Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


In “Making a Change,” Gilman illustrates Gilman’s concern over sleep deprivation’s effect on a white, middle-class woman struggling under the burden of domesticity. After giving birth, Julia Gordins suffers from being “kept awake nearly all night, and for many nights” as “she spent her days in unremitting devotion to [her baby’s] needs, and to the care for her neat flat; and her nights had long since ceased to refresh her.” Whereas Alice in “Her Housekeeper” supposedly needs no sleep at all, for Julia, sleep deprivation is so acute that Gilman compares it to “a form of torture” (311).

This story counters popular turn-of-the-century myths about overpowering. Thomas Edison, in particular, publicly argued that with the invention of the lightbulb sleep was a thing of the past. While Edison is typically perceived as advocating for a specifically masculine strain of wakefulness, women's popular periodicals also advocated for limited rest. For example, an 1889 issue of Ladies Home Journal* praises Edison’s ability to sleep fewer than “four hours a day": 


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