The paperweight symbolizes the beauty that sustains the new world and elevates life beyond mere survival. Tanya gives Kirsten the paperweight after Arthur dies, providing her a beautiful object to distract her from the pain and confusion of Arthur’s death. Kirsten, whose life is about to be destroyed by the natural disaster of the pandemic, is enraptured by the paperweight. She notes that it looks like it has a storm trapped inside of it. In this way, the paperweight reflects the necessity of finding beauty within life’s real and metaphorical storms. As she moves through the new world, Kirsten keeps the paperweight with her despite the fact that it’s useless and could be seen as a dead weight that makes her journey more difficult. But the paperweight’s beauty often comforts Kirsten, and it anchors her to the old world and helps her to strive to make beauty in the present.
Star Trek symbolizes the best of the old world and the hope for humanity that the Symphony members still carry with them. The Symphony’s motto, “Survival is insufficient,” comes from Star Trek. It’s a unifying theme of the Symphony’s work, Kirsten’s life, and the novel itself. Star Trek, like Shakespeare, lives on in the new world through the memories of those who loved it in the past. With both space travel and television relegated to the past, the huge cultural phenomenon of the old world is passed on like folklore in the new world. This is apparent in moments such as when August tells Kirsten about episodes of the show. Star Trek sits at the nexus of art, pop culture, and technological achievement. It is revered by those who remember it, like August, because it fills them with hope that humanity can once again rise to such levels of both achievement and leisure.
The Untouched House
The untouched house is a microcosm of tenderness and loss which symbolizes how the new world is haunted by the old. A rarity in the new world, the house which has not been plundered holds within it an unmarred representation of the old world. Kirsten is awed to walk through the house and see the little reminders of what life used to be like. These include the light switches, the dresses, and the precious, mundane beauty of a towel made just for a child. She tries to remember what her own life was like, which underscores the ways she reaches into her past in a search for understanding and solace. At the same time, the house preserves the horror of the pandemic in the form of the little boy dead in his bed. In this sense, it also serves as a mausoleum. Though Kirsten marvels at their find, she can’t escape the smell or reality of death. In this way, the untouched house represents Kirsten and other characters’ relationship to the past. They miss and marvel at all they have lost, but the memories are all darkened by death’s inescapability.