At the start of the novel, Mattie reflects on a hot air balloon flight she watched a few months before the outbreak of the epidemic. This detail is historically accurate, as a balloonist named Jean-Pierre Blanchard flew the first balloon flight in North America beginning in Philadelphia in January 1793. For Mattie, the balloon symbolizes the progress of modernity and the value of believing in one's dreams. This type of technological innovation would have been bold and even shocking at this time, but it tells Mattie that people who follow their vision can do incredible things.
When Mattie is getting dressed to attend tea at the Ogilvie house, she gets laced into stays: a garment similar to a corset, designed to tightly control the silhouette of a woman's body. Mattie would not wear this type of garment in her everyday life because she needs to be able to move around freely to do her work, and this type of clothing was only necessary in order to wear the fancy gowns of the wealthy. The stays symbolize the restricted and repressed life of upper-class women during this era. If Mattie were to marry into that world, she would be much more restricted in her choices and behavior.
Grandfather's sword (symbol)
Captain Cook's sword symbolizes his heroic past and the importance of family traditions. Throughout Mattie's childhood, she hears stories about her grandfather fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. His sword symbolizes how he has been a part of the nation's history and how he passes his strong-willed fighting spirit down to his granddaughter. Captain Cook teaches Mattie to stand up for herself and for what she wants. When the thieves break into the house, Mattie is able to defend herself and her grandfather using the sword because she has learned bravery from him.
The painting of flowers (symbol)
When she is leaving the city to go to the Ludington farm, Nathaniel sends Mattie a painting of flowers. The painting symbolizes his affection for her, as well as his commitment to maintaining their relationship in uncertain and turbulent times. While actual flowers will quickly wilt and die, a painting is solid and enduring. Even though they may not see each other for a long time, Nathaniel wants to show that he will be thinking of Mattie and that he will continue to care about her. Especially in a moment of crisis and danger, the painting symbolizes optimism and hope for the future, just like flowers blossoming in the spring.
The first frost (symbol)
Just when Mattie thinks she can't endure the suffering of the epidemic any longer, she finally sees the first frost of the season. The first frost symbolizes hope, restoration, and the end of the epidemic. The symbolism is interesting because frost, as a sign of winter, often suggests hard times ahead, scarcity of food, and possibly even death as the year enters its final months. However, in this case, because the disease is associated with the warm weather, the frost symbolizes hope and a new beginning.
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.