Fever, 1793 Plot Analysis
Matilda Cook is a teenage girl living above a coffeehouse in Philadelphia in 1793.
The major conflict at this stage is between Matilda and her mother – the age-old struggle between parent and child for authority and identity.
Everyone is getting sick: the serving girl Polly dies and Matilda's mother comes down with yellow fever.
Matilda is being confronted for this first time with illness, and what's more, with death. She is also being forced away from her mother and the city she loves – into the country.
Matilda and Grandfather flee to the country and are abandoned by the family they set out with. Matilda is stricken with yellow fever.
Matilda and Grandfather get a taste of the cruelty of others when the farmer and his family leave them for dead (more or less) in the countryside. Things keep getting worse, it would seem, when Matilda herself becomes ill and blacks out.
After returning to the city, the coffeehouse is burglarized. Grandfather is killed in the struggle with one of the thieves.
Talk about trauma! If she wasn't before, Matilda is definitely feeling like a victim of the horrors of the fever epidemic now. She watches her grandfather get in a fight with a thief looting their home, and then, horror of horrors, she witnesses her grandfather's death. Though she's there to give him comfort as he dies, the event brings her deep pain and anger.
Matilda and Eliza nurse the sick children (Nell and the twins) in the bottom floor of the coffeehouse.
This section of the novel sees a turning point for Matilda. She is no longer a victim of the fever, rather she's the one giving help to others. She takes responsibility for the orphan Nell and starts working with Eliza at the Free African Society. The suspense builds, however, when Nell and Eliza's nephews becomes sick. Eliza and Matilda must nurse the children back to health – but will they survive?
The frost finally comes and the children's fever breaks.
The frost comes, and the children survive! The fever epidemic is over and life returns to the city. The marketplace is filled once again with food and the people who fled to the country return to the Philadelphia. The coffeehouse is set to reopen.
Matilda becomes partners in the coffeehouse with Eliza and Nathaniel Benson. She is reunited with her mother.
As the novel ends, the family is re-formed: Matilda asks Eliza to be her business partner, Nell stays on at the coffeehouse with Matilda, Nathaniel shows up, and Mother returns at last. Though things have changed, everyone is back together. Matilda is a survivor and is stronger than ever, running the coffeehouse. Her journey into adulthood is complete.