Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


“Mrs. Merrill’s Duties” exemplifies a twofold agenda in Gilman’s Forerunner: To emphasize the importance of natural over artificial sleep and to advocate for women’s public dedication to such a valuation. It tells the story of a woman who invents “a safe and simple sedative, something which induced natural sleep, with no ill results.” Mrs. Merrill feels it is her social duty to share her discovery and is, in turn, venerated by her society. This fictional discovery may represent Gilman’s hope for a cure to what she viewed as the improper drugging of society, which kept white women from waking up to their stunted evolutionary development. 

Mrs. Merrill's soporific is implicitly contrasted with narcotics such as morphine that were popular during the period. Gilman elaborates on the dangers of such sedatives in her Volume Seven essay “Studies in Social Pathology.”* In it, she compares the “general condition of our present society” to “that of a man drugged, faintly conscious, at times, trying to move heavy limbs, with a dragging nightmare effort from which he continually sinks back to unconsciousness” (vol. 7, 119). Men it seems are most susceptible to these drugs. An observation matched in an 1899 issue if the National Druggist**: 
The treatment for this condition is described in similar terms as Mrs. Merrill's invention:*Permalink:

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