As we find out in Fever, 1793, people can suffer in so many ways: physically, yes, but also emotionally. The pain of yellow fever completely transforms Matilda's body. She becomes pale and gaunt, thin and sallow. There's another kind of scar, however, that's not so easy to see. Matilda experiences the loss of someone she loves – her grandfather – and it fills her with pain, grief, anger, fear, and just about every other nasty thing you can think of. The trauma of loss is something that will stay Matilda her for a very long time.
But while pain and suffering are supremely terrible, we also learn that there are strategies for coping with the harder parts of life. Matilda, for example, refuses to remain a victim of the fever. She's a survivor in the strongest sense of the word, and she also helps others survive. Matilda's painful experiences give her the ability to empathize (that is, feel the pain of others), so she starts doing a whole heck of a lot of good in the world. She helps Eliza nurse fever victims back to health, and she becomes a guardian to the orphan Nell, who, like her, was left without a mother or a father. Though suffering is an awful thing, the way in which Matilda deals with pain suggests that these experiences teach us valuable lessons about life – and sometimes help us make the world maybe just a little bit of a better place.
Questions About Suffering
- What is the difference between emotional pain and physical pain? Which do you think is worse for Matilda?
- What do you think would have happened to Nell if Matilda hadn't taken her in? What kind of life would Nell have had?
- Is Matilda a victim in this novel? Why or why not?
- How has the fever changed Matilda's mother at the end of the novel?
Chew on This
Only once Matilda herself has experienced pain can she truly empathize with others who are suffering.
While suffering is a part of life, we should do everything in our power to ease the pain of others.