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Last Updated on January 20, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 765

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The conversation in Spanish went on in the nearby darkness. The ships still shone on the horizon; there was still no breeze. It was morning in New York City. She imagined Clark hanging up the receiver in his office in Manhattan. This was during the final month of an era when it was possible to press a series of buttons on a telephone and speak with someone on the far side of the earth.

At the end of chapter 5, Miranda receives a phone call while she is on a work trip in Malaysia from a friend of her ex-husband's. Her ex-husband, Arthur Leander, has died while onstage during a performance; he was playing King Lear when he had a fatal heart attack. This passage is significant because it provides the reader with an early connection between the two time frames that make up the entirety of the novel: pre-collapse and post-collapse. The final sentence of the quote foreshadows a destruction so complete that basic conveniences like phone calls are impossible, alerting readers to a catastrophic event that provides the apocalyptic backdrop of the novel.

When the winter fever struck St. Deborah by the Water, when the mayor died, the prophet added the mayor's wife to his collection and moved with his followers into the gas station in the center of town. No one had quite realized how much weaponry they had. Their stories about travel in the south began to fall into place. Within a week it became obvious that the town was his. Eleanor didn't know why the prophet's dog was named Luli.

The prophet's dog, Luli, has the same name as a fictional dog that belongs to a comic book character named Dr. Eleven, a physicist who lives on a space station called Station Eleven. The Dr. Eleven comics were created by Miranda, the ex-wife of Arthur Leander. Miranda named the comic book dog after her own dog, Luli. Eleanor's confusion at the name of the dog in chapter 19 invites the reader to experience a moment of dramatic irony; the reader may remember the comic book dog and Miranda's own dog as Luli, which allows the reader to begin to make connections between characters who did not survive the flu and the characters who did.

Sometimes the Traveling Symphony thought that what they were doing was noble. There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigorating about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night. At other times it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it.

The Traveling Symphony seeks to preserve art in the face of apocalyptic destruction, speaking to what they believe, and perhaps what the author believes, is worth saving when disaster strikes. The members of the Traveling Symphony risk their own lives to enable art, in the form of music and Shakespeare, to survive the flu that has destroyed millions of lives; they believe in their mission more than their own creature comforts and, sometimes, even more than their own need for safety. This quote calls attention to the author's selection of names for various characters in the novel; Arthur Leander, the actor who dies onstage, and his ex-wife Miranda, the creator of Dr. Eleven, both have names of Shakespearean origin. Their names as well as the role of the Traveling Symphony remind the reader of what is worthy and good about the world and what is worth saving.

"He thinks the pandemic happened for a reason," Clark said.

"It did happen for a reason."

"Well, right, but I mean a reason besides the fact that almost everyone on earth caught an extremely deadly swine-flu mutation. He seems to think there was some sort of divine judgment involved."

"He's right," she said.

Arthur Leander's son, Tyler, and ex-wife Elizabeth sit with Clark, Arthur Leander's friend, discussing their predicament while living with other survivors in the Severn City Airport. It is Year Two of the post-flu era, and Tyler's childish but insightful discussion of his own philosophy behind the disaster bothers Clark, who refuses to believe that the disaster took place as a part of a greater plan. The tension between Clark and Tyler and Tyler's mother reflects tensions that exist currently in the world and that have always existed historically; no matter what sort of crises humans face, and no matter when these crises take place, there will always be a divide between individuals who try to explain the crises and those who simply accept them. This human tendency to debate meaning is a powerful one.