Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


By the end of the story, Mrs. Morrison’s organization holds five hundred members, allowing her to continue life unwed and dedicated to social service. The “Power in Repose” —a tool utilized by the utopian society of Moving the Mountain*—is a central tenet to Gilman’s promotion of women’s industry and the advancement of the female social body. Paradoxically, Gilman speaks of people in Moving the Mountain as having “waken[ed] to the fact that they could do things with their brains” through the practice of principled rest. Thus, proper sleep requires its own form of “waking up” via education, disciplined brainpower, and physical effort.​​​​​​

Gilman's notion of "power in repose" may have derived from Annie Payson Call’s 1891 book on sleep discipline, Power Through Repose.** The debate over sleep’s role in modern life at the turn of the century is best summarized through the twofold interpretations provoked by Call's title: On the one hand, Americans sought to power through sleep by resisting it altogether; while on the other, they pursued individual and social power through sleep by cultivating principles for proper repose. Call intended to do the latter in Power Through Repose, and her conception of sleep precedes Gilman’s discussion of “rest and power” in the Forerunner. For Call, repose—as an act of tranquil, restorative rest—is powerful when one has the freedom and self-discipline to decide when, where, and how one achieves repose, either through enduring sleep throughout the night or intermittent naps during the day. Call refers to the body as “the machine,” asking her readers: “How can we expect repose of mind when we have not even repose of muscle? When the most external of the machine is not at our command, surely the spirit that animates the whole cannot find its highest plane of action. . . . [H]ow can we . . . hope to realize the great repose behind every action, when we have not even learned the repose in rest?” Call unites the ideals of efficiency with an allegiance to animism, arguing that humans cannot reach a higher level of spiritual being without achieving adequate sleep habits.


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