Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year had incredibly similar parallels to the current COVID-19 crisis. From how nations regarded the pandemic to the rising death toll, it was surprising that a text written nearly 300 years ago felt so relevant today. But there is one moment in particular that stood out to me, where the narrative has somewhat changed today. This moment is how Defoe described migration.
Defoe described the story of the wealthy leaving the country during the plague while low-income earners were left to stay in the city, far more exposed to the disease. The journeys that the rich versus the poor took, during or not during a pandemic, have always been vastly distinct. Even during COVID-19, many of those who could afford to went away on glamorous vacations and getaways.
While it is true that those who didn’t have the wealth or privilege to do this stay put where they were (similar to what was described in Defoe’s journal), there is a new addition to today’s world that Defoe wasn’t able to capture in his journal: migrant workers. Several migrant workers from all over the world were forcibly kicked out of their jobs and homes and had to make their journey back “home”. But the journey they made was very different from the privileged seeking an escape. This video poignantly addresses the journey of migrant workers in my home, India –
Migration and mobility have taken on a new shape in today’s world. And who we are, our occupation, our sponsor, our identification or lack thereof, makes all the difference in how smoothly our journeys go. Even more so in a pandemic.
Great contrast between the idea that the plague is a leveler — it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, etc. — and the reality that it spreads unevenly. Perfect video to capture this. And I think we’ll have lots to say about Defoe’s portrait of the poor — even his use of the word “poor”!