Study Guide

Fever, 1793 Quotes

By Laurie Halse Anderson

  • Mortality

    When I was eight, she got a letter saying her husband had been killed by a runaway horse. That was her worst day. She didn't say a word for months. My father had only been dead two years, so Mother knew just what lay in Eliza's heart. They both supped sorrow with a big spoon, that's what Mother said. It took years, but the smile slowly returned to Eliza's face. She didn't turn sour like Mother did. (2.15)

    Both Eliza's husband and Mattie's father were killed when Mattie was very young. Death is thought of by her as a part of the past rather than the present. Also, while Eliza and Lucille share a similar loss, they cope with their personal tragedies in very different ways. Why do you think that is?

    I kept my eyes closed, trying to see Polly happy, joking, maybe stealing a kiss with Matthew, then bursting through the door to tell me. It couldn't be real. How could Polly be dead? (3.9)

    The death of the serving girl Polly marks the novel's first casualty from the fever, and Mattie is in shock from the news. For Mattie, death is still something unreal or only seen at a great distance. In this case, the late Polly's love for her beau Matthew allows death to become something tragic and maybe even a little bit romantic. Note, too, that the love between Polly and Matthew allows us to juxtapose death with its opposite: life.

    Bong. Bong. Bong.

    A little boy sitting on the cobblestones covered his ears. The chattering marketplace voices hushed as the ringing continued. Every face turned toward the bell swaying in its tower.

    "Another person dead," said the butcher. He brought his cleaver down, slicing the mutton leg on his table into two pieces. "The bell rings once for each year the person lived," he explained. (5.79-5.81)

    For whom the bell tolls, indeed! The church bell tolling in the marketplace is a symbolic reminder of those who pass. Again, for Mattie, death is something experienced as a symbol rather than as a first-hand encounter. Why is this scene juxtaposed with a butcher chopping meat (i.e., food)? How is death here juxtaposed with life?

    "I'm burning," whispered Colette. She crumpled to the flowered carpet in a faint.

    While Mrs. Ogilvie shrieked, Mother knelt down and laid the back of her hand against Colette's forehead. "The fever!" (7.68-7.69)

    Death is the great leveler, and even comes to the posh Ogilvie residence. Though Colette will eventually survive the fever, we're reminded in this scene that, though different social classes may treat mortality differently, illness and death come for all.

    "Some doctors warn we may see a thousand dead before it's over. There are forty-thousand people living in Philadelphia, William. Can you imagine if one in forty were to die?" (8.57)

    As Mr. Carris suggests, the idea of an epidemic is difficult for the mind to comprehend. What does death mean once it reaches such staggering numbers? Are statistics the only way we can process the enormity of such a loss?

    My shoe squashed something brown and green and soft. I shuddered and hurried my pace. I could never abide rotten fruit.

    Fruit.

    Fruit?

    I spun around, wide awake and hungry.

    Above me hung gnarled branches heavy with green speckled pears. I grabbed one and bit into it, ignoring the juice that ran down my fingers and chin. I gathered as many pears as I could carry and set off with new energy to find Grandfather. With food, we could hold out for days. (13.55-13.59)

    One of the big ideas in this novel is that death is always accompanied by life. The two are inseparable, and Mattie must realize this in order to cope with her losses. She must see death as part of a cycle rather than an end. Here, she finds a pile of rotted fruit, which she dismisses; then she looks up and sees fresh fruit that can sustain her and her grandfather. How is the pear tree emblematic of the cycle of life and death?

    "It's a man. Stop the wagon, we must help him!"

    "He is past helping, Miss," the driver said as he urged on the horses. "I checked him on the way out to fetch you this morning. He were too far gone to go to the hospital. His family tossed him out so as they wouldn't catch the fever. The death cart will get him soon for burying." (16.37)

    How does one deal with dead bodies during a fever epidemic? Well, it's a good question. Once a person is dead, should he or she still be honored? What about in times of crisis, with plenty of other pressing matters?

    Dead? Grandfather couldn't be dead. My grandfather – candy-giving, wood-chopping, tobacco-smelling grandfather. Who carried me through Philadelphia like a princess. Who knew every politician, printer, carpenter, and captain. Who fed stray dogs. Who curbed Mother's tongue. Who carved me a doll's cradle. Who dried my tears.
    Dead. (19.92)

    Death has finally taken someone closes to Matilda, her grandfather. Note the enormity of the emotional loss as Matilda runs through her memory banks, cataloguing his presence at every important step of her life. Who will be there for Matilda now that Grandfather is gone?

    There could be no running from this. Hiding from death was not like hiding from Mother when she wanted me to scrub kettles, or ignoring Silas when he begged for food. I was the only one left. (20.6)

    As the epidemic rages, death is personified and becomes something Mattie feels is pursuing her. Death hits closer and closer to home as Mattie realizes that she too will die one day. And possibly sooner than she would like.

    What did it feel like to die? Was it a peaceful sleep? Some thought it was full of either trumpet-blowing angels or angry devils. Perhaps I was already dead. (20.86)

    Again, Mattie contemplates her own mortality. As the fever epidemic escalates, how do life and death become almost indistinguishable? Is Mattie one of the living dead?

    "Your grandfather was a wise man. You couldn't have saved him, Mattie. It was his time."

    I sniffed and took a shaky breath.

    "What happened after he died?" she asked.

    I filled in the rest of the story quickly, this strange day that began with a burial and ended with a homeless child in my arms. (22.42-22.45)

    Again and again, Mattie must realize that death has an opposite: life. Here, the loss of one dear person – Grandfather– is juxtaposed with the addition of another to the family – the orphan Nell.

  • Suffering

    The house was silent for a moment, except for the sound of Matthew down the block still hammering away at his forge. Had anyone told him that Polly was gone? (4.26)

    The serving girl Polly is the first casualty of the fever among Matilda's acquaintances. The pain of the loss, though, is still very much at a distance. Matilda can only imagine the effect on Polly's beau, Matthew. Suffering means something in the background.

    Mother shivered so hard, her teeth rattled. Even with all the blankets in the house on her, she could not warm. She lay under the faded bedding like a rag doll losing its stuffing, her hair a wild collection of snakes on the pillow, her cornflower blue eyes poisoned with streaks of yellow and red. It hurt to look at her. (9.37)

    Matilda's relationship to pain and suffering draws nearer, coming into the foreground. She witnesses first-hand the effects of the fever on her mother's body and relates the scene in the language of childhood nightmares: her mother looks like a "rag doll" come apart, like her hair is filled with snakes, her eyes are poisoned.

    Wives were deserted by husbands, and children by parents. The chambers of diseases were deserted, and the sick left to die of negligence. None could be found to remove the lifeless bodies. Their remains, suffered to decay by piecemeal, filled the air with deadly exhalations, and added tenfold to the devastation. – Charles Brockden Brown, Arthur Mervyn; or Memoirs of the Year 1793 (15.epigraph)

    Laurie Halse Anderson inserts short epigraphs before each chapter, and this one is taken from the novel Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown. The inclusion suggests that the kind of suffering Matilda is witnessing is experienced not just by her, but by many. It is represented not just in this book, but in several. In the quote, we get a sense of the scale of the fever, the devastation becoming "tenfold."

    I wandered up one street and down the next. The printer's words haunted me.

    Thousands dead.

    I saw Grandfather's empty eyes.

    No food.

    I saw Mother order me to leave her.

    No hope.

    I saw people weeping the doorways and did not stop. I heard the death carts rattling in the street and did not look up. (20.78-20.84)

    The idea of an epidemic suggests to us that we should be thinking of suffering on both a personal level (like Matilda's loss of her grandfather) and on a large scale. As Matilda mentions, there are "thousands" dead. Can you imagine a thousand stories just like Matilda's? And why does Matilda find the situation so hopeless?

    The sights and smells of Eliza's patients were no worse than Bush Hill, but I was not prepared for the heartache. Walking into the homes of strangers, sitting on their furniture, and drying the tears of their children was harder than cleaning up the sick. A dying woman in a cot surrounded by strangers was sorrowful, but a dying woman surrounded by her children, her handiwork, the home where she worked so hard, left me in tears. (24.1)

    Again, Matilda is witnessing suffering, but notice that she has changed her role in the process. Matilda is no longer a victim. She's now an active aid in helping alleviate the suffering of others. Why is it important the Matilda be moved by what she sees? How is empathy (feeling others' emotions) an important value?

    Caring for the children was harder than caring for any other patients we had visited. Just as Robert fell asleep, William would wake crying. As soon as he was made comfortable, enough to drift off, Robert would stiffen and jolt awake with a piercing scream. Nell didn't recognize me. She woke from terrible dreams and looked around the room blindly, crying for her mother.

    Night melted into day. Day surrendered to night. (25.26-25.27)

    Matilda again has taken on the role of caretaker and nurse, helping not only strangers, but the members of her extended family. Notice how she loses complete track of time as night and day become one and the same.

    My eyes closed. It was never going to stop. We would suffer endlessly, with no time to rest, no time to sleep. (25.47)

    Matilda's pain and suffering reaches its highest point here as she cares endlessly for the children. What is the extent of her sacrifice? How do others' suffering require our own sacrifice?

    As word of the frost spread, hundreds of people swarmed into town. The returnees were all well-fed. They called to each other in annoying, bright voices. I wanted to tell them to hush. It felt like they were dancing on a grave with no thought to the suffering they had escaped. Those of us who had remained behind were gaunt and pale. People who were dosed with mercury spat frequently and covered their mouths to hide their blackened teeth.

    Eliza reminded me not to be bitter, but it was hard. (27.2-27.3)

    Matilda's experience with the fever is juxtaposed with the people who fled to the country. While they are well-fed and happy, she is gaunt, scarred, and forever changed by what she has experienced. Why is Matilda bitter? How would you feel if you had gone through the same ordeal?

  • Family

    I woke to the sound of a mosquito whining in my left ear and my mother screeching in the right.

    "Rouse yourself this instant!"

    Mother snapped open the shutters and heat poured into our bedchamber. The room above our coffeehouse was not large. Two beds, a washstand, and a wooden trunk with frayed leather straps nearly filled it. It seemed even smaller with Mother storming around. (1.1-1.3)

    Matilda has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with her mother, a single parent who works hard to run the family's coffeehouse. What is it about her mother that Matilda finds so difficult to deal with?

    I groaned. Mother had been a perfect girl. Her family was wealthy then, but that didn't stop her from stitching entire quilts before breakfast, or spinning miles of wool before tea. It was the War, she liked to remind me. Children did what was asked of them. And she never complained. Oh, no, never. Good children were seen and not heard. How utterly unlike me. (1.7)

    The generational difference between mother and daughter widens the gap between their understanding. Clearly! Do you think Mother was really as perfect as Matilda seems to think she was?

    We were only three: Mother, Grandfather, and me, plus Eliza who worked for us. But the roomy kitchen could feed one hundred people in a day. My family owned the Cook Coffeehouse. The soon-to-be famous Cooke Coffeehouse, Grandfather like to say. (2.5)

    At this point, Matilda's family is very small: it's just Matilda, her grandfather, her mother, and Eliza. They all work together to run the coffeehouse. They're connected by blood and, in a way, by business.

    We could have used a sitting room, truth be told. Father would have added one on if he had lived. But he fell off a ladder and died of a broken neck two months after the coffeehouse opened. That's when Grandfather joined us. (2.8)

    As we learn here, Matilda's father died in an accident when she was very young (around four years old). Many people have stepped in to fill his shoes. Matilda's mother runs the coffeehouse as a widow, and Grandfather helps out as well. How is Matilda's grandfather also a surrogate father to her?

    "Sending her away – your own child? You shock me. The Ludingtons aren't even family. I can't see the wisdom in that. We'll have to consider this at some length," he said, drawing out his pipe. (5.17)

    Grandfather objects to sending Matilda to the Ludingtons' farm because they aren't "family." What does family mean to Grandfather? Is family just about blood relations? A geographical location?

    Giving my mother a bath felt upside down and backside front. I didn't want to do it. Daughters aren't supposed to bathe their mothers, but Eliza could not manage alone. (9.34)

    Once Lucille takes ill, Matilda is the one in charge: she must nurse and bathe her own mother. Talk about turning the tables! The roles in the family are changing, which is, of course, all a part of growing up. Because of the fever, though, it's all happening a little sooner than Matilda would have liked.

    "There," he sighed. "That's better. It's time to review your soldiering lessons."

    I groaned. From my crawling days, Grandfather had taught me all the tricks of the American and the British armies, and quite a few from the French. Again and again and again. It would do no good to argue. I was his captive. (11.13)

    Grandfather is an old soldier who represents an earlier time: the American Revolutionary War (OK, not nearly as far back as it is for us, but still). As such, much of what he teaches his granddaughter is couched in the language of the military. How does Grandfather's advice help Matilda survive the fever? Why doesn't Grandfather himself survive?

    "They aren't my family," the farmer said as he motioned for his wife to climb aboard. "They only rode in back the last mile or so. They was walking and we picked them up."

    "He's lying!" I shouted.

    "I don't have no fever," the farmer continued. "My wife and baby are healthy. Let me just drive through so I can get to Bethlehem by nightfall. We won't stop for nothing." (11.55-11.57)

    The outbreak is raging, and it's every family for themselves. The farmer seeks to protect his wife and baby, but by doing so he sells out Matilda and her grandfather. Why does the farmer feel no obligation to protect or care for Matilda and her grandfather? How can family loyalties sometimes create more problems than they solve?

    "Let go of him!" I shouted.

    The man ignored me. His hands were around Grandfather's throat. Grandfather weakly hit back at the man, but it had no effect. The man struck Grandfather's head against the floor. Grandfather's eyelids fluttered, then closed.

    "Nooo!" I screamed. I swung the sword and gashed the thief's should. He howled and rolled to the side, grasping at the bloody wound.

    "You cut me," he said in disbelief. "The wench cut me with the sword."

    "Get out of my house, before I cut out your heart." I raised the sword and ran at him. (19.72-19.76)

    Talk about a complete and utter role reversal: now it's Matilda who's playing the part of the soldier. She has Grandfather's old sword out and is ready to kill the intruders to save him. How is this moment symbolic of how Matilda's role in the family is changing? Is she now becoming their protector?

    Now what? I couldn't care for Nell; I could barely care for myself. And her mother needed burying, though I didn't relish another trip back to the public square. I had to find someone to care for her. (21.6)

    Though she's initially reluctant, Matilda ends up playing the part of mother to the orphan Nell. Matilda is not legally obligated to care for the child, of course; yet, she does anyhow. Why does Matilda choose to care for Nell and make her a part of the family? Do you think you would you have done the same?

    There was no more talk of returning me to the coffeehouse or finding a different home for Nell. Joseph and Eliza agreed that I couldn't live alone, not with the deserted streets as dangerous as the crowded sickrooms. We didn't talk about what would happen after the fever. Eliza promised we would find my mother or learn her fate as soon as the epidemic was over. We didn't talk about Nell, we just loved her. (23.81)

    Eliza and Joseph have welcomed both Matilda and Nell into their home, forming an impromptu kind of family. How has the fever brought together people who normally wouldn't find themselves together?

    It was Eliza's idea to have a small feast of thanksgiving with Joseph and the boys. I suggested Mother Smith, too. We didn't need to discuss Nathaniel. Of course he would come. (27.14)

    As the novel draws to a close, we can see that Matilda's family has been greatly extended. Though not of blood relation, Eliza's brother Joseph, the twins, Mother Smith, Nathaniel Benson, and the orphan Nell are all now a part of Matilda's family. And they're all coming to Thanksgiving dinner! What is it that all of these people have in common? What is it that makes them a family?

  • Visions of America

    My city, Philadelphia, was wide awake. My heart beat faster and my head cleared. Below the window, High Street teemed with horsemen, carriages, and carts. I could hear Mrs. Henning gossiping on her front stoop and dogs barking at a pig running loose in the street. (1.25)

    At the beginning of the novel, Philadelphia is characterized as a bustling vibrant city, filled with tradesmen, commerce, and life. What's more, it's the city that Matilda loves, that's very much a part of her: notice how both she and the city awaken at the same time.

    By midafternoon the front room of the coffeehouse was thick with customers, pipe smoke, and loud arguments. A ship's captain finished telling a yarn, and the windowpanes rattled with laughter. Mother poured him a cup of coffee with a steady hand. (4.1)

    The Cook Coffeehouse is a microcosm of Philadelphia life: it's a place where news is exchanged, politics are discussed, and people come to socialize. It's a spot where opinions are formed and events are discussed. For more, see our section "Setting: Cook Coffeehouse."

    The market stalls stretched for three blocks in the center of the street. West Indian women stood by their pepperpot kettles stirring fragrant stews, while the hot corn girls walked up and down the street. The distant call of the charcoal man's horn sounded at the far end of the market. Chickens clucked and geese honked, customers argued about the price of pears, and children ran everywhere. (5.35)

    Like the coffeehouse, the marketplace offers a glimpse of the makeup of the city. Here people from all different cultures and walks of life trade goods, offer food, and exchange news and gossip about the day's events. What places like this can you think of in your own city or town?

    "They've taken over Rickett's Circus building on Twelfth Street to house the poor," said Mr. Brown.

    "Isn't that why we have an almshouse?" asked Grandfather.

    "The almshouse is closed. They want to protect their residents from the disease. So the fever victims lie on the floor of Rickett's with little water and no care. Once a day they remove the bodies for burial. A neighbor threatened to burn the place down if the sick are not removed," explained Mr. Carris." (8.44-8.47)

    Conditions in Philadelphia – along with the treatment of the sick – are beginning to deteriorate. Also notice that this conversation is taking place in the coffeehouse, a site where public opinions are often formed, debated, and disputed.

    "Myself, I straddle a fence. One foot stays here in Philadelphia. The other foot is in the country. We know the air there is pure and the people safer. I say safer, mind, not safe. There are reports of fever in Bucks County and Delaware." (8.63)

    The city is often juxtaposed with the country in this novel. The country is portrayed as a place of relative safety and with fresher air, though, as noted here, nowhere is entirely safe. Why does Matilda dislike the country?

    The man hoeing a field of potatoes took one look at me and ran off. I followed him to a farmhouse, but the door was locked.

    "Go away!" shouted a voice inside. "We have children in here. We can't help you if you have the fever."

    What was wrong with the world? Would I next see birds flying backwards, or cows crocheting doilies? I walked on, stopping now and then to cough or rest my legs. (13.51-13.53)

    Stranded in the country, Matilda can't find any help. What's happening to people as the epidemic rages?

    Mrs. Bowles was a straight-backed woman dressed in Quaker gray. She was older than Mother, with kind eyes and laughter lines that curled around the sides of her mouth. As we drove away from the hospital, she picked up the smallest crying child and sat him in her lap. The child's sobs kept time with the rhythm of the rose hooves on the road. He wiped his nose on the front of her dress and snuggled closer in her arms. (16.7)

    Mrs. Bowles is a Quaker, a religious denomination important in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker. The Quaker religion stresses pacifism and is anti-slavery, even back in the 1700s. Why is it significant that Mrs. Bowles runs the orphanage?

    "It is good you have each other," said Mrs. Bowles in the same placid voice. "But you should not leave your house once you arrive. The streets of Philadelphia are more dangerous than your darkest nightmare. Fever victims lay in the gutters, thieves and wild men lurk on every corner. The markets have little food. You can't wander. If you are determined to return home with your grandfather, then you must stay there until the fever abates." (16.23)

    The streets of Philadelphia are no longer the bustling scene we heard about earlier in the novel. They have become a nightmarish version.

    "In the beginning of August, this was the largest city in the United States. Forty thousand people lived here. Near as I can tell, "he pointed to the jumble of notes and letters on the desk before him, "more than half the city has fled, twenty thousand people."

    "How many dead, Sir?"

    "More than three thousand, enough to fill house after house, street after street." (20.55-20.57)

    The enormity of the epidemic is important to register, as the death toll rises higher and higher.

    The city was darker than I had ever seen. The moon had already set, but no light flickered in the whale oil lamps that lined High Street. The lamplighters had all fled the city or died. Candlelight spilled from only a few windows, and the stars were faint and distant, as far away as hope or the dawn. (25.10)

    Night takes over the city, and there are no lights left on the street. The only brightness visible is far away in the sky. How is this moment symbolic for Matilda?

    The market seemed like a festival, its stalls overflowing with food and rejoicing. It was noisier than ever before, talk, talk, talk, friends sharing the news, overblown laughter, strong-lunged farmers bellowing their wares. A welcome wave of noise and good cheer. (26.43)

    After the frost, farmers begin returning to the city. Matilda visits the marketplace, and it's again a scene of life.

    With every hour that passed, Philadelphia shed the appearance of a ghost city and looked more and more like the capital of the United States. Like a wilted flower stuck in a bowl of water, it drew strength and blossomed. Nathaniel talked about painting the rebirth of the city. I thought he would do a grand job. (27.4)

    The city is once again renewed. Why does Matilda compare the city to a flower put in a bowl? How do you think Nathaniel's picture would commemorate the city's rebirth?

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    A few blocks south lay the Walnut Street Prison, where Blanchard had flown that remarkable balloon. From the prison's courtyard it rose, a yellow silk bubble escaping the earth. I vowed to do that one day, slip free of the ropes that held me. Nathaniel Benson had heard me say it, but he did not laugh. He understood. Perhaps I would see him at the docks, sketching a ship or sea gulls. It had been a long time since we talked. (1.28)

    The image of Blanchard's hot air balloon appears repeatedly in the novel. How is the balloon representative of Matilda's own dreams? Does she relate to Blanchard? What is it that Matilda wishes to escape from?

    I was going to travel to France and bring back fabric and combs and jewelry that the ladies of Philadelphia would swoon over. And that was just for the dry goods store. I wanted to own an entire city block – a proper restaurant, an apothecary, maybe a school, or a hatter's shop. Grandfather said I was a Daughter of Liberty, a real American girl. I could steer my own ship. No one would call me little Mattie. They would call me "Ma'am." (2.41)

    Matilda is quite the entrepreneur, and here her dreams include traveling to France. She also wishes to expand her family's business. Notice how capacious, far-reaching her dreams are. How is Mattie's dream part of the American Dream?

    The next stall had fresh lemons. I scratched the peel and held one to my nose. Paris would smell like a lemon peel, far away and wonderful. I bought a dozen and kept one in my hand as I shopped. (5.51)

    Ah, the sensual world. Mattie loves the smell of lemons, as they make her think of Paris. Why might that be? Also, notice that the lemons are yellow. What else is yellow in this novel?

    "First we should buy another coffee urn, to serve customers with more haste," I said. I pointed a pickle toward the north wall. "Next is to expand into Mr. Watson's lot. That way, we could offer proper meals, not just tidbits and rolls. You could serve roasts and mutton chops. And we could have an upstairs meeting room for the gentlemen, like the coffeehouses by the wharves."

    I took a bite of the pickle.

    "And we could reserve space to sell paintings, and combs, and fripperies from France." (6.33-6.35)

    Again, more of Mattie's dreams about being a shop owner. What does it mean that Mattie is eating and talking at the same time? (And we're not just talking about manners here.)

    Mattie – I write you in haste. Master Peale is closing up the house with his family and assistants inside. To protect us from the fever. We have water from the well and food store.

    My thoughts race. These flowers are for you. Take good care, Mattie. I would not want you sick. We shall watch for balloons again, when this plague has passed. (10.54-10.55)

    The flowers, of course, are not actual flowers, but a painting of flowers. How do Mattie and Nathaniel put their dreams on hold because of the fever epidemic? What does Nathaniel mean when he says that they shall "watch for balloons" after the plague has passed?

    I imagined Mother's face when she arrived home and found what a splendid job I had done running the coffeehouse. I could just picture it – I would be seeing the last customers out the door when Mother would come up the steps. She would exclaim how clean and well-run the coffeehouse was. Grandfather would point out the fancy dry goods store I was building next door. I would blush, looking quite attractive in my new dress – French, of course. (16.30)

    Mattie's daydreams are still positive at this point in the novel, meaning that she at least has the time and energy to imagine a future.

    I dreamt of roast beef, sliced pink and dripping with juice. A roast beef bigger than a horse, set on a giant platter that took up the entire front room, surrounded by steaming potatoes and parsnips, and loaves of fresh bread. I had a bowl of butter all to myself, and my very own pitcher of cold apple cider. The smell of mincemeat pie floated in from the kitchen. (19.1)

    We can see a change in Mattie's actual needs and desires. Because of the epidemic, food is scarce. No more does Mattie project into the future. Instead, she simply focuses on survival – and dreams about food.

    Nell let me unwind her from my neck when she realized a bowl of soup was for her. She sat on my lap and stared at Robert and William. They slurped up their soup and stared back. I thought they might be close to the same age. A plan began forming in my mind, but I quickly shushed the thought. I didn't have time to dream or plan. I would deal with each hour as it came, one step at a time. (22.36)

    Mattie has begun to consider her daydreams to be frivolous. Instead of dreaming and planning, Mattie takes up the role of caregiver and is thinking of something and someone besides herself. Her head is definitely down out of the clouds by now.

    I shook my head to clear it of the visions rolling across my mind. Where was the little girl who planted the bean seeds? Where were Mother and Grandfather and the dead mouse that flew out the window a hundred – a thousand – years ago? And Blanchard's yellow silk balloon that tugged against its ropes, hungry to escape the confines of the prison yard. What become of it all? (25.52)

    So much has been lost, and here Mattie registers that. Her dreams are not looking to the future here, but the past.

    "I have plenty of ideas," I assured her. "What if we baked small cakes and delivered them to the State House with a handbill advertising our new wares?"

    Eliza frowned.

    "How many cakes? The price of sugar is still high. How about apple bread instead? That's cheaper to make."

    Nathaniel cleared his throat. "I could paint a sign that you could put out front. I could make a design for the handbill, too." (28.15-28.18)

    Matilda's family has grown, but her personal ambitions have also expanded to include Eliza and Nathaniel. All three are involved in the process of decision-making.

  • Women and Femininity

    When Mother allowed herself a still moment by the fire on winter nights, I could sometimes see the face she wore when Father was alive. Back then Mother smiled at me with her eyes and her laughter and her gentle hands. But no longer. Life was a battle, and Mother a tired and bitter captain. The captain I had to obey. (2.25)

    Matilda's mother is a single parent who has taken on the task of raising her daughter – and running a coffeehouse. Why does Matilda call her the captain? What does this title imply in terms of gender?

    "Can that be little Mattie?" elderly Mr. Carris asked as he squinted through his bifocals. "Why, she's grown into a fine young lady. Much too fine for this type of work. We'll have to find a husband for you."

    "A husband! A husband!" squawked King George.

    My face flushed as the men laughed.

    "Hush, you old thing," I muttered to the bird. It would have been rude to hush Mr. Carris. "I'll feed you to Silas if you don't close that beak." (4.6-4.9)

    Why does Mr. Carris assume that Mattie would rather have a husband than work? Why is this an either/or choice for her? That is, why does Mr. Carris assume that Mattie couldn't both have a job and have a husband? Also, what do you think is the significance of King George, the parrot, in this scene?

    A low voice and soft address are the common indications of a well-bred woman. – Hannah More, The Young Lady Abroad or Affectionate Advice on the Social and Moral Habits of Females, 1777 (5.epigraph)

    Hannah More's The Young Lady Abroad is an eighteenth-century conduct manual that details the proper behavior for young ladies. Here she advises women to lower their voices and use gentle address. Does Matilda follow this advice? How does Matilda struggle against this conventional kind of feminine behavior?

    By the time they had tightened, pinned, and locked me into my clothes, I could feel my stomach rubbing against my backbone. Mother pulled my arms back until my shoulder blades touched, the proper posture for a lady.

    "She looks like a china doll," observed Grandfather as we departed.

    "I will break just as easily," I muttered. (6.95-6.97)

    Matilda's family dolls her up for her visit to the Ogilvie house where, her mother believes, she might just catch herself a husband. Does Matilda like wearing fancy, girly clothes? Why is the image of a broken doll important for Matilda?

    The Ogilvie daughters, Colette and Jeannine, swept into the room, dressed in matching pink and yellow bombazine gowns, wearing their curled hair piled on top of their heads. I should have let Eliza curl my hair. Dash it all. (7.21)

    Colette and Jeannie are rich girls who wear pretty prink dresses and have beautifully curled hair. Matilda finds it difficult to live up to the standard they set. Notice that they look very different physically from Matilda, but they also act differently. Instead of working in a coffeehouse, they learn French and practice feminine accomplishments. Do you relate more to Colette and Jeannine or to Matilda?

    Mother's shift and blue-and-white striped overskirt fit better than I had imagined. They were made of cotton, spun fine and tightly woven, and felt as light as silk after wearing my dirt-encrusted homespun for so long. I twirled around the room, ready for a ball, curtsying to the east corner, and then the west. This would suit me fine. (18.12)

    Once Matilda and Grandfather return to the city, Matilda starts wearing her mother's clothes. How is this a symbolic act? Though Matilda is wearing her mother's clothes, she still describes putting them on like she's playing dress up. How come?

    I shook my head. Nonsense. Foolish nonsense. I was being weak and foolish. There was no point in wandering like a lost puppy. I needed to get home and sleep. Grandfather would not be proud if he saw me acting so spineless. I needed to captain myself. (20.87)

    Matilda earlier described her mother as her captain. Here, she uses the same image but in a different way. What does it mean to captain herself?

    Eliza pulled a knife from the waistband of her skirt. "If they try again, we'll be ready."

    Once that would have shocked me, but no longer. I picked up the sword and hung it over the fireplace. We would keep the children safe. (25.15-25.16)

    Back at the coffeehouse, Matilda and Eliza have become the sole protectors of the children. What is the significance of the weapons? (Hint: think phallic symbols and masculine authority.)

    "Eliza, I want you to be my partner. There's no one better suited to it, no one I can trust. Or who will put up with me." (27.54)

    Matilda asks Eliza to be her business partner. What path has Matilda chosen for herself? Why has she included Eliza?

    "I have plenty of ideas," I assured her. "What if we baked small cakes and delivered them to the State House with a handbill advertising our new wares?"

    Eliza frowned.

    "How many cakes? The price of sugar is still high. How about apple bread instead? That's cheaper to make."

    Nathaniel cleared his throat. "I could paint a sign that you could put out front. I could make a design for the handbill, too." (28.15-28.18)

    Eliza, Matilda, and Nathaniel consult about plans for the coffeehouse. Notice that Nathaniel is a part of the process, but he's only one part. Matilda has both a job and a boyfriend. They are both intertwined.

  • Foreignness and the 'Other'

    "Hold there, Marks, hold there, I say," interjected the government clerk. His left eye blinked with a nervous twitch. "I've heard stories of a fever among the Santo Domingan refugees. They live close to Ball's Wharf, you know." (4.17)

    News of the fever spreads quickly and the coffeehouse, as the center of public life, is one of the places that the epidemic gets discussed. Here, the blame for the outbreak is placed on the shoulders of the refugee community.

    The market stalls stretched for three blocks in the center of the street. West Indian women stood by their pepperpot kettles stirring fragrant stews, while the hot corn girls walked up and down the street. The distant call of the charcoal man's horn sounded at the far end of the market. Chickens clucked and geese honked, customers argued about the price of pears, and children ran everywhere. (5.34)

    From this description of the marketplace, we can gather that Philadelphia is a city of many cultures – a melting pot, if you will, where many have come to live. Because of its association with trade and its location as a port city (Philadelphia is on a river), the city would have been home to many people of various origins. The diversity of the city is depicted as giving life and vitality, hustle and bustle.

    "Philadelphia suffers fevers every August," said Grandfather. "This season it's those cursed refugees. They brought it, just as the ships from Barbados brought it thirty years ago. The mayor should quarantine them on Hog Island for a few weeks and the fever would pass." He lifted his mug to King George. The parrot drank. (6.38)

    Is Grandfather simply repeating what he has heard about fever among the refugees in the coffeehouse? The reference to King George, the parrot, suggests this might be the case. Notice how information spreads quickly, like disease.

    "Don't be vile, Jeannine," snapped her mother. "Those filthy refugees and creatures who live in the crowded hovels by the river, they're always sick with something. But it is a gross injustice that my gala should suffer because the lower class falls ill. Don't you agree, Lucille?" (7.36)

    The Ogilvies are also blaming the refugee community for the fever outbreak. While new entrants into Philadelphia did carry the disease, it was mosquitoes, not people, who were actually responsible for spreading it. Notice how Mrs. Ogilvie dehumanizes the foreign population, calling them "filthy."

    "Where are you going?" I asked. "Grandfather and I could run any errand you need."

    "Not this errand, you couldn't." Eliza reached for her pretty straw hat. "The Free African Society is having a meeting about the fever. It should prove a lively gathering. I'll return in time for supper." (8.20-8.21)

    Unlike the refugee population, the Free African Society is a group that's more closely integrated and accepted in Philadelphia. The Society was an actual organization founded by the Reverend Richard Allen in the eighteenth century.

    "You'll hear folks say that Dr. Rush is a hero for saving folks with his purges and blood letting. But I've seen different. It's these French doctors here that know how to cure the fever. I don't care if Dr. Rush did sign the Declaration of Independence. I wouldn't let him and his knives near me." (14.53)

    While most people have embraced the cures of Dr. Rush, Mrs. Flagg and the French doctors at Bush Hill strongly disagree with his practices. What does the Declaration of Independence have to do with medical science? How does Dr. Rush's nationality and status as an American give him credit with others?

    "A few weeks ago, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote to Reverend Allen asking for help."

    "Reverend Allen from the Free African Society?"

    "The same. The doctors thought us Africans couldn't get yellow fever. Rev. Allen said this was a chance for black people to show we are every bit as good and important and useful as white people. The Society organized folks to visit the sick, to care for them and bury them if they died." (22.53-22.55)

    Dr. Rush thinks black people cannot be stricken with yellow fever. What role did the Free African Society play in the care of fever victims?

    "After a few weeks of nursing the sick and burying the dead, our own people started to sicken. Black people can get sick with yellow fever just like white people or Indians. I do know some who have never been sick, but there are white people who can say the same thing." (22.62)

    Eliza talks about the experience of learning that blacks can fall ill just like others can. How do you think this made her feel?

    The sailors babbled in their own languages, afraid to die on the wrong side of the ocean in a world far away from people who knew their names. The vinegar-soaked cloth tied around my nose could not shield me from the stench of the dying men who baked in the old house. (24.5)

    Again we – and Matilda – see that though people are of different cultures, death strikes them all.

    "Think of it. Dr. Rush had seen two or three epidemics in his life. The French doctors came from the West Indies, where they treat yellow fever every year. Surely their experience is more valuable." (25.37)

    Why does Eliza have a hard time being convinced to trust the treatments by the French doctors?

  • Memory and the Past

    I groaned. Mother had been a perfect girl. Her family was wealthy then, but that didn't stop her from stitching entire quilts before breakfast, or spinning miles of wool before tea. It was the War, she liked to remind me. Children did what was asked of them. And she never complained. Oh, no, never. Good children were seen and not heard. How utterly unlike me. (1.7)

    The Revolutionary War was a time that asked a lot from people, and they stepped up to the challenge. As a child, Mattie's mother was not allowed to dawdle: she worked hard and took on responsibilities. As an adult, Lucille expects the same things from Mattie. How are things different for Mattie, though?

    "You should be dosed with fish oil. When I was a girl…" She kept talking to herself as she carried a steaming pot of water outside to rinse the butter churn. (2.4)

    Again, the familiar refrain of "when I was a girl." Is Matilda listening or is Lucille really just talking to herself? Why do the two have such difficulties in communicating?

    When I was eight, she got a letter saying her husband had been killed by a runaway horse. That was her worst day. She didn't say a word for months. My father had only been dead two years, so Mother knew just what lay in Eliza's heart. They both supped sorrow with a big spoon, that's what Mother said. It took years, but the smile slowly returned to Eliza's face. She didn't turn sour like Mother did. (2.15)

    How do Mother and Eliza deal with the past in different ways?

    "Me, the hero of Trenton and Germantown reduced to a simple errand boy. What has the world come to?" (6.16)

    Grandfather is a former soldier who served under George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. He found glory and fame in the war (or so he says). What's his role now in the family?

    "Look at this dust," she exclaimed. "When I was young, my family had a lovely carriage, and we always rode to tea. We arrived fresh and clean." (7.6)

    The past is not only something of hard work, but it is an era that's perhaps romanticized by Matilda's mother. Note how she sees it as a time when everything was darn near perfect.

    "I didn't run from the redcoats, and I won't run from a dockside miasma. What is wrong with people, Andrew? We suffered all kinds of disease in our youth, but folks were sensible. They didn't squall like children and hide in the woods." (8.28)

    Grandfather is tough, that's for sure, and he views the encroaching epidemic much like he sees a militia of redcoats: as a battle to be fought. How is Grandfather right in some ways? Will the fever epidemic come to define Mattie's generation as it has Grandfather's?

    "Captain William Farnsworth Cook, Pennsylvania Fifth Regiment, here to escort you beyond the lines of the dread and terrible enemy, Yellow Fever, Miss Matilda."

    He clicked his boots together and offered his arm to me. Eliza laughed as she wiped her eyes with her apron. (10.73-10.10.74)

    With his boots and his saluting, Grandfather really is the past come to life. Here, Grandfather becomes a comic figure.

    The tall thief lifted Grandfather's sword from the mantle. "Go to New York if you wish, but I know a gentleman in Wilmington who will pay a pretty price for this."

    "That's not worth a Continental," the short one laughed. "I could get a better price for my old stockings. Every old man in America drags his rusty sword around and claims he ran it through a hundred British. It's a piece of junk." (19.24-19.25)

    The thieves' view of Grandfather's soldiering weapon isn't as grand as the way Grandfather would see it. For Grandfather, the sword is a symbol of his authority, his honor, and his accomplishments in battle. To them, it's simply a piece of junk that won't fetch a very high price on the black market.

    "That's nearly the last of the flour," the woman said.

    "It'll be sawdust after this, just like the War." (24.7)

    The parallels between the war and the fever are fairly clear – both are times of hardship that test people's character and call for sacrifices. What events have you experienced that have tested you and your community?

    Early morning was the only time I felt as if there were ghosts nearby, memories of the weeks of fear. That's when I found myself listening for Polly's giggle or Grandfather's voice. Sometimes they felt so close. Close enough to tell me I should stop dawdling and get to work. (epilogue.14)

    Why is it important that Matilda remember her Grandfather and keep his memory alive? What role will the memories of the fever play in her life to come? Also, why is it significant that this scene is set during the sunrise, the beginning of a new day?

  • Transformations

    "Matilda?" Mother's voice called up the stairs. "Now!"

    I made a face at the doorway. I had just saved her precious quilt from disaster, but would she appreciate it? Of course not.

    No more dawdling. I had to get dressed.

    I fastened my stays and a badly embroidered pocket over the white shift I slept in. Then I stepped into my blue linen skirt. It nearly showed my ankles. Along with the ceiling getting lower, my clothes were shrinking, too. (1.23-1.26)

    When the novel opens, we learn that Mattie is fourteen years old, and is a teenager in every conceivable way: she likes to sleep late, hates the sound of her mother's voice, and has an attitude that won't quit. She's also in the middle of a growth spurt. Her clothes obviously don't fit here, signaling a definite physical transformation underway. But what else is changing? She's in the in-between stage in life when she's definitely not a kid, but she's sure as heck not an adult either.

    He looked much more a man and less a boy than he had a few months earlier. He had sprouted up over my head and grown broad in the chest. Stop, I cautioned myself. You shouldn't look at him as if he were a racehorse for sale. But his hair was a beautiful chestnut color... (5.58)

    Mattie isn't the only one growing up – looks like Nathaniel Benson is turning into quite the heartthrob. Here Mattie is dealing with the effect of others' transformation as well. She's in the stage of adolescence in which she's asking herself what it means to be an adult.

    How could the city have changed so much? Yellow fever was wrestling the life out of Philadelphia, infecting the cobblestones, the trees, the nature of the people. Was I living through another nightmare? (16.41)

    While people change, so do cities. Mattie is appalled by the way in which the fever has drastically transformed the city she loves so much: Philadelphia. Not only is the city changing physically but the character of its citizens seems to be morphing as well. How is the fever epidemic bringing out the worst in people? Is it transforming them into a nightmare?

    The garden looked dead. Insects had devoured most of the leaves and vegetables, leaving behind skeletons of stems and branches. Weeds had exploded between the neat rows. All those weeks of backbreaking work had been for nothing. Hot tears threatened, but my grumbling stomach was more painful. (17.37)

    Mattie returns home from the country to find the coffeehouse in a shambles and her family's garden completely destroyed. But death is joined to life, and while the garden has been devastated, it can also be transformed back into its former state. Why is the image of the garden important for the theme of transformations? In what ways can a garden be transformed? What does it take to bring a garden back to life?

    The water soon turned brown with weeks of dirt and sweat. I held my breath and dunked my head under the water. I scrubbed my hair with soap and dunked again, over and over until my hair was free of blood and filth. I rubbed the soap on a rag and scrubbed my skin until it burned. When even the soles of my feet were clean, I dried myself by the kitchen fire. (18.9)

    Back in the city, Mattie takes a bath, washing away the dirt she had acquired from her own illness and travels in the country. How is this moment symbolic? What else is she washing away? Is she being newly born, in a way?

    "Excuse me, Miss. Have you seen my granddaughter, Mattie? She must be around here somewhere. Filthy little urchin, she is, wearing a grimy dress and a ragged cap." (18.21)

    Mattie is wearing her mother's clothes and cleaning up the coffeehouse. Already, her grandfather notices a change in her behavior and looks. Do clothes really make the (wo)man?

    I straightened his arms and legs so he might lay with dignity. What should I do next? There was no one to ask. I felt like a baby girl just learning to walk, only the ground under my feet was shaking and I had no one to hold on to. (19.98)

    As Mattie lays Grandfather to rest, she realizes that she's now completely on her own. How is the image of a baby learning to walk important here?

    "Please, Eliza, don't make me go. I know you think I'm a child, bigger than Nell, but a baby still, and that I need someone to tell me to wash my face and finish my bread." I struggled to control my voice. "I'm not. I'm not a little girl. I can take care of myself." (22.48)

    Mattie struggles to think of herself as an adult. How does her relationship with Nell allow her to do this?

    "No," I said firmly. "I'm not going anywhere. The work will go faster if you have me there, and you shouldn't walk home alone after dark."

    Eliza raised an eyebrow.

    "Never knew you to look for extra work. Come along then." (24.25-24.27)

    Prior to this, Mattie had thought of herself as a lazy girl, but here she surprises herself – and Eliza – by volunteering to take on even more work. Again, she's learning that to be an adult means to care not just for yourself, but also for others.

    "If I were you, I'd head down to the market," he continued. "That's where all the best gossips in town have gathered.

    I glanced at Eliza. "May I go?"

    "You don't need my permission," Eliza said.

    She was right. I could choose for myself. (26.39-26.42)

    Not only has she learned to take care of others, but Mattie has also taken full responsibility of herself. She's making her own decisions.

    I looked past the apple seller to the haberdasher's window behind him. Mrs. Epler was right: I was thin. Yellow fever had certainly done away with vanity. I lifted my chin. The shape of my face looked for all the world like Mother's, her nose, her mouth. (26.58)

    Mattie's physical form has changed because of the fever. But what other changes has she experienced? Does she only physically resemble her mother? How else might she act like her mother?

    As we crossed the threshold, the company in the front room fell silent. They were all as shocked by Mother's appearance as I was. The doctor at the chessboard stood in respect. His companion did the same, then every man in the room rose to his feet to honor her. (29.12)

    Mattie has changed and grown older, just as her mother has. What transformation has her mother experienced?

  • Science

    "I've heard stories of a fever among the Santo Domingan refugees. They live close to Ball's Wharf, you know."

    A doctor at the next table looked up from his backgammon board and interrupted the conversation.

    "It is not just the refugees," the doctor said. "This morning I spoke with a colleague who was called to the Shewall home. Mary Shewall died soon after of a bilious fever, and one could hardly fault her character. There may well be a disease in the air again. Yellow fever." (4.18-4.19)

    Though rumors are spreading at the coffeehouse, the doctor there interrupts and tries to correct the misinformation. Notice, though, that his is only one voice in a crowd. What does this tell us about the way in which public opinion is formed?

    As I cleared the dirty mugs off the last table, Grandfather stood deep in conversation with Mr. Rowley. I motioned to Eliza.

    "Isn't he a doctor?"

    Eliza shook her head.

    "Not a proper physician, but he sees sick folk and prescribes medicines. All the real doctors are down on Water Street. It's been a terrible day there. They say bodies are piling up like firewood." (9.16)

    Mr. Rowley, the first doctor to visit the Cook house, isn't even an actual doctor. What does this tell us about the state of the medical profession in the eighteenth century?

    "But Dr. Rush says yellow fever is spreading everywhere," Eliza said.

    "Dr. Rush likes to alarm people," Mr. Rowley replied. "There is a great debate about this pestilence. Yesterday a physician I shall not name diagnosed yellow fever in an elderly woman. Her family threw her into the street. She died, but she didn't have yellow fever. It was all a mistake. I sue the diagnosis sparingly. And I assure you, there is no fever in this house." (9.27-9.28)

    The debate about the illness is raging and there are two sides: the Rush camp, who believe in purging and bloodletting, and the French, who think bed rest is best. What are the consequences of a hasty diagnosis of yellow fever, at least according to Mr. Rowley?

    "Her pulse is fast and strong," he said. "This is the crisis. She must be bled."

    Dear God. "Won't that weaken her more?" I asked.

    "Bunkum," Dr. Kerr said angrily. "Dr. Rush has proven that bleeding is the only way to save a patient this close to the grave." (10.16-10.18)

    Dr. Kerr is the second doctor to visit the Cook house, and he's a follower of Dr. Benjamin Rush. Though Mother's pulse is fast and strong, he decides to bleed her. What would you do with Dr. Kerr's second opinion?

    "You'll hear folks say that Dr. Rush is a hero for saving folks with his purges and blood letting. But I've seen different. It's these French doctors here that know how to cure the fever. I don't care if Dr. Rush did sign the Declaration of Independence. I wouldn't let him and his knives near me." (14.53)

    Mrs. Flagg works at the hospital at Bush Hill, the one run by the French doctors. She violently disagrees with Dr. Rush, despite the fact that he's all big and important and signed the Declaration of Independence.

    On the tenth morning, I was visited by a French doctor, Dr. Deveze. He did not carry a lancet or bowl. He seemed most concerned with the color of my eyes and tongue, and the temper of my pulse. He grunted with satisfaction. (15.9)

    How are the treatments of the French doctors different from the ones prescribed by Dr. Rush?

    "A few weeks ago, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote to Reverend Allen asking for help."

    "Reverend Allen from the Free African Society?"

    "The same. The doctors thought us Africans couldn't get yellow fever. Rev. Allen said this was a chance for black people to show we are every bit as good and important and useful as white people. The Society organized folks to visit the sick, to care for them and bury them if they died." (22.53-22.55)

    Why does Dr. Rush believe that black people can't get the fever? What are the consequences of his assumption?

    "The price of jalap and tea has climbed to the clouds since the fever struck. If he really cared, he would charge a decent price instead of robbing the sick. Pharmacists and coffin makers are the only people who profit from this plague."

    "Don't forget the thieves," I added. (24.14-24.15)

    Don't forget that doctors and pharmacists are also in the business not just of science but of making money. Profit plays a very large role here.

    "I don't like the thought of cutting them either, but it may be our only hope. Dr. Rush recommends it; he was bled himself when he was ill."

    "But the French doctors say bleeding kills people. Think of all the patients you've seen who died after the doctors bled them. They didn't bleed me and I'm alive. Don't do it, Eliza." (25.34-25.35)

    Why does Matilda have such a hard time convincing Eliza to trust the French doctors?

    My eyes closed. I could see that clear January morning, the moment of release when the balloon floated above the rooftops. Thousands of voices cheered and screamed with delight. Nathaniel grasped my hand and we watched as the gold sphere ferried Monsieur Blanchard and his little black dog away on the wind. I thought all things were possible in heaven and on earth that day. (25.53)

    While science refers to medicine, note that Blanchard's balloon is also a symbol of innovation and advancement. How are there different views of science at work in the book?