Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1137
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 woman goes into menial service for three years, performing simple tasks such as waiting on tables in large public eating houses. After that, each is given an examination to determine whether he or she qualifies to attend one of the government professional schools. Those who do not quality are helped to find the jobs for which they are best suited and that they will most enjoy. If their first jobs prove to be wrong for them, they can try other kinds of work. In order to ensure that sufficient numbers of workers are available for all the essential jobs, positions are structured so as to be equally attractive. If a particular job is so boring or arduous that few people would want to choose it, the work hours for the job are shortened so that the position will attract enough applicants. Whether citizens are doctors or bricklayers, they are given the same amount of credit for their work.
Crime is considered to be a symptom of mental disease, and criminals are placed in hospitals and treated as patients. Julian learns that crime was reduced to an amazingly low level as soon as money was abolished—theft became silly when everyone had the right and the power to own the same things.
At the head of the government in 2000 is the president, who is controlled by Congress. Education and health care are controlled by boards made up of older professional advisers to the president. A woman who has been chosen by all the women of the country has the power to veto any bill concerning the rights of the female population. There is no public discontent with government, and international cooperation is common.
Julian asks Dr. Leete what he has done in his life and learns that the doctor practiced medicine until he was forty-five years old, at which time he retired. Now he studies and enjoys various kinds of recreational activities.
Edith Leete takes great pleasure in showing Julian the various advances the world has made in culture since his day. Music, for instance, is carried into all the homes in the country by telephone. Edith shows Julian the public libraries, where, he learns, his old favorites are still being read. The works of Charles Dickens are especially popular, as the citizens of the new world think Dickens one of the wisest men of the past in his judgment of the sadness of the old capitalistic system. Books are published by the government at the authors’ expense; if a book proves a popular success, the author receives royalties in the form of additional credit. Members of the public vote on works of art in the same way. When Julian comments that this plan would not have worked in his day because of the lack of public taste, Edith tells him that with general education the taste of the people has developed greatly. Julian becomes very fond of Edith and thinks how strange it is that she should have the same name as his long-dead fiancé.
When Julian becomes worried about a means of support, Dr. Leete tells him that he has arranged for Julian to take a college lectureship in history, as Julian knows much about the past that historians would be delighted to learn. Knowing that he is now secure in this new world, Julian asks Edith to marry him. She tells him that she has always loved him and explains that she is the great-granddaughter of Edith Bartlett. She had found some of Julian’s old love letters to the other Edith and had been charmed by them, telling her parents that she would marry only a man like the lover who had written them. Julian is pleased at this unexpected turn of affairs, and the two plan to marry and live happily in the wonderful world of the twenty-first century.