by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever, 1793 Theme of Family
What defines a family? Fever, 1793 is a book that would very much like to know. Matilda Cook begins the novel with a pretty small family: it's just her, her mother, and her grandfather. Her grandfather she adores, of course, but her mother is one person that, for some reason, she just can't stand at the moment.
By the end of the book, though, Matilda, has made an even larger family for herself, an extended circle of friends and loved ones who Matilda cares for and cares about: there's the little orphan Nell, Nathaniel Benson, the twins, Eliza, Eliza's brother Joseph, and Mother Smith. Oh yeah, and even Mother too. For Matilda, family becomes a group of people who not only share blood ties, but who share the same values and experiences. All of the people in Matilda's family are survivors of the fever epidemic, and nearly all of them risked their lives to help others during the outbreak. While we might think of a family simply as a collection of people who are related by blood, Fever, 1793 is a novel that suggests that family – and the love and care it brings – can be (and should be) a much more inclusive concept.
Questions About Family
- Who are the members in your family? Are they all related to you by blood?
- Why does the farmer abandon Matilda and Grandfather in the country? Should you treat your own family better than you treat other people?
- How does Matilda's place in her family change from the beginning to the end of the novel?
- Why does Matilda want to keep Nell? Why does Matilda need Nell? Does Nell need Matilda?
- What is Eliza's role in her family?
- What is Mother Smith's role at the end of the novel?
Chew on This
Families can be defined by blood, but they can also be defined as a group of people who are brought together by shared experiences or values. People can choose to be a family.
The primary duty of a family is to take care of its members.