The Fever

Shawn, Wallace

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Dramatic Monologue

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Apr-13-2001
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


In this dramatic monologue, the speaker is traveling in a warring country, and wakes up shivering and vomiting in a "strange hotel room, in a poor country where my language isn't spoken." As to the cause of this illness, he points out that an execution is occurring on this day at this hour. He lives through the execution as if it were his own ("And so now they come--they come for the man who lies on his cot").

He sees the "breaking of the skin" and his "body shifting upwards, slightly in the air" as the electricity is activated (4). He knows that it is the Marxists who are "being tortured and killed" (16). Throughout the monologue, the speaker attempts to make sense of his privilege in the face of poverty, violence, and injustice.


This remarkable little book presents a stunning look at the costs of awareness. Throughout his monologue, the speaker insists on linking his physical illness to the illnesses of the world, particularly the illness of wealth and privilege. He continually flashes between memories of his enjoyment of society, food, good hotels and travel and his awareness of the suffering in which he both exists (as a traveler in this foreign country) and with which he is complicit (as a privileged person in the U.S).

He asks questions about "goodness." For example, in the past when he has seen a beggar in another country, "sick, very sick, near death, " he thinks, "Yes . . . there's money in your purse--you'll give her some of it." But the voice that says, "Why not all of it?" is the "question that could poison your life" (38).

He concludes that "sympathy for the poor does not change the life of the poor" and that "believing fervently in gradual change does not change the life of the poor." Being taught good values does not make for social change. As the speaker oscillates between brilliant awareness and despair, he sketches out the lineaments of a profound moral quandary--perhaps the moral quandary of our age: what do we, the privileged, do with the knowledge of suffering and injustice?

This is short and would provide rich material for a discussion on the politics of health. As a performance piece, it could be spoken by a man or woman of any age, and would be quite powerful performed in a space that allowed for discussion afterwards.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux: Noonday

Place Published

New York



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