"Black coffee, bitter as medicine" (simile) (pg. 11)
Mattie uses this simile early in the novel to express her distaste for the black coffee Eliza serves her. The simile foreshadows the outbreak of illness that will soon arise, by comparing the taste of the coffee to the taste of medicine. The simile also shows that at this time, before the outbreak of fever, Mattie is somewhat spoiled and petulant. She has always been healthy, so the only inconvenience she associates with illness is bad-tasting medicine—something as small as bitter coffee can cause her to complain. Later in the novel, Mattie will be desperate for any kind of food, but at this time, she is used to living a pleasant and easy life.
"Life was a battle, and Mother was a tired and bitter captain" (metaphor) (pg. 17)
Mattie uses this metaphor when she is feeling frustrated with her mother. The military metaphor might reflect the influence of Captain Cook; it also shows that Mattie has an exaggerated idea of how hard her life actually is. At this time, Mattie's life is extremely comfortable in comparison to what it will become in just a few months. The metaphor shows that Mattie acknowledges the kind of leadership and decision-making that Mrs. Cook has to tirelessly engage in, but she envies this power rather than understanding the burden it can impose. Mattie will learn soon enough what it means to be the captain of a ship and why Mrs. Cook might be exhausted and embittered.
"You shouldn't look at him as if he were a racehorse for sale" (simile) (pg. 30)
Mattie scolds herself with this simile when she encounters Nathaniel at the market in August before the outbreak gets too serious. She clearly has a crush on Nathaniel, but she does not want to reveal her feelings, nor to be too bold. Comparing Nathaniel to a racehorse indicates that she finds him physically attractive and even hints at the sexual desire she may be starting to feel. The simile is interesting in that it places Nathaniel in the position of an object of desire, and Mattie as the person who is trying to control herself so that her desire is not too obvious. Mattie is an unusually self-confident and bold young woman who knows exactly what she wants.
"Mother dove across the room like a hungry hawk" (simile) (pg. 41)
Mattie uses this unflattering simile to describe her mother's behavior when the note comes inviting them to have tea with the Ogilvies. Mattie is annoyed that her mother is so blatantly eager to try to make a match between her and one of the Ogilvie sons. She compares her mother to an animal that is trying to catch any scraps and doesn't possess any dignity. The simile shows that Mattie doesn't necessarily have a lot of respect for her mother, nor for the way in which Mrs. Cook lives her life. It also hints that Mrs. Cook has struggles that Mattie may not know about: her desperation to marry her daughter to a wealthy family shows that she is eager to give Mattie an easier life than her own.
"Mother would beat back illness with a broom" (metaphor) (pg. 71)
Mattie uses this whimsical metaphor to express her shock when Mrs. Cook falls ill with yellow fever. While Mattie has often been irritated by her mother's hard work and diligence, she cannot imagine her formidable mother being in a state of weakness. The metaphor of Mrs. Cook fighting off illness with a broom shows that Mattie still has a childish perception where she believes that the strong adults in her life can solve all her problems and seize control of any situation. Mattie has not yet learned that illness is a problem no one in her life can resolve.
Fever 1793 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fever 1793 is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.