The Crucial Importance of Knowledge in Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
In the historical fiction novel, Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, citizens in the city Philadelphia are suffering and dying from yellow fever. The epidemic is spreading all throughout the town and not many people can stop it. The main character Mattie, who is 14, is devastated when her mother falls ill. Mattie suffers through many losses, but has to use her intelligence to survive, alone. Therefore, a lesson that Anderson teaches readers is that you have to use all of your knowledge and apply it to situations in order to be successful. Throughout the book, the author uses certain techniques to show what kind of character Matilda is and how she uses everything she has to her advantage. Anderson describes how “Mother snapped open the shutters and heat poured into our bedchamber. Two beds, a washstand, and a wooden trunk with frayed leather straps nearly filled it. It seems even smaller with Mother storming around it” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 1). This line depicts how Matilda did not grow up with much money Therefore, readers may infer that Matilda did not have a great education or even any type of education at all.
Another detail that shows this flaw in Mattie is the clothes that she wore compared to many other people in the town. For example, when Mattie and her mother were about to go over a friend’s house, Mother noticed something about her dress. It had dust and dirt all over it. Later when they get to their friend’s house, Mattie’s dress rips at the seams and is embarrassed. This proves how Matilda was clearly not spoiled and would do anything to be like the other people from a social standpoint. Regardless, it does not stop Mattie from using her knowledge. Moving forward in the book, it is discovered that Mother falls ill with yellow fever. This epidemic is spreading throughout the town and is becoming a serious issue. It was hard for Mattie to see her mother suffer so she knew she had to do something and it was really urgent. Therefore she said, “‘I would like to place an advertisement in your newspaper. I’m searching for my mother. She’s gone’” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 157). This illustrates how Mattie is not an ordinary person, because an ordinary person would just tell other people to spread the word.
But, since this was so critical, Mattie used her smarts and knew that almost everyone was reading the newspaper during this time and knew that it would be a very efficient way to reach others. This helps prove that such a young person can be successful with using all of their knowledge. Another example of this theme is when Eliza and Mattie used their intelligence to make a very important decision that could decide the fate of a life. This life was not just any life, it was Mother’s life, who is critical to Eliza and Mattie. Specifically for Mattie, having her mother around to comfort her while so many people were dying would have been nice. The text states, “I grabbed Eliza’s hands. ‘Think of it. Dr. Rush has seen two epidemics in his life. The French doctors came from the West Indies, where they treat yellow fever every year. Surely their experience is more valuable’” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 205). This illustrates how you have to gain information whenever you can get it because you will never know when you will need it. Mattie and Eliza probably never thought that they would need to know about doctors that treat yellow fever, but it was a big help that they did. Yellow fever is not a very common disease so people do not think that they are going to catch it. This event did not just happen once. For example, Mattie found an infant, whose name was Nell, stranded because the rest of her family had yellow fever. Mattie took good care of her, but was not enough to stop the contagious disease getting to Nell.
Mattie, once again, used her wisdom to decide if she was going to have Nell bled, but since she was so young, she would have to push through. All-in-all, the author proves to readers how taking in and observing your surroundings throughout life is the best way to succeed. Furthermore, using your previous knowledge in order to be successful is shown when Mattie and Grandfather got kicked off the carriage and were left in the middle of the woods. They were alone with nobody to help them. Then, Grandfather falls ill and now Mattie is all by herself. Many people are unable to survive in the woods, even adults, so it would be much harder for Mattie, a child, to be stranded. “I walked a few hundred paces south to where the road rose sharply. On top of the hill, I squinted along the horizon until I found what I was looking for. A line of willow trees. ‘Old soldier’s trick,’ I said as I set off. Find a willow tree and you’ll soon find water nearby” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 85). Being such a young age does not stop Mattie succeeding through life, as shown when she uses her knowledge to find a necessity. Not many adults could have been able to do what she did alone.
This is significant because it references how Mattie reaches all the way into her mind to find what she needs. Her grandfather was a soldier and taught Mattie about the trick. This makes Mattie have more knowledge which allows her to have more resources to make it easier to navigate through life. The author also uses descriptive words and sentences to exemplify this theme even more. “The stream was sweet and clear” and “But first I had to find supper. A row of raspberry bushes heavy with ripe fruit lined the other side of the bank. I splashed over and started to pick the fruit. ‘Raspberry bushes mean rabbits are about,” I told a curious bluebird watching from a milkweed plant. Grandfather could snare a rabbit, and I’d cook it over a small fire” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 85, 86). This quote demonstrates that Matilda is acting upon knowledge she learned over time and not from anything specific she learned in school. This clearly is showing that by surviving, which is succeeding for Mattie in this part of the story, is more effective when you have the background information.
After reading Fever: 1793, readers can be confused about what the book is really about with the multiple themes. It may be true that biggest theme throughout the book is that you have to persevere through life, especially when you are facing obstacles. Mattie was faced with difficulties through this time such as getting kicked off the carriage in the middle of the woods, watching her grandfather take his last breath, and dealing with Mother suffering from yellow fever. Still, the greatest message that the author is trying to teach readers is that being successful requires knowledge to be utilized. You can not persevere without that knowledge. If you do not do anything about the situation you are in, it will not change. In addition, many people look at being successful as being rich or having the most friends, but that is wrong. Successful means to accomplish an aim or purpose and that is what exactly what Mattie did. She saved and helped as many people as she could through this time of yellow fever. As a result of this, just having perseverance is not enough, Mattie needed to rely on her knowledge a great deal more to get through these situations.
To conclude, the author Anderson uses her characters’ actions and dialogue to teach readers to use all of the knowledge they have. If Mattie and Eliza were not resourceful and decided not to bleed Mother, then Mother would not be alive. But, they made the right decision. “‘She is supposed to live a life of leisure’” (Anderson, 2000, pg. 237). If being wise means that you are more likely to succeed and survive, then acquiring all the knowledge like Mattie and Eliza did, is imperative to your life.
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