Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


The rocking-chair lifestyle Gilman describes at the start of "Fulfilment" highlights the ways in which Irma and Elsie both save up energy, but it is the latter who expends it in a way that is useful to both herself and society. 

In a volume two Forerunner essay,* Gilman observes, “A living creature is a mechanism which carries within itself stored energy. It has a certain amount, in small bills and silver as it were, for everyday use.” This stored energy is exerted in daily activities, yet the amount of energy one has to expend, Gilman implies, is dependent upon on how much energy one has saved up. To save energy, an individual must attain proper rest, but that person can only do so as her or his social situation permits. 

Annie Payson Call makes a similar speculation in her 1891 sleep discipline book Power Through Repose**: "The locomotive engine only utilizes nineteen per cent of the amount of fuel it burns, and inventors are hard at work in all directions to make an engine that will burn only the fuel needed to run it. Here is a much more valuable machine—the human engine—burning perhaps eighty-one per cent more than is needed to accomplish its ends, not through the mistake of its Divine Maker, but through the stupid, short-sighted thoughtlessness of the engineer."

Whereas Call assumes that each engineer of a “human engine” should be blamed for excessively burning fuel, Gilman questions who actually maintains power over the energy that a body stores and expends in a given day. By comparing bodily acts of rest and expended energy to the exchange of currency, Gilman implies that rest is meted out to those according to their class and social means. For example, the wage laborer’s payment is determined by the boss, who also determines the laborer’s working hours and, thus, the amount of time the worker may reserve for daily rest. The amount of sleep a worker achieves each night represents a renewed amount of expended energy that is then traded for wages. In the context of the Forerunner, Gilman explores possibilities for white women to seize control over the social currency of sleep (as energy storage) within the context of the domestic economy.


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