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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 3 | Summary



When Julian West regains consciousness he is aware of three voices speaking nearby, those of a man and two women. The man suggests it would be best if he only saw one person when he opened his eyes. One of the women asks the man to promise not to tell him something. When Julian opens his eyes, he sees a man about 60 years old. The man gives him something to drink and, when Julian asks where he is, assures him he is safe. He then asks Julian when he went to sleep. "Why, last evening, of course," Julian responds, "at about ten o'clock." When the man asks him on what date he fell asleep, Julian asserts it was Monday, May 30, but wonders if he has slept more than a day. The man gently, gradually reveals that Julian has been in a trance that suspended all his bodily functions and preserved his body for 113 years. Julian is "partially dazed" at the news, and taking another drink that is offered to him, falls asleep again.

When he awakens, Julian finds the man, a doctor, at his side. Julian is even more disbelieving, suspecting it must all be an elaborate prank. He asks about how he came to be in the doctor's home. The doctor explains that he came across the corner of Julian's underground chamber when excavating land to build a laboratory. The top of the chamber was covered in soot and ashes, and one wall was clearly part of the foundation of an old house, which he concluded had burned down. He found Julian when he entered the chamber, and his knowledge of the old field of "animal magnetism" led him to suspect Julian had been mesmerized into a trance. Julian demands proof of the doctor's story. The doctor realizes Julian is an educated man of good understanding, and answers all his questions and objections logically. The doctor then takes Julian to the roof of the home, and Julian beholds a vast city far different from any he has ever seen. He recognizes it to be Boston, but only from a few landmarks. He is forced to believe that he has indeed awakened in Boston in the year 2000.


Julian West's reaction of disbelief mirrors the readers' skepticism of the premise of the novel. Waking up after years of sleep is not without precedence in literature, however. There is the tale of Rip Van Winkle, which Julian references when he responds to the doctor's claims by saying he likes good fiction. Julian's doubt of the doctor's story and his suspicion that is all a prank gives voice to readers' feelings of skepticism and provides an opportunity for the doctor to answer the questions it raises in their minds through Julian's questions and his responses. When Julian finally confronts the proof of his time travel and views the city of Boston—but one drastically changed from the Boston he knew—he is convinced. His acceptance serves to soften readers' disbelief, at least for the purposes of continuing to read the novel.

The author introduces the kindly doctor, Dr. Leete, one of the main characters of the novel, in this chapter. He is calm, caring, educated, and patient. He seems to be genuinely concerned with Julian and takes great pains to break the news to him as gently and carefully as possible. He feeds Julian pieces of information a bit at a time, rather than overwhelming him with the truth of his situation all at once. He urges calm and warns Julian against taking too much on at once. His restorative and calming drafts of an unknown liquid help Julian rest. The doctor knows exactly what piece of evidence will convince Julian, whom he sees as an intellectual equal. The doctor provides the ultimate evidence of his claims, the Boston of the 20th century, which will be his primary subject of explanation for the remainder of the book.

The author hints at the mystery and romance part of the novel in this chapter. Readers are left to wonder who the two women are and what their relationship to the doctor might be. The author intentionally omits any explanation of what the woman wants the doctor to keep from Julian and why she is so insistent. She presumably has only just laid eyes on Julian. What does Dr. Leete know that she could feel so strongly about keeping from Julian, a stranger?

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