Quote 1

WHAT WAS LOST IN THE COLLAPSE: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

This quote appears at the start of Chapter 11 just as the Traveling Symphony is about to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It comes after the troupe has found their friends missing in St. Deborah by the Water and a strange graveyard in the town. Placed here in the novel between moments of uncertainty and death and moments of hope through art, this quote encapsulates the central thesis of the novel: even in the wake of unimaginable pain and loss, hope exists. The Traveling Symphony aims to remind people of the beauty that still exists in the world and to create spaces for them to mourn, celebrate, and escape from the poverty of their condition. Kirsten, too, finds that she never feels more alive or freer from fear than when she’s performing onstage. Throughout the novel, Mandel explores the beauty that can be found through destruction, pain, and grief.

Quote 2

“No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.”

“I think this is happening because it was supposed to happen,” Elizabeth speaks very softly.

“I’d prefer not to think that I’m following a script,” Miranda says ...

This conversation comes after the awkward dinner party in Chapter 15 when Miranda realizes that Arthur is cheating on her and her marriage is ending. This exchange encapsulates a theme throughout the novel: the moral impact of harmful actions. Here, Elizabeth attempts to avoid personal responsibility by claiming fate caused the affair. In contrast, Kirsten and the other troupe members grapple with the pain of having to kill other people to survive. Though they truly have no choice other than death, they are still changed by violence. This quote also foreshadows the belief that gives rise to the prophet. Elizabeth’s insistence that all things happen for a reason influences Tyler to believe that he and other survivors were spared from the Georgia Flu because of divine intervention. As a result, Tyler enacts terrible violence on the new world, justifying his actions in the same way his mother does here.

Quote 3

Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. 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…

This scene takes place in Chapter 30 as Jeevan watches the various systems of the world break down: broadcast television, the Internet, electricity, and running water to name a few. He watches traffic ground to a halt in the city, leaving cars abandoned in the road. In watching the end of the project of human civilization, Jeevan here understands that vast network of people that had always been a part of the smooth functioning of his everyday life. Now, increasingly alone in the world, he understands too late that the world has always been delicately interdependent. This sense of interconnectedness continues throughout the novel in ways both seen and unseen. Jeevan doesn’t know that he is remembered as a source of comfort to Kirsten throughout her life. Kirsten marvels that the prophet quotes from her graphic novels in the moments before he dies without ever knowing that Tyler is Arthur’s son. Clark glimpses the interconnectedness of the characters’ lives when he recognizes himself in the graphic novel that Kirsten leaves behind. The characters help each other, bring each other solace, and save each other’s lives. This gives a sense that, though the larger project of humanity has broken down, the intricate ways the characters are interrelated continues.