Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


Throughout Chesnutt’s fiction, white Southerners are constantly dozing. Oftentimes, such sleepers expect those they enslaved (or, in post-war settings, employed as domestic workers) or loved ones to watch over their resting selves.

Protecting the sleep of the mistress was so entrenched in the customs of Antebellum slavery that even during Civil War-time, as Booker T. Washington recalls in Up from Slavery (1901),* male slaves guarded over their sleeping mistresses: “Any one attempting to harm ‘young Mistress’ or ‘old Mistress’ during the night would have had to cross the dead body of the slave to do so” (25). Interruptions of white sleep, as happens with John in “Hot-Foot Hannibal,” then, are considered post-war phenomena—The time when white landowners had the privilege of one enslaved to protect their every sleeping moment long since passed. One result of abolition, as Chesnutt satirically implies, is the sacrilege of white slumber.


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