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The Theme of Suffering in Fever 1793 by Laurie Anderson

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Bryant Hill once said, “Suffering is one of life’s greatest teachers,” and he couldn’t have been more correct. Suffering teaches a person how to persevere and be patient in the hardest of times. People also learn to have empathy towards others and to help them. In the novel Fever 1793 by Laurie Anderson, the characters face many challenges, trials and calamities due to the fever. At times the characters were at the verge of giving up, but still looked forward and kept going. They struggled to find their way through the dark tunnel to find the light – the light of hope from their suffering. In the end, these experiences changed the characters into a more mature character. I think suffering is an important theme in this book. So, read on to find out.

Firstly, the suffering takes place in the form of losing loved ones or a person getting really sick. Matilda experiences the loss of someone she loves – her grandfather – and it fills her with pain, grief, anger and fear. The trauma of loss is something that doesn’t fade away at once, rather slowly as time progresses, it fades away. All the characters in the story face this kind of pain at some point of the book. For example, Joseph lost his wife; Nell loses her mom, and etc. The other kind of physical pain that many characters went through were the aftereffects of the fever. Mother became frail and weak, to the extent that she couldn’t take care of the coffee house anymore. While Joseph and his kids underwent a severe condition of yellow fever and it took days before they recovered. During that period of time, it was a test for them, which they succeeded in completing. The pain of yellow fever completely transformed Matilda’s body and Matilda become pale and thin due to the intensity of the struggles she faced and the yellow fever.

Secondly, some of the characters in the story are abused, mistreated and even taken advantage of by others. This kind of suffering happened to anyone and everyone who had the fever. Regardless of who they were, they were either dumped, not taken care of, or just shooed away. Mentioned in page 119, it says that a family tossed out their own son in the fear of catching the fever themselves. In addition, when Matilda and her grandfather were travelling with the farmer to the Ludington’s, the farmer literally dumped them onto the street and left, just because of the fear of grandfather being sick. All their belongings were taken and no mercy was shown to them. If this isn’t mistreatment, then what is?

Thirdly, another kind of suffering that takes place in this story is the suffering of poverty. As the fever raged, the prices of food and medicine increased, while the flow of money decreased. A huge difference between the rich and poor led to the spread of the fever and starvation. If only, the people had learned to sympathize and help one another, the story would have been completely different. Instead of being selfish, the people should have united together against the fever. This would have led to a healthier community which in turn would mean less vulnerable people. However, the people suffered from malnutrition and less food. Matilda became so thin that her cheekbones could be seen; showing that even characters like her faced this challenge.

In conclusion, it can be said that while pain and suffering are terrible, we also learn that there are strategies for coping with it. Matilda, for example, refuses to remain a victim of the fever. She survives and also helps others survive. Her painful experiences give her the ability to empathize the pain of others. She starts helping Eliza nurse fever victims back to health, and she also becomes a guardian to the orphan Nell. Though suffering is an awful thing, the way in which Matilda deals with pain suggests that these experiences teach us valuable lessons about life. Sometimes, they can even help us make the world a better place. So, let’s step up from our darkness and pain, learn some lessons, and change the world.   

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