by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever, 1793 Theme of Science
If there's one thing we learn from Fever, 1793 it's that science isn't an exact science. Debates about the cause of the fever and its proper treatment rage through the hospitals and coffeehouses of Philadelphia. There's the school of thought led by Dr. Benjamin Rush (an actual historical figure, by the way) who believes the fever is quickly spreading everywhere and can only be treated by letting blood and administering expectorates. (That means draining the body of fluids and purging with treatments of jalap and calomel. Yikes.) Then there's the French school of thought, practiced by people like Dr. Deveze, who argue that bed rest is the best path to health. Sounds much better to us but hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. We now know that the French were right about things, but what we should really take away from this topic is that science is changing, shifting, and shaping. It's a field of knowledge that's very much a work in progress.
Questions About Science
- Why do people in the novel trust Dr. Benjamin Rush's cures?
- Why do people in the novel have a hard time trusting the French doctors?
- How do rumors and gossip sometimes shape the way we see things like medicine?
- Why does Dr. Rush enlist the Free African Society to care for fever patients? What is his assumption based on?
Chew on This
You can't prove everything: even scientific "facts" are sometimes debatable. What we think we know about the world is always changing.
Doctors should do no harm to a patient.