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Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes

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The novel is set in Boston in May of 1887, and also in the year 2000. The Boston of 1887 is the present time of the novelís original audience. It is a time of industrial expansion, a time when workers are treated as replaceable parts, when poor people are blamed for their poverty, when wealthy people feel righteous in their ownership of the majority of the wealth in the city.

Boston of the year 2000 is the fictional present of the novel. It is a utopia, a city in which everyone is fed and cared for, listened to and considered, entertained and educated. All the problems of the nineteenth century have been solved and everyone looks back on that time with pity and awe at its irrational excesses.


Major Characters

Julian West
A thirty year-old man from the nineteenth century who finds himself one hundred years in the future. He writes a book about the backwardness of the nineteenth century so that people of the twentieth century can see how far they have progressed.

Minor Characters

Edith Bartlett
Engaged to Julian West in the year 1887. She is a wealthy woman who considers labor strikes an unbearable inconvenience.

Julian Westís African-American servant.

Doctor Pillsbury
The mesmerist who puts Julian West into a century-long trance.

Doctor Leete
The twentieth-century man who finds Julian West and resuscitates him. Later, he serves as the heroís guide in the twentieth century.

Mrs. Leete
The twentieth-century woman married to Doctor Leete. She turns out to be the grand-daughter of Edith Bartlett.

Edith Leete
The twentieth-century young woman who becomes engaged to Julian West.

Mr. Barton
Preacher of the twentieth century.



Julian West, a nineteenth-century man who had become complacent in the face of nineteenth-century inequalities and social injustice.


The nineteenth century, with its many social and economic problems and its complacency and/or pessimism about them.


Julian West gradually realizes the irrational economic system and the bankrupt morality of the nineteenth century and accepts his own complicity in the corruption of the period.


Julian West becomes an enthusiastic critic of the nineteenth century, embraces progress and becomes engaged to a twentieth-century woman. The novel ends happily, in comedy, despite the traumatic events to which the hero is subjected.

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