Chapters 19–26 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 22, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1252
Sometimes the Symphony feel noble; at other times, their pursuit of art seems insufficient reason to live so dangerously—especially as their mantra, "Survival is insufficient" (which Kirsten has tattooed on her arm) is taken from Star Trek. Now, Kirsten's feet hurt; she keeps thinking how odd it is that the prophet's dog was called Luli.
The Symphony stops in the afternoon, sending scouts to assess whether they are being followed. They've walked for almost eighteen hours in the great heat and now set up tents. At this point, they realize they have a stowaway, a little girl from St. Deborah by the Water. The girl tearfully explains that she was to be the prophet's next wife and so had to leave. Her name is Eleanor, and her parents are dead. She knows that Charlie and Jeremy have gone to the Museum of Civilization, which Gil believes to have been set up in an airport outside Severn City.
The group wonders whether Eleanor is a trap. She knows little about the Museum, except that the prophet is from there. The prophet, she says, arrived with his followers about two years earlier and claimed to hear voices in his dreams. When the mayor died, he and his armed followers took control of the town.
The next town is a burnt-out resort town, devoid of humans. The Symphony walk through a destroyed baseball stadium, and Kirsten and Viola scout out a desolate school. They find evidence that it was used as a field hospital, but it's now empty, apart from a skeleton in the bathroom and a mouthpiece for a flute, which they bring back to the others.
The interview continues. Kirsten tells Diallo she was eight when the flu came; Diallo says he is interested in how those who were children at the time of collapse think about the world and how it has changed. Kirsten declines to answer. Diallo asks instead about the knives tattooed on her right wrist; Kirsten says Diallo knows what such tattoos mean and refuses to elaborate.
Kirsten always thinks of Alexandra, who remembers nothing of the old world and has never killed anyone, when she considers how the world has changed. Alexandra is sullen about not having been allowed to scout out the school as the group waits out a rainstorm. Kirsten is sharing a tent with Dieter, who was twenty when the world ended. He has been dreaming of airplanes.
It is time for Dieter and Sayid to take their turns scouting while Kirsten stands watch with August. Kirsten cannot remember airplanes in flight.
In the night, she and August suddenly hear an abrupt cry. They raise the next watch so they can go in search of the sound. They walk into the woods and find nothing: no disturbance, no footprints—and no Dieter and Sayid.
A methodical search the next day reveals nothing. The conductor says Symphony members have only been lost four times since the collapse; they have all followed protocol and made their way to the next destination. Currently, that is the Museum of Civilization. The conductor says they must leave.
Kirsten tells August she fears Sayid and Dieter were taken by "the light," something the prophet talked about. That evening, Sidney, the clarinet, suddenly disappears, too. In her belongings is a note saying she has "gone to rest," but it was written months earlier.
August slips a poem into Kirsten’s pocket, saying he will always follow her, which reassures Kirsten a little.
Walking out ahead of the Symphony, they come to a golf course, where the pair fish and stock up on food. When they return to where the Symphony were, they have gone. Kirsten and August eat some of the fish and then follow the group, although they are out of sight. They sleep fitfully, aware of being alone.
The next day, at a gas station, Kirsten and August meet a man with a dog and explain where they're heading. The Symphony's traces have vanished from the route.
The man, Finn, asks about the Museum and says they can fill their water bottles. Behind the gas station, Kirsten recognizes Finn's redheaded children and asks whether they were once at St. Deborah. Finn thinks the prophet has sent them until they explain they are with the Symphony, which Finn remembers. There is a scar on his face in the shape of a T, a symbol that also appeared on buildings in St. Deborah.
Kirsten and August keep walking and reach an untouched house with three corpses in it. They take some clothes to make into costumes and scan the bookcases.
Kirsten once had a book, Dear V, of Arthur's letters, which she has since misplaced. In the letters, Arthur had recently arrived in Toronto and detailed his everyday life in the city and how he missed the mysterious V, who was evidently a friend from childhood. Arthur reminisced about listening to music in V's room and staying up to see comets on the island. He feared that he was not a good actor.
Eventually he wrote that V no longer seemed to be really his friend, as V didn’t write back. The next letter came years after the one before and said that Arthur was getting married and missed V. Next, he wrote about Elizabeth.
When Dear V was published, Elizabeth rang Clark to tell him. She wanted to sue someone, knowing the detail in the letters was "unsparing." V was an old friend, Victoria.
Clark wanted to track down a copy of the book quickly, but he had work interviews. He talked to a young woman, Dahlia, about how to improve her team and her company's situation. Dahlia said she loved her job but didn't believe any of the people Clark coached could really change. Her boss, for example, didn’t understand happiness; he was a workaholic who was “sleepwalking” through life.
Clark realized when he left that he, too, was sleepwalking, and he wondered if Arthur ever noticed that or wrote about it to Victoria.
The theme of absence is strikingly present across these chapters. The whole world through which the Symphony moves is one of absence: houses like the one Kirsten and August break into are reminders of a lost time, quiet and empty even when their inhabitants, as here, are technically still there. Those who, like Kirsten, are seeking memories of the time before the collapse seem to think of it as a world in which people lived fuller lives than they do now and where existence was simpler. Clark’s reflections and Arthur’s letters give the lie to this assumption: Clark, even in the days before the world ended, was like a "sleepwalker" in life, while Arthur, a great actor, was continually assailed by fears that he was a bad actor or was doing the wrong thing. Many people in their busy, thriving world were absent even though their bodies were present and moving.
By contrast, the members of the Symphony know where they are going and what their goal must be. They move toward their last stated destination and follow the protocol. It is very unusual for people to leave the Symphony unexpectedly, as Sayid and Dieter have, but the conductor is convinced they will follow the protocol and continue toward the Museum. In many ways, the togetherness of the Symphony far exceeds anything experienced by humans alive in the days before the end.