Looking Backward: A Second Look


The Two Dreams of Julian West

            Julian West, the main character and narrator in Edward Bellamy’s utopia, Looking Backward, has two dreams in the book. In the first, West sleeps for 113 years and wakes up in 2000, where the society is entirely socialist. Throughout the dream, two weeks pass, and West learns about the society and falls in love. Dream number two only portrays a single day, one in 1887. Since Mr. West has recently seen a socialist society, he is appalled at the way people live. Which one seemed more realistic? Let’s take a look at science.

According to About Health, you forget most of your dreams. No doubt you’ve woken up after an amazing dream, and a few minutes later, you can’t remember it, unless you wrote it down. Sure, there might be a few hazy details left, but most of it is gone. As much as 95% of dreams are forgotten shortly after waking, according to dream researcher J. Allan Hobson. Therefore, if Dream #1 contained two whole weeks, Mr. West should have forgotten most, if not all, of it. However, in Dream #2, it’s all as clear as day. Because we don’t remember most of our dreams, the second makes more sense.

Researcher Calvin S. Hall collected over 50,000 dream accounts from college students over a 40+ year period. With these accounts, he discovered that negative emotions are more common in dreams. Yes, there are positive emotions, but they’re not as likely. In the first dream, Mr. West seems to feel positive most of the time, although he is quite a bit confused by the socialist society. He also falls in love. That’s a very positive emotion, and it makes him extremely happy. In Dream #2, the emotions seem to be more negative, which, according to Mr. Hall, is more likely. Mr. West is horrified at how people live in the year 1887, especially after seeing a “perfect society” in the previous. He reprimands his friends for wearing fancy clothing and eating fine foods while people starve on the street. However, he shouldn’t remember so much of the first. Although Bellamy didn’t have the science, today’s readers do. Neither dream is believable.

The second dream of Julian West is definitely more realistic than the first. Here’s why:

  1. Dream #1 contained two weeks’ worth of happenings, and West remembered it all.
  2. Dream #2 told of just a single day, something that is much easier to recall.
  3. We forget close to 95% percent of our dreams. West shouldn’t have remembered the entire first dream.
  4. Negative emotions are more common than positive ones in dreams. The first dream was, for the most part, positive. The society was “perfect”, West fell in love, etc. The second dream, however, was filled with negative emotion. Scientifically, that’s more realistic.

When looking at science, it’s clear which was more realistic. However, neither Dream #1 nor Dream #2 made complete sense. Out of Julian West’s two dreams, the second was definitely more real.




Cherry, Kendra. “10 Facts About Dreams.” About Health. About.com. Web. 24 February 2016. http://psychology.about.com/od/statesofconsciousness/tp/facts-about-dreams.htm