The short story, “Roman Fever” illustrates the shocking relationship between two women, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade, by a chance meeting in Rome. As the story opens the two women are sitting on the terrace of a Roman restaurant that has an astonishing view of the Colosseum and other Roman ruins. While the women sit in silence and enjoy the tranquil view from the terrace they notice their daughters down below running off to spend a romantic evening with two young men. This triggers Mrs. Slades memories of her and Mrs. Ansley’s quixotic adventures in Rome as young adults and their first encounter with “Roman fever”. Wharton uses the term Roman fever to illustrative the women’s past relationship that is embedded with destruction, jealously and deceit. Both women live their life privately consumed with Roman fever for twenty-five years, once these secretes are reveled an ironic twist will still hold a plague on the lives of these women.
Over several centuries Roman fever was used to describe the spread of malaria outbreaks in Rome; the city was embedded with this disease due to the swampy terrain that surrounded the area becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos. This plague was not only an actual concern for the women during their younger voyages to Rome, but holds a symbolic meaning as well. In reminiscing about the past the women bring up Mrs. Slade’s Aunt Harriet and her actions against her own sister when she found out they were in love with the same man. "Oh, yes; Great-aunt Harriet. The one was supposed to have sent her young sister out to the Forum after sunset to gather a nightblooming flower for her album.”, At any rate, the poor little sister caught the fever and died. Mother used to frighten us with the story when...
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... Barbara," she said, and began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway.”(384), after years of thinking she had stopped Delphin from seeing Mrs. Ansley, oddly by writing the letter she pushed them together that night.
These women Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade feel as if they know most everything about the other person, but as the story continues they realize there is more than meets the eye. Irony and symbolism are powerful uses of literary devices in this short story. These devices tie major points together allowing an understanding of the connection between the characters and Roman fever. Destruction, deceit, and fear ran rampant in the young adult lives of Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley thus, leading to a lifetime of grief. To illustrate this grief the Roman coined term for malaria, “Roman fever” was used to help symbolize the malice in their relationship.
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