Short Story Analysis

"Fever", By John Edgar Wideman

Critical Biography

John Edgar Wideman was born June 14, 1941 in Washington D.C., he grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The community was made up of mostly of people who came from the South at various points to seek freedom and economic opportunity. At the age of twelve Wideman and his family moved to a neighborhood that was mainly made up of white people. Wideman has written a number of stories that have to deal with issues that are faced between whites and African Americans. In the story "Fever", the main character Richard Allen , but the real fever is racism problems in America.


In the short story "Fever", by John Edgar Wideman, the man by the name of Allen is a former slave who gave him and his wife freedom. The story flashes back to his time on the boat. The time where had longed for freedom, and his freedom coming close to happening.The epidemic “yellow fever” has started to spread and the religious leader must try and protect the city of Philadelphia, by the help of a doctor who doesn't really know much about the epidemic. Many people have began to die, and if they aren't dying their symptoms are very strong. The doctor and the preacher had began to look for people they could help out to escape the epidemic, many corpses were found and the results of the autopsy didn”t show if blacks or whites have the fever.

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Analysis of Theme

The overall message in John Edgar Wideman's story "Fever" is that when it comes to death everyone is equal. This story took place in 1793, and there is an epidemic that is spreading. The people of this city seem to think that the African Americans are the ones who brought the disease to the town. As Allen works through the city, he questions if he is safe and if he wants to work to fix the epidemic spreading. Although evil is arising through the town, Allen wants everyone to be equal. Evil works in two ways in the city, blaming the people and not wanting the help. Allen also finds corpses these help with the results.The disease wiped out one-third of the city.

Whites have died, and whites are infected. Wideman shows how the character Allen goes out of his way to prove that he has the dedication to work with the Americans although they hate blacks. He also puts the hold on his preaching for making the whites and blacks have a better life. Many people call him a fool and insult him in other ways, but still devotes his time to making them have a better state of living. When he questions his motives, he realizes it is the "Christian" thing to do. Some people were willing to be infected and be "tested" to find out if the blacks brought the epidemic. Many think they did, and some think they didn't. When they cut open the body, the autopsy results show that when a brain is infected, you can't tell if the person is black or white. When the people die they all are equal, because there is no say so of who has the disease and if anyone brought the disease. Death manifests itself in the bodies piled high in the cemetery carts, in the cemetery carts, in Allen's refusal to return to his wife and child, and in the almost-emplied city. ("Fever" 118) "The dead are legion, the living a froth on dark, layered depths. But are neither, and less than both." ("Fever" 143) This quote adds on to the death and how the Africans are the "scapegoats" of this fever.

Works Cited

Wideman, John Edgar. "Fever." Henry Holt and Company (1968): New York. PDF file.

Byerman, Keith E. "John Edgar Wideman". American Novelists Since World War II: Third Series. Ed. James R. Giles and Wanda H. Giles. Detroit: Gale, 1944. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 143. Literature Resource Center. Web. 18 May 2016.

"Fever." Short Stories for Students. Kathleen Wilson, Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 1999. (Page 118). Print.

Jamia Ford

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