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A Journal of the Plague Year

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Jade Huynh

on 7 June 2011

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Transcript of A Journal of the Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague Year Literary Elements Summary Theme Key Lines Big idea Daniel Defoe “…it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep;” “Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes, wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from two hundred to four hundred a week…” “…they began to bury in it the sixth, and by the twentieth, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it 1,114 bodies when they were obliged to fill it up…” “There was a strict order to prevent people coming to those pits, and that was only to prevent infection.” “…people came and threw themselves in, and expired there, before they threw any earth upon them…” “But no sooner was the cart turned round and the bodies shot into the pit promiscuously…but he went backward two or three steps and fell down in a swoon.” `“…coffins were not to be had for the prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as this.” “…there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechapel.” ` A Journal of the Plague Year is classified as being historical fiction. Historical fiction sets fictional people (often mixed with real people of that time period) with realistic details using a backdrop of a period other than the author's own.
DeFoe's set his fictional characters in the mid 1300's, during the beginnings of the bubonic plague. Socioeconomic standards are nonexistant in the eyes of a nondiscriminating disease.
People aren't viewed in the individualistic sense in disease, but rather, as another death count. The speaker talks about his looking at the giant pit made for dead bodies before the Black Plague had hit his parish of Aldgate (one of the towns the Plague had hit the hardest) and how it has in dimension to accomodate the masses of dead people accumulating since the outbreak had started in August.
The speaker outlines tensions caused by the burial of the dead people.
Citizens had been panicked by churchwardens digging graves in advance, signifying that the whole parish would be buried, which highlighted the hysteria of the time. The speaker makes special note that the churchwardens knew when the plague was going to hit, without telling the rest of the parish.
He notes the unceremonious way all the dead are buried: they are not given proper burial service, family and friends are strictly prohibited from entering the graveyard for viewings (due to the spread of infection and the mad throwing themselves into the pits), and the dead are merely dumped as a burial.
Through connections, he was able to enter the graveyard. He found a man who was left alone and shocked when his dead wife and children were merely dumped into the pit, dealing with conflicting feelings of wanting for them to have a proper burial while understanding that performing a funeral service for each body would be impractical.
The speaker ends the selection with a sad reflection: that poor and rich share a common grave - status not playing a role in widespread disaster. Defoe exemplifies Enlightment principles in this selection by having his speaker question if any Biblical figure could justify the callousness in the churchwarden's withholding of Plague information to the public.
The speaker's reasoning for wanting to view the pit despite the hazard of infection exemplies a strong Neoclassical value on reasoning.
Defoe portrays religion to be very imperfect and not out to serve the betterment of the people through the actions of the churchwardens.
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