Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


This story serves as a complement to "With a Difference," featured earlier in the Forerunner's fifth volume. In fact, Mrs. Martin's son might very well be the "modern mercantile villain" who preys on the innocent young Dora. In this second story of drugging and assault, Gilman draws even further on the racist rhetoric that surrounded the white slavery "epidemic," which arose during Progressive-Era moral reform. 

Ernest Albert Bell's 1910 account of the "war on the white slave trade," published in 1910 (four years before this Gilman penned the Forerunner's fifth volume) and the same year that the United States Congress passed the Mann Act, reflects much of the same hysteria. Gilman's anti-Italian sentiment is evident in Bell's account: "Many bakers, barbers and keepers of taverns, baths and drug stores were also traders in women. These depraved traffickers were regarded with the greatest loathing by the Roman people. The white slave traders of ancient Rome probably differed little from the Italian traders to be found in so many parts of the world today, notably New York and Chicago" (21).

Also like Bell, Gilman focuses on Chicago as an area of particular corruption. In the story, Mrs. Martin visits "
one of the great Social Settlements," which is most likely a reference to Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr's Hull House in Chicago. In 1895, Gilman took up a three-month residence in Hull House, time in which, as she reflected in her autobiography, she realized: “My interest was in all humanity, not merely in the under side of it; in sociology, not social pathology” (184). 

Bell recalls a young girl's account in Cook County Hospital*: "Every one in Chicago deceives you. No one told me the truth until I met you. You are the first real friend I could trust.' Girls are offered refreshments, either to eat or drink. Many are secured in this way and the girl has realized when too late, her refreshing drink was drugged, and she is a victim, a prisoner, and her life ruined."



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