The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Using the form of a conventional romance, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 tells the story of Julian West, a wealthy young Bostonian who is an insomniac. Besides sleeping in a soundproof vault deep in the bowels of his home, he employs a hypnotist to ease his sleeping problems. One night after West has retired, his house burns down. He is not discovered until the year 2000. Somehow, his underground chamber and the deep sleep induced by the hypnotist have protected him for 112 years.

West’s discoverer, Dr. Leete, cannot convince him that he really is in Boston in the year 2000. Once on the roof of Dr. Leete’s house, however, West finally realizes that he is in a time far removed from his own. Boston now is alien to him. Later, he learns that the city, culture, society, and government that once were familiar all have disappeared.

The city is now cleaner because of the absence of air pollution from coal heating. No longer are there extreme differences between poverty and wealth. All citizens have government-issued credit cards, thus restricting the use of cash. Most private industry has been nationalized, eradicating corporate competition.

Everyone has a job in the “industrial army.” The labor force, or industrial army, has changed. Service in it begins at the age of twenty-one and ends when a worker is forty-five. All jobs are equal, although there are four classes of workers. First, there are common laborers, a class to...

(The entire section is 437 words.)