Warning: This page will assume that you have seen the game all the through to the end. If you have not, please do so or read at your own risk.
Among The Sleep is a game highly notable for having a drastic case of The Ending Changes Everything: what initially appeared to be a straightforward horror game is revealed to be a story of an alcoholic mother and her toddler who is trying to make sense of their surroundings. While the rest of the game appears to be ridiculous nonsense beforehand, one can swiftly discover how much symbolism and brilliance is hidden behind it all. This page will be dedicated to explaining the symbols and psychology of the toddler's mind, with some of the symbolism taken from developer commentary in the game's Enhanced Edition. Feel free to add what you can.
Throughout the game, the toddler encounters three monsters: The first is a frizzy-haired shadowy creature with an umbrella, who provides a jumpscare in the home. The next is a frizzy-haired swamp beast that can catch the toddler, and the last is a trenchcoat with eyes on the inside. Each of these monsters is a representation of how the toddler views their mother in her stages of alcoholism.
- The Shadow Monster (Harald): The shadow monster is a representation of the mother going out to purchase alcohol.
- The figure is seen only shortly after a lightning bolt strikes, and is a complete silhouette, indicating that the child only sees the monster at night when there's not a lot of light to see by.
- The figure is shown wearing a coat and boots along with holding an umbrella, indicating that the figure is going out somewhere, such as to buy liquer.
- Harald is the only monster to not attack the child; as she would be going out to buy alcohol, presumably the mother isn't drunk yet.
- The Swamp Monster (Hyda): The swamp monster is a representation of how the toddler views their mother- or rather, their mother when she's drunk.
- An Interface Screw occurs at least three times throughout the game: once at the start, when their mother leaves the room and they hear her getting angry, again when they look at the swamp monster, and one final time at the end when the mother lashes out against her child. The screw never occurs when the mother is content, implying that the child believes that their mother becomes a monster when she gets angry. This fact is reinforced by the drawings found throughout the game: the mother and monster are shown as separate entities.
- The appearance of the monster is also bizarre, in that it wears a tank top, shorts, and has frizzy hair; this is possibly the state of the mother while drunk and upset, and as such is the most common time for when mommy may get angry. Additionally, at the end of the game, the mother is drunk, yet the interface is completely normal until she strikes them because she isn't dressed like the monster, and as such the toddler isn't aware that she's angry.
- Notably, the monster chases the toddler on sight, but never outright looks for them; it's the mother trying to get them to piss off.
- A major hint to the nature of this monster's true life equivalent is the animation sequence for a game over. The swamp monster picks the toddler up and shakes them around violently and screams at them. This is likely representative of the mother drunkenly abusing her child.
- The Trenchcoat Monster (Heap): The trenchcoat monster is another representation of the mother while trying to recover from a hangover.
- The appearance is likely inspired by the big, long trenchcoat the mother might wear while trying to avoid bright lights or loud sounds. The fact that there are a lot of trenchcoats during Heap's level may point to this being the time when the child is hiding from their mother in the closet as they do in the beginning of the level.
- The trenchcoat monster, unlike the swamp monster, will actively seek the child out, particularly when the child breaks bottles. This reflects how the mother, while hung over, is bothered by loud noises such as bottles shattering and is trying to find the child to make them stop. It also reflects how the child is actively hiding from their mother in the closet, and the mother may wish to find the child.
- Unlike Hyda, Heap is completely featureless outside of the namesake clothing, not even having a head as the eyes are seen only from out of the neck hole. This suggests that the toddler does not recognize the figure as their mother because she had muffled herself up inside a trench coat.
- Another differing factor from the swamp monster is the game over scene. The Trenchcoat Monster only reaches for you and takes you away, not with any apparent violence behind it. This is likely representing that the mother, while angry, is in more control of her faculties and will not try to actively hurt her child.
- Another connection between Heap and the mother is the bear; at the end of Heap's level, the toddler dangles over an abyss, holding onto the arm of the bear, only for the bear's arm to break off and leave the toddler to fall. Once the toddler wakes up, they find their mother holding onto the teddy bear without an arm; this suggests that the sequence was a stylistic imagining of the mother forcibly taking the teddy bear away from her child during the night.
The toddler is shown exiting the closet twice: once after they are shown entering it, a second time after they are not. The first time the toddler enters the closet with Teddy, there are trenchcoats freaking everywhere. As previously mentioned, the mother in her hangover is linked to trenchcoats, making them ominous and fearful, reinforcing the child's fear of their mother. Alternatively, they could be used as symbols of safety; when the mother opens the closet, she specifically notes "you need to stop hiding from mommy", implying that this is where they hide when she's drunk, which is often. This comes into play at the end, because whatever the hell happened the night before, it ended with mommy crying and drunk on the floor with teddy in one hand, and the toddler hiding in their closet.
Within the second level through the magic portal, there are a series of paintings showing a normal-looking woman drinking from a well and turning into the swamp monster. This shows that the toddler has some idea that the monster is created from drinking something, so the well represents the alcohol. Teddy also reads part of a book in the beginning that mentions thirsty animals upon a hill digging a well to find water before they die of thirst. This could represent the mother's desperation for alcohol or the mother's need to sober up before it destroys her completely as drinking water can help counter the effects of alcohol.
Near the start of the game, you are introduced to Teddy, a talking stuffed bear who accompanies you throughout your journey. It's commonly believed that he represents your father in some ways, since they are shown to share the same voice. When you enter the closet at the start, he says "I hope there are no monsters in here," which can reinforce the idea that the toddler hid in the closet whenever the mother got drunk, with the monsters being other versions of the mother. He also says that "if you ever feel scared in a dark place like this, you can hug me tightly. You might feel a little bit safer!" If you interpret the "dark place" as being one of their mom's drunk nights, then this could possibly mean that they wish their father would come get them during these times. This interpretation is implying that the father wasn't abusive as well, however.
The Memory Machine
To progress in the game, you have to place memories in a machine. All of these memories involve the mother happy and treating the toddler kindly, and to reach the end of the game where they leave with their father, they have to get rid of them. This implies that to cope with their mother's alcoholism and abuse, and having to leave her to live with their father despite still caring for her, they are abandoning the memories of happy times they spent with her so they won't feel conflicted.