Week 11 readings

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    Hi friends,
    please post your reactions/reflections/questions/thoughts on the readings for this week. Don’t forget to react to another classmate’s post.

    W: Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (London, 1722), Selections.Defoe- Exerpts from Journal of the Plague Year_2

    F: Wald, Priscilla. 2008. “Introduction“, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. AND Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death.”https://www.poemuseum.org/the-masque-of-the-red-death The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death_eText


    Stay healthy!


    The piece “A Journal of the Plague Year” is quite interesting as it is somewhat colloquial with current world crises. We are introduced to what is essentially a blame game whether “it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus” (Defoe, 1). Despite information on the billing for the death toll which is given for multiple provinces, the plague is prominent and at that point in time death was inevitable. However, further rapport was made hyperbolic through lack of knowledge and resources. Vignettes used such as the unpalatable living conditions of a man that was alive one day and gone the next as well as people seeking talismans show how public hysteria expanded. However, what is most interesting to me about this passage are the religious overtones used in Defoe’s passage. The plague is posited as a moral conflict. It is quite damning to insist that spreading of the plague was a warning from God. To say that would be to imply that God targeted the impoverished as a means of showing the well off members of society to change how they view and handle the plague. In the end, most people return to day to day life as if the plague did not change the speed of things.

    The story is also interesting for the fact that Daniel Defoe was merely 4-5 years old at the height of the plague. The point-of-view of the story seems to be a first-person account of the plague and thus somewhat biographical, but this work would probably best fit under the category of historical fiction. In relation to current world crises as previously mentioned, it seems as if blame is being assigned to one group. Stratification among people makes times like these unbearable and much similar to the case of Defoe poignant. It seems as if the plague would have been contained through better resources, aid in susceptible communities, and social distancing as it is currently being observed. In closing, “A Journal of the Plague Year” places disease into a historical context and while the passage is not medical, it digs through social receptivity.


    Priscilla Wald’s “Introduction“, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative and Edgar Allen Poe’s ““The Masque of the Red Death” relay the concept of contagious disease in similar yet diverging ways. Priscilla Wald uses superspreaders as a role given to people who are deemed accountable for the spreading of infectious disease. An example that fit into the realm of so-called “Yellow Peril” was a flight attendant who was determined to have infected the masses through her contact with others. This lead to what Wald says is “a convention of the outbreak narrative, in which human carriers rhetorically (or, in some of the fiction, literally) bring the virus itself to life.”. This same metamorphosing is what gives the Red Death such infamy in Poe’s piece. Prior descriptions of a tall figure adorned in a corpse-like mask and wielding a weapon would lead one to believe that Poe’s antagonist would be similar to the count in Phantom of the Opera. However, a mere glancing at this assailant leaves the partygoers dead in which he vanquishes to wreak more havoc.

    I have read Masque of the Red Death on numerous occasions but it was until I read the Introduction piece that it had more power. One quote that really stuck out was ” into a holocaust was not just a new infectious agent but a proliferation of roads, cities and airports, a breakdown of social traditions, and the advent of blood banking and needle sharing” (Wald 6). In comparing a disease to Holocaust-like activity emphasizes the horrors of infectious disease. However, it also antagonizes areas that are hubs of such illness. Ironically contagion means to touch but in a broader sense became the results of harmful interactions with causal agents. These “causal agents, change the scope of what humans carry in a rhetorical sense (mindsets and rumors leading to hysteria) as well as the physical.

    Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death.” Poe’s Works: Edgar Allan Poe Museum, PoeMuseum, 1842, http://www.poemuseum.org/the-masque-of-the-red-death.

    Wald, Priscilla. 2008. “Introduction“, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative.

    Macy Mabry

    Honestly, the readings this week hit close to home. As an “essential healthcare worker,” I am being put at risk everyday. This was my first reading of the “Masque of the Red Death” but it sent shivers down my spine. After a second reading, I noticed the parallels between Prince Prospero and those that deny the severity of COVID-19. Prospero holed up in his abbey and turned a blind eye to the red death that plagued the poor around his home. This short story is also an allegory for the inevitability of death that is always right around the corner for many of us. DeFoe’s work on the other hand did not have the same impact. It reminded me of the beginnings of the virus when we have since learned that our beloved president “had taken care to keep it as much from the knowledge of the public as possible.” What started as an isolated incident in China grew quickly to a pandemic as “the contagion despised all medicine; death raged in every corner; and had it gone on as it did then, a few weeks more would have cleared the town of all, and everything that had a soul.” I feel that both of these pieces were meant to educate about the negative aspects of diseases and to scare people into conforming to healthier practices. The same logic does not apply to modern times but the message still rings clear.

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