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Course Hero, "Looking Backward Study Guide," October 25, 2017, accessed December 14, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.

Looking Backward | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Julian West says he would not be surprised if the doctor told him a thousand years had passed, not just a hundred, so different does the city appear to him. The doctor tells Julian the past century has seen more changes than any other. He introduces himself as Dr. Leete. After a drink, a bath, and new clothes provided by his host, Julian returns to the rooftop to look at the city. Dr. Leete asks what strikes him most about the view, and Julian answers that he is most surprised by the lack of chimneys. Dr. Leete says combustion is now obsolete. Julian also notices how prosperous the city appears, and Dr. Leete wishes he could have seen Boston in Julian's own time, although he understands it was "rather shabby" because money was used on "private luxury" rather than the "adornment of the city, which all enjoy in equal degree."

Julian reflects on his mental state that evening. He observes he was experiencing "a feverish elation, a sort of mental intoxication," and he asks readers to think of how they might feel in similar circumstances. Dr. Leete introduces Julian to his wife and daughter, and invites him to dine with them. Julian observes Edith Leete in the artificial light of the home, calling her "the most beautiful girl I had ever seen." He finds her physically ideal, having "feminine softness and delicacy." He attributes her relative silence at the meal to curiosity about him. His hosts question him about the circumstances around his last moments in the 19th century. They guess that because no one but Dr. Pillsbury and Sawyer knew of the underground chamber, one of whom left town immediately after and the other likely died in the fire that happened that night, Julian's family and friends must have assumed he, too, died in the fire.

Analysis

The character of Edith Leete is introduced in Chapter 4. The daughter of Julian West's host, Edith is remarkable for both her beauty and seemingly coincidental connection to Julian's fiancée by her name. Julian is clearly struck by her looks, seeing her as the perfect fulfillment of feminine ideals. She says little in this chapter, so the particulars of her personality remain unclear at this point.

The author offers further explanation of how Julian comes to find himself there and what could have happened in the intervening years. To make the time travel possible, the author must explain how no one came to discover Julian's body in suspended animation from which they would have presumably awakened him, preventing him from awakening in the future. The somewhat elaborated scenario explained in the chapter is the author's explanation of how such an eventuality could have logically occurred. Julian, along with his hosts, speculates that Julian remained in the chamber for so long because the only two people who knew of its existence were gone. Dr. Pillsbury had left town immediately after putting Julian to sleep, and they guess that Sawyer must have perished in the fire that destroyed Julian's house. They surmise that Julian's family assumed he died in the fire, too, and so no one looked for him. Julian's body was left in the chamber until discovered when Dr. Leete began the excavation for his laboratory. This logical explanation serves to further bolster the premise of the novel for the readers.

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