Influenza 1918 by Jane Brox

Intention: The intention of Brox’s essay is to bring awareness to the tragedy of the influenza epidemic of 1918. In her essay, Brox takes the audience to the small town of Lawrence, Massachusetts where she focuses on the lives of those affected by this devastating disease. Her raw, descriptive details let the audience experience a part of history through the eyes of these suffering people. By focusing on the lives of ordinary people in an ordinary town, she is able to regard the immensity of this influenza and the wake of damage it left.

Pathos: The intense relationship between the writer, Jane Brox, and her audience grows throughout the essay as she brings them to deaths door. Brox’s pathos is clear in her controlled descriptive details which relay the emotional turmoil and suffering of victims, to the audience. She projects scenes of history in the dying being cared for by family members, the sound of funeral wagons possessing down the street, and the carpenter trying to keep up with death toll. In her opening, she describes hospital tents on Tower Hill, “Tents were arranged in rows, in wards, and in precincts, making a grid of the old hayfield. Its crickets were silent. Its summer birds had flown. The soaked canvas flanks of the tent ballooned in a wind and settled on their frames.” (Brox 120) The detailed descriptions of life in this small town makes the audience sympathetic to the victims of the influenza, and serve as a reminder of this tragic piece of history.

Ethos: Brox is a credible writer because, as explained in the essay, her father experienced the influenza firsthand. She describes the personal impact it had on their family, who’s farm was just outside of Lawrence. The information and scenes depicted by Brox are trustworthy and similar to historical records. By connecting her personal ties to the epidemic, Brox creates a depth to her writing with first-hand experience and direct insights into this period of history. She  concludes the essay with her family’s influenza experience to secure her status as a credible speaker and reliable source of insight into the epidemic.

Quote: “A child whose life is no longer given a name or a length, so short is it remembered by the one fact of his death.” (Brox 125) This quote applies not only to the to the deceased boy, but to all those who succumbed to the influenza. It relays a scene from earlier in the essay where Brox describes a doctors attempt to keep record of influenza patients, “They com down now in the Influenza Journal distinguished only by their address or nationality.” The quote describes the demeaning effects of death by masses over a short period, and the lack of reliable records on patients. This quote hit me extremely hard because it is similar to genocide, there are so many lives lost at a growing rate to the point where victims of the influenza are only remembered by the illness that claimed their life- not by a name or loving memory.

–Chloe Klusman


Speaker: Jane Brox was born in 1956, meaning she wasn’t even alive during the outbreak. Even though she has no memory of this event, she still manages to write this piece with vivid detail that evokes imagery and pathos. Brox probably got most of her information from her parents, who were children at the time. Knowing that Brox does not have first-hand experiences can make her loose ethos. However, this piece is meant more to evoke imagery and was not intended to be a historical retelling.

“The flu cut right through, spreading ahead of its own rumors, passing on a handshake and on the wind and with the lightest kiss. No spitting. No sharing food. Keep your hands clean. Avoid crowds. Walk everywhere. Sleep with the windows open.”

In the above quote, Brox talks about the flu and the measures that many took to prevent catching it. How the flu is described, Brox personifies the disease and makes it sound like a parasite or hungry beast. The end of the quote becomes really effective when all of the sentences become short and choppy. It gives the section a sense of severity or urgency, which works well with her topic. In the last sentences, you can almost hear the voice of a mother giving strict instructions to her children in an attempt to keep her family healthy.

Brox has a very interesting opening to this piece. Instead of delving straight into the nitty-gritty tragedy of the piece, she begins with some background imagery describing what life is normally like in this rural town. She mentions some of the areas landmarks as well as some if the people who live in the town. This is a start contrast for later in the essay. Brox later talks about average people doing jobs not suited to their professions to show how everyone’s lives changed during the outbreak.

-Sierra Houser

Imagery: Bronx uses gruesome imagery to emphasize the devastation that the 1918 influenza epidemic caused. The deaths are so often and so gruesome, that her descriptions make death seem almost meaningless. The author uses the 5 senses to create a vivid image of what it was actually like to live in the town, seeing the dead bodies, smelling the rot, hearing the ambulances, etc.

Tone: The tone of the essay is almost that of a dystopian novel: hopeless, morbid, and fatal. The author touches on the emotion of the town’s inhabitants, of having not nearly enough time to mourn before another loved one dies, or before they begin to experience symptoms themselves. She describes the feeling of a duty left undone by not giving many victims of the flu a proper burial–how the constructs of their society wilted at the looming presence of death. Death spared no one, and everyone knew one of the dead.

Quote: The quote “Processions seemed to be blown by a directionless wind” could mean, in the literal sense, that funeral processions went through the town so often, they seemed like tumbleweeds, aimlessly wandering in the wake of a directionless wind. Though this is a well-developed image, the “directionless wind” could symbolize the plight of the townspeople as well. Life became precious and wavering, unpromised, unsure. While dealing with the grieving process, the townspeople also feared for their own lives, and yet had to go about living as if nothing was wrong. Influenza was the opposite of the war that preceeded it; there was no enemy to fight, no one was safe, and only the directionless wind of death could determine who would live to see another day and who would not.

–Tay Sauer

Symbolism: Brox references “Tower Hill” multiples times in the essay.  It’s the location of the make shift hospital they set up in 1918 due to the amount of fresh air it got.  Originally there was a farm on the hill but all the changed due to the flu.  Like Tower Hill, everyone’s lived changed due to influenza.  People had to change their lifestyle to try to avoid contracting it and Tower Hill had to change its purpose because of the flu.  But, at the end of the epidemic, Tower Hill reverted to normal and so did the people of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Background:  In 1918 a pandemic of influenza sprung up around the world.  It killed more people than WWI.  Over 20 million people died to the flu between 1918-1919 making it the most deadly epidemic in world history.  It had a widespread effect on people all over the world shrinking the average lifespan 10 years due to the amount of deaths.  Many people compare it to the Black Plague due to how much it changed the living conditions of everyone alive at the time.

“The mounds of earth beside the open graves were composed of heavier and stonier soils than any they had cultivated in the arid land they had been born to.  Impossible to return to that country now, though they said their words in Arabic before turning west out of the gate.”  This quote reflects how deadly the flu was and how final death is.  Lawrence is a small farm in Massachusetts with an array of different groups who had immigrated there.  Many of these people died to the flu and had to be buried despite their original dream of coming to America for a better life.

–Steph Lohbeck


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