Student Question

What was Mr. Carris's theory about the cause of illness in Fever 1793?

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In chapter 4 of Laurie Anderson's Fever 1793, Mr. Carris asserts that the illness that is beginning to spread around Philadelphia is being caused by "the heap of rotting coffee beans on Ball's Wharf." His belief may be founded on the fact that he is an export trader. This is a different opinion from the government clerk seated near him, who believes that the illness has been brought to city by Santo Domingan refugees. This theory characterizes the racial tensions that were pervasive in 1790s America.

However, both opinions are overheard by a doctor who is drinking coffee nearby. The doctor tells the men that the illness is not confined to the refugees and that he suspects it is yellow fever. All the patrons immediately dismiss this pessimistic prediction, partly because this disease had not been recorded in the area for more than thirty years and partly because they do not want to acknowledge the possibility that a deadly epidemic may be on the horizon.

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