chapter  10
4 Pages


ByChung-jen Chen

The overarching goal of this book is to show how the idea of contagion was expressed through narratives which motivated concrete public responses. Medical scientists, public health activists, and writers used the idea of contagion to create social consensus around moral and environmental sanitation—that is, to facilitate social control. However, the multitude of interpretations of the phenomenon of contagion created spaces in which writers and activists could criticize the failures and excesses of these very same technologies of social control. Contagion, as a literary and narrative device, promotes communication between the healthy and the infected, the sanitary and the filthy, the rich and the poor. The image of contagion as a social network which subversively connects us all belied the idea that disease was a reliable indicator of immoral or deviant conduct. However much contagion was feared, it also offered the ideal of a world of shared community in which human beings are all bound one another—for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.