- Julian West, the narrator of Looking Backward,
was born into an aristocratic nineteenth-century family. A sufferer of insomnia, he built a sleeping chamber under his house to shield himself from the street noises in Boston. One night, Julian falls asleep with the aid of Doctor Pillsbury a skilled mesmerist. His house burns down during the night, but Julian is protected by his underground chamber. Julian is assumed dead, but, a hundred years later, Doctor Leete discovers the chamber while preparing the site for the construction of a laboratory. Julian has not aged a day, because his body was in a state of suspended animation. Julian awakes to an entirely different world--a world without war and poverty. Through Doctor Leete, Julian learns how these problems have been solved by basing the economy on public rather than private capital. Compared to the nineteenth century, the new world is an astonishing utopia. Every citizen is accorded a high standard of living, and the new economy is vastly more efficient than the old one.
- Doctor Leete is a representative of the twentieth century. When preparing a site for the construction of a laboratory, he discovers an underground sleeping chamber from the nineteenth century. Inside the chamber, he finds Julian West in a state of suspended animation. Doctor Leete helps Julian to understand the vast changes that have overcome the nation in the last century.
- Edith Leete is the intelligent, attractive daughter of Doctor Leete and his wife. She offers Julian a great deal of emotional support during the bewildering and difficult process of adjusting to twentieth-century society. Over time, she and Julian fall in love and become engaged, at which point Edith reveals that she is the great-granddaughter of Edith Bartlett Julian's fiancée from the nineteenth century.
- Mrs. Leete is Doctor Leete kind, compassionate wife. She is the granddaughter of Edith Bartlett Julian's nineteenth-century fiancée.
- Edith Bartlett was Julian's nineteenth-century aristocratic fiancée. Like Julian, she considered the wide gap between the rich and poor in her day a natural, irremediable condition of human society.
- Sawyer was Julian's African-American servant in the nineteenth century.
- Because he suffered from insomnia, Julian enlisted the help of Doctor Pillsbury a skilled mesmerist. Doctor Pillsbury never failed to put Julian into a deep sleep. Pillsbury trained Sawyer, Julian's servant, to bring Julian out of a mesmerized sleep.
- Mr. Barton is a twentieth-century preacher. After Julian is discovered in his underground sleeping chamber, Mr. Barton is inspired to deliver a sermon about the vast improvements of twentieth-century society over that of the nineteenth century. After hearing the sermon, Julian becomes depressed, because he realizes that he contributed to the barbaric and inhumane nature of nineteenth-century society.