Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

II.X.4 Mirth

Unfortunately, production via industry proves too much for an exhausted Lily and she is ultimately laid off. Scholars have often attributed Lily’s lack of workmanship to her “charming listless hands," which had never been trained to do anything other than “knotting a ribbon or placing a flower to advantage." 

This is true, but Lily’s dexterity and ingenuity is not only impacted by her upper-class raising but also by the sleep-deprivation brought about by her insomnia. Moreover, Lily’s genetic vulnerability to the repercussions of sleeplessness may more fully accountable for her failure at the millinery. Unlike the other female workers who work proficiently despite their  “fagged profiles . . . [and] the unwholesomeness of sedentary toil," Lily cannot maintain a proper function while stationary and exhausted.

While at work at Madame Regina’s, “Lily’s head was so heavy with the weight of a sleepless night that the chatter of her companions had the incoherence of a dream . . . On and one it flowed, a current of meaningless sounds." Once again, we find Lily in a dream-like state symptomatic of an exhausted body's lapse into wakeful sleep. This scene in particular reveals how a specific symptom of sleep-deprivation directly results in her poor work performance.

As Lily’s body remains in a seated position for a long period of time, her fatigued body lapses into early phases of sleep, causing her to waver between conscious wakefulness and unconscious dozing. It is no wonder that she is soon reproached for her poor handiwork, upon which Lily muses: “The forewoman was right: the sewing . . . was inexcusably bad. What made her so much more clumsy than usual? Was it a[n] . . . actual physical disability? She felt tired and confused: it was an effort to put her thoughts together." Given that Lily has exposed throughout the novel a myriad of sleep disorder symptoms, her revelation that she may have an “actual physical disability” represents her understanding that her complications with sleep negatively impact her self-advancement.

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