Literature Annotations


Bradbury, Ray
Fever Dream


Genre Short Story (6 pp.)
KeywordsAdolescence, Body Self-Image, Children, Communication, Disease and Health, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Hysteria, Illness and the Family, Infectious Disease, Parenthood, Patient Experience, Science Fiction
Summary

Thirteen-year-old Charles has been sick with a fever for days. The family doctor makes house calls and diagnoses the problem as scarlet fever and a cold. The boy is unconvinced and questions the physician's certainty since no diagnostic tests have been done. Charles is terrified when first his hands and then his legs change. He senses that his extremities become swollen, warm, throbbing, and twitching. Although the limbs appear normal, Charles is sure that he no longer has control of them. Recalling how the wood of petrified trees transforms into stone, he now fears that his entire body has been irrevocably replaced by a propagating mass of microbes.

The doctor dismisses the boy's fright as the result of fever and imagination. He placates Charles by giving him pills. When Charles begins choking himself, his parents restrain him in bed. Fortunately, the teenager improves dramatically. His fever disappears, and he is suddenly robust. Yet there is something odd (and a bit creepy) about Charles following his recovery.

Commentary

This short story draws attention to the changes (psychological as well as physical) and anxiety associated with both puberty and disease. Adolescence and infection are offered as examples of how individuals are sometimes helpless in resisting a "takeover" of their bodies. Loss of control is a terrifying proposition. The protagonist's quandary calls to mind the questions and concerns that adolescents may have about their bodies and their futures.

The boy's parents provide little emotional comfort to Charles even though they seem devoted to him. The physician downplays his patient's complaints and attributes the strange symptoms to fever, hallucinations, and possibly hysteria. Are the pink pills that he gives Charles an antipyretic, antibiotic, or placebo?

The actual cause of the boy's perceived body transformation remains mysterious. Maybe the family doctor is correct, and Charles is experiencing dreams and hallucinations. Perhaps the streptococcal infection has triggered or unmasked a neuropsychiatric disorder. Less likely, Charles suffers from a rare clinical disorder--alien hand syndrome--that results in a loss of control of the hand and imparts the feeling it is disconnected from the rest of the body. Might his situation simply be a vivid and especially disturbing nightmare? Or is it a preternatural event?

SourceThe Stories of Ray Bradbury
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Edition1980
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Miksanek, Tony
Date of Entry 09/09/05
Last Revised 12/01/05