E211: British Literature to 1760

Daniel Defoe Study Questions

Alfred J. Drake. Office: Hum. 520 | W 3-4 | ajdrake@ajdrake.com

A Journal of the Plague Year.

1. The novel is perhaps the most realistic art form--the one most in need of describing a world contemporary readers find authentic. By what means does Defoe establish his account of the plague as genuine and accurate? Is there more to it than facts and statistics? Explain.

2. What sort of narrator is H.F.? What seem to be his main characteristics, and how do those characteristics enhance the authenticity of his account? (It might be useful to examine the narrator's account of his decision to remain in London rather than fleeing to the country, as many others did.)

3. How does the narrator handle the flow of information (rumor, legal pronouncements, medical data and advice, etc.) in London during the time of plague? What would you say he means us to understand about the City's efforts to keep track of the plague's movement and ultimately control it?

4. What moral lessons does the narrator draw from the specific events and/or general behavior patterns he details throughout his account? In responding, discuss one or two significant instances of how infected people react to their condition, how the healthy deal with their dread of the disease and its victims, how Londoners respond to the authorities' preventive and disciplinary regimens, etc. (This question could be developed into a paper.)

5. Do the narrator's conduct and commentary always support what you see as the overall moral purpose that informs his text? Explain. Moreover, how do you characterize that moral purpose--what statements does the narrative make about the relationship between human beings and God?

6. How does Defoe's conclusion to his narrative address (or not address) the issue of Providence and God's offer of redemption for sinful humanity? Do you think that Defoe wants to offer a comforting ending, or a disquieting one? Which has he offered, in your view?

Edition: DeFoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. New York: Norton, 1992. ISBN: 0393961885.