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Fever, 1793

Fever, 1793

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Mortality Theme

For whom does the bell toll? Well, dear reader, the bell tolls for you. Whether the line is spoken by Metallica, Ernest Hemingway, or the poet John Donne, all of them agree that some day, somewhere, somehow you are going to die. Pretty scary, we know. But, sigh, that's death for you.

OK, OK, fine. We'll stop being so morbid. Let's think about death in a less scary way. Part of what Fever, 1793 wants you to ponder is that while death is a universal, there's also something that always goes along with it: life. The two are completely and utterly connected. Example 1: Remember how the garden was dead when Matilda and Grandfather got back from the country? Well, with a little hard work it came back to life again – and even started producing food, to help sustain more life. Example 2: Remember how terrible it was when Grandfather died? Of course you do. But then what happened next? Matilda found Nell – and helped the child start a brand new life. Part of the way in which Matilda deals with the trauma of losing those she loves is to embrace the life ahead. Matilda (not to mention the reader) must realize that yes, death is way scary – but it's only one part in the larger life cycle.

Questions About Mortality

  1. What's the significance of Polly's death? Why does Matilda keep thinking about Matthew?
  2. Why is it important for Matilda to honor her Grandfather with a proper burial?
  3. What is the significance of the Cook family's garden? How does it change throughout the novel? Why is it important that death is connected to life? What images or metaphors do the novel use to emphasize this connection?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The bell may toll for everyone, but death means different things to different people. That is, the way in which we experience death – and the events surrounding it – are very different for each culture, society, and even person.

In Fever, 1793, while death is an end, it's also always connected to a beginning: life.

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