Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


Julius describes the ham’s intrusion upon Dave’s sleeping habits as one of the most traumatizing aspect of his punishment: “Ef he turn ober in his sleep, dat ham would be tuggin’ at his neck. It wuz de las’ thing he seed at night, en de fus’ thing he seed in de mawnin.’” Eventually though, Dave's psyche finds comfort in ham. After it is removed, “He up’n tuk’n tied a lighterd-knot ter a string, . . . en he allus tied it roun’ his neck w’en he went ter sleep. Fac’, it ‘peared lack Dave done gone clean out’n his mine.” Paradoxically, Dave finds comfort in the night by simulating the very thing that originally disrupted his sleep. Contributing to Dave’s mental collapse, then, is his lack of sufficient sleep while tethered to the ham. This scene also emphasizes the conflation of the body's most two basic needs--food and sleep--which were both hard to come by and often required the enslaved to sacrifice one for the other. 
In Up from Slavery (1901),* Booker T. Washington details how his mother sacrificed sleep to feed her children: "My mother, of course, had little time in which to give attention to the training of her children during the day. She snatched a few moments for our care in the early morning before her work began, and at night after the day's work was done. One of my earliest recollections is that of my mother cooking a chicken late at night, and awakening her children for the purpose of feeding them" (15). 


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