Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


“A March for Women” calls on Forerunner readers to “Wake! Wake! Wake to the work before you! / Rise! Rise! Rise to the toil to-day! / Brain and body, heart and soul, / Strain to win the splendid goal!” This “splendid goal” is for white, middle-class women to achieve greater social power. Gilman emphasizes the importance of women’s awakening and uses her poetry to compel readers to awareness and social action.

Her novels, meanwhile, provide a practical account of what she hopes to achieve through such an awakening. Moving the Mountain,* for instance, is a prime example of a stratified society working collectively under the science of efficiency. In the novella, Gilman converts her real-life social system—in which workers exchange energy for money to satisfy their individual and familial needs—into a system that channels labor energy for a socialist system, so that, just like collective wealth, society-at-large can benefit from a collective expenditure of energy. As John’s brother-in-law Frank explains, the nation’s advancements in efficiency result from the social body’s strategic use of collective energy: “The business of the universe about us consists in the Transmission of Energy. . . . We ourselves, the human animals, were specially adapted for high efficiency in storing and transmitting this energy; and so were able to enter into a combination still more efficient; that is, into social relations. Humanity, man in social relation, is the best expression of the Energy that we know.” Such a system requires that each individual understand one’s position in the social strata and then habituate themselves to a lifestyle that facilitates efficiency in their given professional area. As Frank puts it, “Because of its special faculty of consciousness, this human engine can feel, see, think, about the power within it; and can use it more fully and wisely. All it has to learn is the right expression of its degree of life-force, of Social Energy” (303). The way in which life force is both channeled and expressed is decided by the committees that Gilman peppers throughout Moving the Mountain. These committees—it is implied that they are made up of local leaders, such as Nellie—decide what individuals do, how much rest they have access to, and how they spend their time throughout the day.


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