Summary Of Daniel Defoe's A Journal Of A Plague Year

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Daniel Defoe 's A Journal of a Plague Year is not simply a narrative about the etymology and effects of the Great Plague of 1665, rather, this narrative is concerned with how the plague relates to and affects humanity and our greater understanding of the world. This concern ultimately reflects the growing ideas of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. To Daniel Gordon, it is only within the Enlightenment 's modern city that the plague can become a "disaster of the highest magnitude," because it "symbolize[s] the other side of the coin of rationality” (70). The "uncontrollable force" of the plague creates an innate juxtaposition to human progress, specifically how we deal with that uncontrollable force (Gordon 70). Therefore, in setting humans against an unstoppable threat, Defoe is aiming to observe and record reactions in order to understand the nature of humans. To do this, he uses the school of empiricism, to set the human characters made test subjects into their psychological plague landscape. Jules David Law argues that British empiricism "emphasizes the epistemological primacy of our sense data" (IX). This sensory data can be seen through the empirical obsessions of H.F. and his bills, charts, and governmental ordinances: the physical records of the plague. So, rather than just theorizing or reasoning the immaterial ideas of the nature of man, empiricism, allows him to use the plague environment as a physical representation of that theory and observe the actual
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