Chapters 42–47 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 22, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1414
At first, those stranded in Severn City Airport simply waited to be rescued. Four years from the time of the disaster passed before Clark fully accepted the new reality.
Almost twenty years have now passed, and Clark thinks how lucky he is to have seen two such different worlds. Now the curator of the Museum, he explains to young people how airplanes and telephones worked.
When he landed at Severn City, the news had broken that the Georgia Flu was everywhere; all the flights had been canceled, and nobody had any information. Clark sought out Elizabeth and, with nowhere to go, told her he was going to stay in the airport. She agreed.
Later, Clark lay on the carpet and thought of his boyfriend, Robert, wondering where he was. Reading Arthur's obituary in a newspaper, he realized the world in which Arthur had died now seemed quite distant.
The narrative returns to the first winter in Severn City Airport. Elizabeth and Tyler are quickly recognized, and young people lament that they cannot tweet about it. Clark thinks they must be in shock.
By the third day, the vending machines are empty, and a party of people begin raiding drawers and cars to find useful items, and to search for Effexor for one girl who needs it, to no avail. The televisions are still on, but nobody picks up on the 911 line.
They break into a Mexican restaurant and cook a huge meal, then raid the Skymiles Lounge for alcohol and oranges. By the seventh day, the networks are going off air, and Tyler reads comics in the Skymiles Lounge while his mother prays.
One stranded pilot waits for snow to melt and then announces he is flying to Los Angeles if anyone wants to accompany him. Several of the company do, leaving fifty-four people in the airport. Clark wonders whether the airplane will land safely. The next day another pilot, Roy, flies up to Marquette for reconnaissance and never returns.
Elizabeth suggests that possibly only North America has been placed under a quarantine; she thinks this will pass and there will still be civilization beyond. Clark disagrees but doesn't argue.
Clark keeps shaving. After a month, he shaves off the left side of his hair, the way he used to wear it when he was young. He doesn't think about anyone he knew before the airport.
Elizabeth insists on keeping the runway shoveled free of snow, in case someone comes for them. One night a helicopter passes overhead but does not stop for them.
Dolores, a friend Clark has made in the airport, helps him make a bonfire one night, and they talk about how bright the sky looks. Soon the bonfire becomes a nightly place of meeting. Those stranded in the airport learn each other's languages.
On the eighty-fifth day, a man commits a rape and is driven into the forest at gunpoint and left there.
Dolores asks why nobody comes here, even those from nearby towns. She wonders if it’s because there is no one else left. Tyler, who has been reading the New Testament and wandering around alone, says that everything happens for a reason.
A scouting party goes out, and as he waits for them to return, Clark thinks of his boyfriend, Robert, a curator. If Robert were here, he would start an impromptu museum, and so Clark begins placing objects on shelves.
The scouting party returns with supplies from a nearby Chili's. They have seen no other people.
The next day a stunned stranger comes in, having followed the footsteps of the scouting party in the snow. He is crying because he had thought he was the only one left alive.
It is now Year Fifteen after the collapse. There are three hundred people in the airport, and the Museum of Civilization is vast in the Skymiles Lounge. It houses Elizabeth and Tyler's passports, left as a gift before they departed in Year Two. Just before this, Clark had seen Tyler reading from the Bible to an Air Gradia jet whose passengers, infected, had been locked inside to die. Tyler wanted to know why these people died and why some people were saved; he couldn't accept that it was simply chance.
Elizabeth seemed unconcerned when Clark reported this to her. She agreed that everything happened for a reason and that there might be some plan, some divine judgment, involved. When some religious wanderers arrived, Elizabeth and Tyler left with them.
By Year Fifteen, the Museum is a place people come to after long days to experience memories of the old world. A school in Concourse C teaches history to local children. One day a trader brings a recent makeshift newspaper with a write-up of a performance by the Traveling Symphony; toward the back of the paper is part of an interview between the editor, Diallo, and an actress, Kirsten Raymonde. To Clark’s shock, she recalls in the interview the night that Arthur died.
Clark wonders if the newspaper might presage a return of civilization. He waits for further issues, but none come.
After the interview with Diallo, Kirsten admits off the record that she has killed three people. Diallo has now interviewed almost all the members of the Symphony. He was a copywriter once.
Diallo asks about Kirsten's brother; she says that he died of infection from stepping on a nail. She takes Diallo with her when she leaves to watch the group’s musicians play a Beethoven symphony.
The same night, Jeevan is drinking wine by the river in a settlement that now has twenty-seven families; Jeevan married a woman named Daria in Year Ten, and they are talking about whether the school should really teach the children about the old days.
A woman has been shot, and Jeevan, the town's makeshift doctor, goes to tend to her. The prophet’s group has been through the area; they tied up the woman's child in front of her and her husband, Edward, until Edward gave the group guns. The woman was taken as "insurance," but the group shot her anyway because she wouldn't agree to become the prophet’s wife.
The woman falls asleep once the gunshot wound is stitched, and Jeevan wonders if the prophet is going all the way north to Toronto.
It is Year Nineteen and Clark is seventy, which is now considered very old. The airport has a graveyard between the runways. He and Garrett, one of the original settlers, talk about the old days and the ridiculousness of corporate cliches. Garrett is amused by Clark's old reports from his job. Clark, meanwhile, likes to think of old friends: Arthur and Robert and his mother.
One day, he nods off and is woken when Charlie, Jeremy, and Annabel arrive. They explain that they have become separated from the Traveling Symphony and about the prophet, who was from the airport. Clark suddenly realizes from their description that the prophet must be Tyler.
The seed of the idea of the airport as a destination for the Symphony is planted several chapters before it becomes clear how the airport came to be populated and how it is connected to the rest of the story. In Mandel's disaster, there are no coincidences or loose ends: Clark, Arthur's lawyer, appears inconsequential in the earlier parts of the story—as does Arthur's son, Tyler—but this section of the narrative shatters that illusion. The story of the Museum of Civilization centers Clark, a link to Arthur, in the post-pandemic part of the narrative. We discover how he arrived at the airport and why, and clues distributed throughout this section of the text make it apparent that the prophet, whose insignia is that of an airplane in flight, is none other than Tyler, with his youthful obsession with biblical warnings about plague. This section of the story also helps to explain why Tyler, with a mother who refused to accept that everything was over for them, might have come to believe that everything happens for a reason and that those who survived the pandemic needed to prove themselves worthy of that survival.
The arrival of the Diallo newspaper at the airport in this section, too, provides an explanation for the presence of multiple quotes from Diallo's interview with Kirsten in previous sections: the write-up of the interviews offers evidence for Clark that someone else who knew Arthur is still alive in the world.