Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


At the end of “Po’ Sandy," John is “startled me out of an incipient doze” when Annie awakens him in the night. After ruminating over Julius’s tale, Annie reverses her request that John use a dismantled schoolhouse as lumber for a new kitchen. In digesting the meaning of Julius’s tale, Annie is compelled to awaken her husband and share with him her new understanding. The anxiety that enslaved people suffered in lacking of control over how and where their bodies were transported and relocated is reflected in Sandy's anguish. He says to Tenie: “I wisht I wuz a tree, er a stump, er a rock, er sump’n w’at could stay on de plantation fer a w’ile.” This longing for stillness and rest went unrequited for so many of the enslaved in the Antebellum South. 

In Frederick Douglass's autobiography,* he recalls the distance that enslavement put between himself and his mother. He details the ways in which she sacrificed her own rest to ensure that he slept well. She died prematurely seemingly from overwork and exhaustion.

"I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. . . . She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary--a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee's Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger" (2-3).  


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