to the nearby Tavern City Airport. Yet, there are much greater implications in this scene even beyond that. Through this speech, the reader receives the firsts subtle indication as to the identity of the Prophet, which is that of Arthur Leander’s eccentric child, as is additionally insinuated in the scene where Kirsten interrogates Eleanor from St. Deborah by the Water, as she asks, “What do you know about the Museum of Civilization,” to which Eleanor replies, “Also, the Prophet’s from there (Mandel 125). ” Moreover, this revelation functions as Mandel’s masterpiece so to speak, in creating true continuity between all things within her novel, all of which occur as a result of Arthur Leander. In making Tyler Leander the novel’s main antagonist, Mandel manages to transcend linking the character’s with one another on an individualistic level, but also the imagined communities and the larger macrocosm that they participate in. Yet, the most ingenious illustration of Mandel linking the first and last links of the chain of being is found in the novels resolution, in which she kill’s off the prophet, Tyler Leander. As a result, the novel comes all away around in that it both begins and ends with the death of a Leander, both of which Kirsten was a witness to, and thus creating for orderliness and the very doctrine of correspondence between all things, as in the great chain of being.
“We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines.” On a rudimentary level, this quote, taken directly from the text of, Station Eleven, itself, reiterates the overarching theme of the work, which is that of the connections that we ostensibly take for granted, and more specifically, how in doing so, Emily St. John Mandel personified the ideation of the great chain of being through the character of Arthur Mandel. Throughout her work, Mandel beautifully encapsulated this notion as is seen in Kirsten’s fascination with Arthur Leander memorabilia, and in the way she so effortlessly interconnected the different contact zones and events inside of her work. That being said, upon an in-depth reading of, “Station Eleven,” one cannot help but reflect on the many ways we are all seemingly united with one another in the overall fabric of humanity, showcasing as to why, survival alone is insufficient.