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Fever, 1793

Simon & Schuster 2002. 268 pages
First published: 2000
ISBN: 9780689848919 (paperback)
9780689838583 (hardcover)
9781442443075 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Novel
Book genre: Historical

Text Elements:

characterization, point of view, setting

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

This novel brings a personal perspective to the yellow fever epidemic as it follows Mattie Cook through the worst of the disease. Through her eyes, we watch as the city of Philadelphia descends into mayhem.

The novel is well-researched and conveys historical realities, including slavery. “Like most blacks in Philadelphia, Eliza is free,” Mattie says of the woman who works in the family-owned coffee house. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from historical writings. Some are about the role of women in society and, as the novel progresses, about the plague: “The chambers of diseases were deserted, and the sick left to die of negligence.”

Mattie’s voice is strong and honest: “She lay under the faded bedding like a rag doll losing its stuffing,” she says of her ailing mother, “her hair a wild collection of snakes on the pillow.” The story is heartbreaking, yet there is no time to linger; the plot drives on.

The book challenges society’s rigid role of women and African American people at that time, roles that Mattie and Eliza challenge. It is their bond that ultimately allows them to survive in a near-deserted city. At the end of the novel, Mattie proposes that Eliza become a shareholder of the coffeehouse.

An appendix provides a factual overview of many of the historical references, helping to clarify certain facts, such as how to treat – and how not to treat – the disease.

  •  

    Read the first chapter and discuss any interesting or surprising aspects of the opening scene. Discuss the use of quotations, particularly the first one: “The city of Philadelphia.…” Consider the types of quotations chosen and how they support or contradict the narrative, and whether they add to or detract from the story.

  •  

    Some people fled the cities and set up in rural areas. Some who stayed behind worked tirelessly to help the afflicted; others turned their backs on family members in need. In a small group, discuss the way the text deals with human responses to the epidemic.

  •  

    Using the historical notes provided in the appendix as a starting point, research the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. What were the social, economic and political consequences? Share your findings with an audience of peers and adults.

  • Health and Well-Being
  • Science and Technology