Looking Backward Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Julian West has had difficulty sleeping. In order to have complete quiet, he has built a soundproof room with thick cement walls in the cellar of his house. He is also in the habit of having a mesmerist named Dr. Pillsbury put him to sleep using hypnosis. On May 30, 1887, he goes to dinner at the home of his fiancé, Edith Bartlett, and spends an enjoyable evening with her and her father. He then goes home, has the doctor give him a treatment, and goes to sleep. When he awakes, he finds strange people in the room. They ask him who he is and when he went to sleep. Julian is amazed to learn that he has been asleep for 113 years, 3 months, and 11 days.

In the course of lengthy questioning, Julian finds out that during the night he last remembers, his house burned down except for the sealed room in which he slept. Not knowing about that room, everyone assumed that he had died in the fire. Because of his hypnotic state, his body has remained the same, and he is still a young man of thirty when he is discovered by Dr. Leete in the year 2000. Dr. Leete and his daughter, Edith, are very kind to their guest from the past and try to explain to him the changes that have taken place in the world since he last saw it.

Boston in 2000 is a beautiful, new city, with attractive buildings and spacious parks; only the bay and the inlets are as Julian remembers them. The strikes and other labor troubles of the nineteenth century resulted in a bloodless revolution, and now a socialized government controls all business. There is no smoke or pollution because electricity is used for the heating of buildings. All the people are healthy and happy.

Dr. Leete tries to explain to Julian that in 2000 there is no money. The state gives each resident, regardless of position, a debit card to cover all annual expenses; everyone’s debit cards are of equal value. If an individual proves incapable of handling his or her debit card intelligently, the government provides supervision to enhance that person’s understanding of the system and how it works. Julian visits one of the big distribution centers to see how goods are sold. He finds that the store is stocked entirely with samples that represent every type of material made in or imported by the United States. Buyers pick out the items that they desire and place their orders with the store’s clerks, and the clerks then relay the orders to the central warehouse, which delivers the items to the buyers’ homes before the buyers have even returned from the store. Julian is very impressed with this system.

In this society, every individual receives a full education until the age of twenty-one. A broad cultural course is taught so that there is no intellectual snobbery among the people. At age twenty-one, a young man or...

(The entire section is 1137 words.)

Looking Backward Summary

Chapters One-Two
The first two chapters of Looking Backward are used to introduce the main character and narrator, Julian...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)