Looking Backward

Literapedia Book Notes for

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy


  • Julian West (ch 1)— the narrator and middle aged man of wealthy descent
  • Edith Bartlett (ch 1)— Julian’s fiancée
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett (ch 2) —Edith’s parents
  • Sawyer (ch 2)— Julian’s African American servant
  • Dr. Pillsbury (ch 2) — the “doctor” West calls regarding his insomnia
  • Dr. Leete (ch 3)— the mysterious companion who resuscitates West
  • Mrs. West (ch 4)— Dr. Leete’s wife
  • Edith West (ch 4) — Dr. Leete’s compassionate daughter

Chapter Summaries

  1. The narrator begins with a brief description of Boston and the social climate in the years following his birth in 1857 leading to the year 1887.
  2. After Decoration Day and spending the evening with his in-laws, the narrator returns to his home to have sleep induced upon him.
  3. The narrator awakens from his slumber and is surprised to learn that he has slept over 113 years and now resides in the year 2000.
  4. The narrator finally begins to accept the reality of his situation and formally meets Dr. Leete and his family.
  5. West and Dr. Leete follow dinner by a lengthy discussion about how the social problems of West’s time have been resolved in the year 2000.
  6. The two continue to discuss changes in the role of government as well as some of the social changes which have occurred over the lapse in time.
  7. The discussion between the two begins to examine more closely the economic workings of the time. The chapter ends with West being given something to help him sleep.
  8. West wakes up and takes a walk around the “new” Boston. When he returns, Edith attempts to comfort him and pacify his unease.
  9. After breakfast, West and Dr. Leete have further discussion about the economy and the system of distribution which has been adopted in 2000.
  10. Edith takes West shopping with her and each learns about the other’s system of distribution.
  11. West is further educated about technology of the time as he and Edith listen to music. West also discusses inheritance and jobs involving housecleaning and medicine with Dr. Leete.
  12. West probes Dr. Leete about how the organisation of the industrial army creates sufficient drive for good work ethic, and Dr. Leete continues to educate West on the intricate details of the social system.
  13. Dr. Leete explains to West how international trade works. Edith takes West to a room where is engrossed by books from his own time.
  14. West and the Leete family dine in the dining hall where a waiter sparks more discussion concerning society.
  15. A stop in the library after dinner incites a discussion on how publication works. At the end of the chapter, West has finished a modern novel which clarifies his views of modern times.
  16. West wakes up to find Edith monitoring him. Dr. Leete decides to take West to see the central warehouse, and on the way, there is talk of West’s integration into society as a historical expert.
  17. West and Dr. Leete visit the warehouse where Leete teaches West about the system of production. Their conversation also encompasses the post of President.
  18. After everyone else has gone to bed, West and Dr. Leete talk about work exemption and modern sports and recreation.
  19. After a morning walk, West comes back to the house and is educated on the legal system and crime (“atavism”). Discussion then tapers into how other types of smaller government besides the national have mostly been eradicated.
  20. West and Edith go back to examine the “tomb” where he fell asleep and he realises that he strangely seems to have no emotion about it until the mention of his fiancée, Edith.
  21. West and Dr. Leete spend the morning examining the educational system of the 21st century.
  22. After dinner, Dr. Leete answers West’s question on how this new nation is funded. They also discuss criticisms of the industrial system of West’s generation.
  23. West confronts Edith about something that he overheard as he was coming-to, but she is unwilling to tell him of this secret.
  24. West gives Dr. Leete a copy of the Boston Daily from his time, and conversation ensues concerning how the National Party changed problems apparent in his time.
  25. Conversation between West and Dr. Leete turns to the topic of the role of women and the relationship between the sexes.
  26. As it is Sunday, West inquires about how the Church of 2000 works and Dr. Leete explains just how. West and the Leete family listen to Mr. Barton’s Sermon.
  27. After a spell of depression and loneliness, West is informed of Edith’s lineage and that she too has fallen in love with him.
  28. West finds himself back in the 19th century but awakens the following morning to realise that it was simply a dream. He finds Edith and professes to her his unworthiness.

Student Contributor

Hunter Dyson, '08