In reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, I found myself drawn back to the earlier parts of the novel in St. Deborah by the Water, specifically those concerning the sinister prophet and the bizarre burial customs he seemed to impose on the town. While the prophet’s grasp over the town is clearly implied to have some fairly disturbing results (his request of Alexandra as a peace offering!), what I find myself particularly interested in and perturbed by is this premature funeral habit of his.
It certainly says something about his attitude and behavior towards death. From what little we have seen of him, this small-town prophet seems to exercise an almost godlike power over the people of St. Deborah by the Water, rattling on about his purity and as he wields unquestioned power. With the burial’s for those that are not actually dead (rather are “dead” to him), the prophet extends his godlike control to death itself.
Though the prophet’s power over death at first seems all too human–it becomes a tool of dominance and oppression rather than a universal process to respect the dead–I find myself unusually disturbed by his near-deific redefiniton of the concept of death.
We have certainly spent time discussing literal and figurative death before, touching on the latter with instances where a person would often be mistakenly declared “dead” by social media. With the practices of St. Deborah by the Water, we see a chilling analog to this premature Twitter or Facebook death. While it seems easy for a premature post or obituary about someone to become viral, it seems distinctly more complicated to convince an entire settlement to change their own conceptions of death–which only hints at the terrible stranglehold the prophet has on the town to be able to redefine death.