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Themes

For Matilda Cook, the star of Fever, 1793, "America" means a very specific place: Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the city of her birth, and the city she very much loves. It's a regular melting pot with exotic goods in the marketplace, the hustle and bustle of the coffeehouse, and the merchants everywhere. When the fever epidemic hits, however, Philadelphia quickly transforms into one giant nightmare. There's looting and illness. People abandon the dead on the streets, and orphans are left to fend for themselves in dark doorways. How will the citizens of Philadelphia respond to such a crisis? Will they rise to the occasion? Sure, there are thieves and looters about, but also think of Eliza and the Free African Society. Or the printer Mr. Brown, who stays in the city to print notices from doctors. And then, of course, there's Matilda – who works tirelessly to care for the twins and Nell when they come down with yellow fever. These people present an optimistic vision of American life and of the gumption and character of the citizens of Philadelphia.

Questions About Visions of America

  1. The city of Philadelphia is often contrasted with the country. Why? How are they different? How are they similar?
  2. Why does Matilda love Philadelphia? Why does she hate the country?
  3. Why does Matilda always head to the marketplace to hear the news of the day? What else is transmitted in the marketplace besides food and goods?
  4. Why does Matilda want to go to Paris? How does she view Paris as different from Philadelphia?

Chew on This

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

Whether in the city or country, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 put all Americans to the test.

For better or for worse, Philadelphia will never be the same after the fever outbreak.

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