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."
Mattie reflects on these ideas early in the novel, as she feels frustrated and defiant about being told what to do. Mattie is intelligent and ambitious, but she is also somewhat spoiled. When she thinks about her future, she only imagines the greatness she will be able to achieve and how she can get what she wants. Mattie's ability to dream big dreams and stubbornly pursue them will benefit her later in the novel when she has to take on challenges beyond what she ever could have imagined; at this point, though, Mattie focuses all of her energy on her own desires.
We did not belong here. I did not belong here. Mother may have grown up with carriages and gowns, but I had not.
Over the course of having tea with the Ogilvie ladies, Mattie becomes increasingly agitated. She knows that the wealthier women are judging her and her mother due to their lack of money and glamor. Mattie is proud, and it hurts her pride to know that others are quietly laughing at her. While Mrs. Cook is ambitious that her daughter could advance her social position through marriage, Mattie wants to make her own way in the world. She is proud to be from the middle-class, and her dreams involve building her own business ventures. She contrasts her own upbringing with the upbringing of her mother and reflects that she will never be comfortable as a fashionable lady of leisure.
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 youths, but folks were sensible. They didn't squall like children and hide in the woods.
Mattie's grandfather delivers this speech in frustration as the number of fever cases increases and more and more people flee from the city. Captain Cook is insistent that the disease is nothing serious and thinks that people are just overreacting. Because of his experiences during wartime, he thinks the newer generations are just soft and spoiled. Captain Cook's perspective shows how there will be a wide range of opinions as to what is happening and what actions should be taken during an outbreak. Leaving the city would actually make someone less likely to get ill, and Mattie's family will later regret that they did not take action sooner.
I waited for his advice. It did not come. That scared me more than anything. He was waiting for me to decide what to do.
Mattie experiences this frightening realization when she and her grandfather are stranded in the countryside. Ill and overwhelmed, Captain Cook leaves it up to his granddaughter to decide on the best course of action. Mattie has often wished she could have more control and be treated more like an adult, but when this actually happens, she feels terrified and overwhelmed. Mattie has already seen her strong and capable mother reduced to a helpless state due to illness, and now she also sees her grandfather becoming more dependent on her. More and more, Mattie is the one who has to be left in charge of situations, and she finds this more difficult than she expected.
Have you considered what you might do to help? You have recovered, so you cannot get the fever again. You are young and strong. We have a real need for you.
Mrs. Bowles asks Mattie this question once she has recovered from her fever and is preparing to return to the city. Because Mattie has been fortunate enough to survive and recover, she now has a unique opportunity to help others because she is immune to the fever. Mattie has been focused on finding her mother and solving her own problems, but Mrs. Bowles gently implies that Mattie should feel a social responsibility to care for others as well. This comment is particularly poignant because Mattie received public care during her stay in the Bush Hill hospital: she had the right to receive this help, but she now also has the responsibility to care for others.
Mother and Eliza must be somewhere safe, I had to believe that. The fever would soon be over, and our lives would return to normal. I just had to stay clever and strong and find something to eat.
This quote shows Mattie reassuring herself and trying to keep her spirits up. Once she and her grandfather return to Philadelphia, their lives continue to be very difficult. Mattie needs a combination of optimism and pragmatism in order to survive. She has to remain hopeful that she will see her family again, but she also has to be realistic about the short-term actions she needs to take. This philosophy is what allows Mattie to survive and even thrive amidst the devastation of the plague. She continues to hope for the long term future, but she also stays focused on the immediate needs of the short term.
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.
When Mattie's grandfather dies unexpectedly in the confrontation with the thieves, Mattie is left utterly alone. Up until this point, Mattie has been able to remain strong, decisive, and even positive. At this moment, however, she feels completely lost. Mattie has no one to help her, and she also has no one to care for. Mattie uses the simile of an infant just learning to walk to show how vulnerable she feels. For much of the novel, Mattie has focused on yearning to be an adult, and to feel strong and powerful. In the absence of her family, Mattie admits that she is still very much a child and needs a sense of community.
For everything there is a season, remember? When the frost comes, the fever will vanish. We just have to find a way to make it until then.
When Mattie reunites with Eliza, the older woman provides her with a sense of hope and optimism. Eliza is a woman of deep faith, and she also feels a strong sense of responsibility to care for others in her community. For these reasons, Eliza is able to stay steadfast, even when Mattie's hope starts to waver. Although the mechanism of disease transmission was not understood at the time, people knew from observation that the fever tended to dissipate once cooler weather arrived. This knowledge creates a concrete endpoint to strive towards, and Eliza urges Mattie to keep her spirits up until then.
Where was the little girl who planted bean seeds? Where were Mother and Grandfather and the dead mouse that flew out the window a hundred—a thousand—years ago? ... What became of it all?
As Mattie's hopes dwindle and she becomes more exhausted, she feels increasingly disconnected from her past. The events Mattie describes took place only a few short months ago, but she has been through so much in the interim that it is as if years have passed. She can no longer even remember what it was like to be hopeful and carefree. This quotation is interesting because at the start of the novel, Mattie was often irritated by her mother's grim exhaustion and lack of hope. Now, Mattie also knows what it is like to experience an endless cycle of hard work with nothing really to hope for.
I smiled as the mist faded. The yellow sun rose, a giant balloon filled with prayers and hopes and promise.
These lines reflect Mattie's state of mind and perspective as the novel comes to an end. She is at peace and she will never take anything for granted again. As she pictures all the things the sun could contain, Mattie feels connected to all of the other residents of Philadelphia, showing that she now sees herself as an adult member of the community who is interested in both giving and taking. Mattie compares the sun to the hot air balloon she had watched almost a year earlier. At that time, Mattie tended to overlook everyday things and focused on only the impressive things like the balloon. Now, she does not take anything for granted. The sun, while it rises every day, gives her pleasure because she is there to see it. Mattie is now a thoughtful young woman who can see beauty in the simplest of details.
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.