The significant events occur within a four-month period during which the characters of this once-thriving town are changed forever. The story begins with Mattie waking to a mosquito whining in one ear and her mother hollering in the other.
Mattie lives in a room above the family coffee house. It is August and the relentless heat pours into the modest bedchamber. Struggling to awaken to begin her chores, Mattie typifies the life of a teen. She struggles with her desire to do the right thing and her need to have some fun. She finds her mother annoying and dreams of the day when she can slip free of family restrictions. Mattie thinks of her friend, Nathaniel Benson, who understands her dreams.
Anderson effectively puts readers in the hubbub of the nation's capital, Philadelphia. She describes the hustle and bustle of the city, with its horsemen, carriages, and carts. A neighbor gossips as a dog barks at a pig running loose in the street. A blacksmith's hammer hits his anvil.
The author sets the topography and political climate. From Mattie's coffeehouse, she can see the rooftop of the State House where the Congress met. The coffeehouse sits two blocks away from President Washington's house. Politicians, as well as merchants and gentlemen, enjoy cups of coffee, a bite to eat, and the daily news. On a clear day, Mattie can see the masts of the ships anchored at the docks of the Delaware River. These historical and geographical details...
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Anderson employs a plain writing style by using simple sentences, dialect from everyday speech, and clear and direct statements. She narrates the story in chronological order through the protagonist's eyes. Her realism depicts the epidemic of yellow fever and the frequently callous responses to it.
Anderson's imagery is detailed and effective and yet occasionally hard to fathom. She gives readers a concrete sensation of the aspects of yellow fever; the delirium caused by the fever, and the vomiting of blood and black liquid. She describes the gruesome reality of people discarding dying people on the street, banning sick people from other cities, and burying the dead in mass graves. Anderson presents enough information to make the events believable, without turning the novel into a horror story.
Anderson uses historical speech patterns and period slang of 1793. Doing so may facilitate young adults' understanding of this time in history.
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Anderson shows compassion for the people dealing with this deadly epidemic. Her characters reflect true-life attitudes and exist in a historical context. From the happenings at the coffeehouse to the heroic volunteers of the Free African Society, Anderson shows an understanding of women and girls—how they dream and how far they feel they can stretch for them.
Anderson created a facts appendix to answer questions that readers may have that she could not fit into the story. This additional part of the book adds to its historical value.
Treating teenagers in a kindly way, Anderson tells an honest story about an event that affected thousands of people. She tells it using a teenage perspective, which makes the story connect with teen readers' attitudes and concerns.
The author shows Mattie's burgeoning romance with Nathaniel in a tasteful and appropriate way. They engage in mild flirting, take extra notice of each other, and have a lot of fun.
Anderson approaches the intrinsic struggle in illness and death with compassion. She shows how horrific circumstances can lead to horrific responses, such as the dumping of the sick out onto the street. The Free African Society exemplifies how horrific circumstances can bring out extraordinary acts of human love and kindness.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Characterize Mattie. How does she grow and change during the story? What characteristics enable her to survive her illness and traumas?
2. Describe Luanda, Mattie's mother. What makes this character important? Why? What events in Lucinda's past contribute to making her the adult she is?
3. Characterize Eliza. What role does she play in developing Mattie's character?
4. Characterize Mattie's grandfather. How did he support Mattie? Why is his character essential in Mattie's maturation?
5. Mattie befriends Nathaniel Benson. Describe Nathaniel's importance. How is the relationship between Matti and Nathaniel different from comparable ones in the early twenty-first century?
6. List the attitudes of the Federalist Era in Philadelphia in 1793. What kinds of heroic acts, and by whom, helped the people overcome their fears?
7. What important part did Nell play as Mattie's companion?
8. Compare and contrast life in Philadelphia before and after the fever of 1793. What positive changes arose from this experience?
9. Animals frequently play a significant part in our lives. What role does Mattie's cat, Silas, play in the story? What does he contribute to the story?
10. List the literary techniques that Anderson employs in Fever 1793. How do they contribute to the novel's effectiveness?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Research the political climate in 1793. Why was the capital in Philadelphia? Where did the Congress meet? What issues did the government officials handle?
2. Detail the real-life impact of yellow fever in the United States in 1793. What causes yellow fever? Can it be found in the world today? What medical changes occurred because of this tragedy? How would this disease be treated in the early twenty-first century?
3. Animals frequently play a valuable part in history. What types of pets did Philadelphians own in the late 1790s? What useful purposes did they serve besides companionship? What animals would be in the city which were not pets? What roles did these animals have?
4. The story occurs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1793. Compare and contrast Philadelphia in 1793 and today. Describe its layout and traditions. What businesses support the culture then and now? How did the city change after the epidemic to make it what it is today?
5. Anderson refers to a hot air balloon in her story. Research the event that occurred on January 9,1793. What makes it significant? Did this event affect hot air balloons as we know them today?
6. Compare and contrast the coffeehouses of the time. What purposes did they fulfill? What food and beverages did owners serve? How do they compare to modern day coffeehouses?
7. Describe the medical community and remedies available in 1793. What credentials did the...
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Fever 1793 can be enjoyed in an unabridged edition audiocassette (six hours, four cassettes) narrated by Emily Bergl (Listening Library Inc., October 2000). In addition to Fever 1793, the work includes other unabridged titles that tell stories of children who lived during various historical periods; for example, in a New York orphanage in 1926 and during the potato famine in Ireland.
According to AudioFile 2001, Bergl sets a reasonable pace in Fever 1793. She avoids sounding maudlin during a nonstop series of hardships. She conveys the hopefulness and joyfulness of Mattie, as well as the resolve of other key people in the novel.
The book can be purchased in large print edition (Thorndike Press, June 2001).
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For Further Reference
Bradburn, Francis. Review of Fever 1793. Booklist, vol. 97, issue 3 (October 1, 2000): 332.
Burkam, Anita L. Review of Fever 1793. Horn Book Magazine, vol. 76, issue 5 (September 2000): 562.
Hudak, Tina. Review of Fever 1793(audiobook). School Library Journal, vol. 47, issue 3 (March 2001): 84.
Isaacs, Kathleen. Review of Fever 1793. School Library Journal, vol. 46, issue 8 (August 2000): 177.
Review of Fever 1793. Publishers Weekly, vol. 247, issue 31 (July 31, 2000): 96.
Rich, Anna. Review of Fever 1793 (audiobook). Booklist, vol. 97, issue 15 (April 1,2001): 1494.
Thompson, Constance Decker. Review of...
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