In the Eyes of Contemporaries: Documentation

Anne Frank’s diary documentation of living through World War II
Daniel Defoe’s title page of his novel

We mentioned today about what it means for Defoe’s piece of writing to be considered a journal, in all that it has encapsulated for us in terms of illustrating the events of the plague outbreak in London in 1665. A journal may be considered a medium of documentation of news and events in a personal nature: a diary, almost. To better explain how a journal may be perceived as a better medium for such writing of Defoe’s for the time of the outbreak, let’s take famous Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. It is a book of the regular writings of a young girl, Anne Frank, while she was in hiding with her family for two years during World War II in the Netherlands. The diary was received positively by many, it created a lost and unknown narrative into what it felt like to be in place during World War II. Her diary was a point of reference to many victims and casualties that had been targeted and died during the war, especially to those who survived till the end. Her journal created a voice to those who didn’t have it within themselves to explain or elaborate on such experiences, it created a voice for the dead; it was, you could say, crucial for their experiences to be known. Without the writings of this once 12 year-old girl, we wouldn’t have known exactly how one person, even if just a young girl, had felt during that exact time and moment of World War II. Putting this into Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, even while it is a piece of fiction factly present in the back of our minds, it is interesting to read this piece after all the background knowledge we have accumulated about contagion and contagion theory, and how people have responded to these kinds of outbreaks. Even while it is unreal and not presented by an actual eye witness of the time, we can feel, or at least imagine, how the people of London went through their lives during this devastating period in 1665. As people living through the 21st century, we cannot and will not be able to say we fully know what it felt like to be in their situation, in the situation of those who were suddenly subjected to such a tragedy that seems almost surreal for our own selves. Therefore, the fact that Defoe used such a structure of a journal and diary almost, creates the sudden change of perspective that we are able to directly see and live through a citizen’s eyes experiencing that specific time, even while we know the information being presented to us is fictional.

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