Week 11 Reading Responses

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    Throughout the readings, a common theme of fear of the unknown played an important role in the development of the fundamental main ideas of the pieces. In the introduction to “Contagious,” various key words stood out to me in the first sentence alone, particularly in relation to what I have observed throughout my current COVID-19 experience. I would first like to address the quote “…the fear and fascination elected by accounts of communicable disease…” I found it quite interesting to mention such outbreaks in a light of not only fear from the public, as expected, but to also offer a questioning as to why the public becomes so fascinated and fixated on the subject of outbreaks. I have found this to be quite common throughout the COVID-19 experience due to the excessive media coverage circulating across the world. With the virus being relevant on every platform (news, social media, and even common conversation), an obsession with the virus has formed; in a sense, the world has become absorbed within the “outbreak narrative” of COVID-19. As the introduction continued, I found many parallels to the issues discussed revolving around the clinical gaze. It is almost as if the world becomes so caught up in the drama of the experience that many people tend to neglect the true facts of the outbreak, causing panic rather than the appropriate precautions.

    In contrast however, I found “The Masque of the Red Death” to be directly correlated to the other half of society in terms of outbreak— the half that refuses to acknowledge the complexity of the outbreak and rather ignores the media coverage instilling such panic in the others. This half is represented by Prince Prospero, in addition to the multitude of party attendees. Throughout this story, I found myself relating to the subtle accusatory tone of the narrator. By the way in which the story is told, the narrator seems to indirectly address the “it won’t happen to us” mindset of these people— almost like a superiority complex. This reminded me of many Americans during COVID-19, particularly the ones actively choosing to ignore the public outcry of forced social distancing, and instead going on with their normal lives with little consideration for the great danger they are placing on the rest of the world. This is shown in Prince Prospero’s dialogue, where he asks “Who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery?” I found this to illuminate much of America’s reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak, as seen in the oftentimes racist attitude toward the origins of the infection and the denial that their country would ever suffer such extreme effects of the others. All in all, this story has beautifully illustrated the reality of what coincides when such circumstances are presented, and is shockingly similar to today’s societal actions even though it was written some time ago.

    Finally, “A Journal of the Plague Year” wraps up the previous points I have mentioned throughout this response. Here, the racist attitude of the origins of the outbreak once again becomes relevant. In addition to this, the unknowing of the consequences of the outbreak is highlighted in the immediate panic of of the people who could possibly be affected. This is due to an overall lack of resources providing accurate information regarding the true facts of the plague. Separately from the other pieces however, this reading stood out to me as being much more medically based. What I mean by this is that it seems to be almost a first-person account of the experience living with the outbreak. Oppositely, the other readings seem to be opinion based storytellings.


    Mary Catherine, I like how you critiqued the obsession that everyone seems to have with COVID-19. Like you say, the theme of obsession with an outbreak and epidemic is especially mentioned in the Introduction section of Contagious. Reading that piece, I felt that it was very relevant to the current pandemic because of the panic brought on by the constant discussion of the virus. While I think it’s good for people to be concerned and adequately prepared, there is a point when too much discussion can cause panic.

    I also enjoyed reading your analysis of “The Masque of the Red Death” and your comparison of the people staying in the abbey with those not taking the virus seriously during these times. I think the same people in the story can also be applied to those who only think about themselves and try to keep safe without any thought of others, pretending that people aren’t dying while they enjoy life hidden from the world.

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