Student Question

Why is Matilda bitter toward the returning Philadelphians in Fever 1793?

Quick answer:

Matilda feels bitter towards the people who are begin to return to Philadelphia because they are well fed and have not suffered the way those who stayed behind during the cholera epidemic have.

Expert Answers

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When frost comes, many of the people who fled Philadelphia because of the cholera epidemic feel the cold makes it safe to return. Mattie watches them come back and feels bitter because they are well fed and happy. They talk to each other in what Mattie calls "annoying, bright voices." She thinks that they, in their happiness, are disrespectful to the people who suffered and died from the epidemic. Eliza has to remind Mattie not to be bitter.

Mattie notes that people like her who stayed behind are thin and pale. In contrast to those who escaped the epidemic, Mattie has been through a good deal of hardship, including losing her beloved grandfather, who was killed by thieves. She has been forced to grow up very quickly and fend for herself. She also carries with her the worry that her mother might be dead: she does not yet know where she is.

Mattie, however, is able to transcend her bitterness when she begins to make her own decisions. Although she is advised she should sell the coffee shop and use the money for a dowry, she decides that she is not going to do that. Instead, she invites Eliza to partner with her to keep the shop open. Taking control of her life helps Mattie get over her bad feelings.

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