The Sleeper Awakes

H. G. Wells: The Sleeper Awakes (1910).
The "Sleeper", Mr. Graham, is a depressed insomniac who suddenly falls asleep in the last years of the 19th century and doesn't awake until over two hundred years later. He finds that his meagre money has been well managed in the meantime, and that with compound interest he has become the owner of the world.
Naturally, this means that many people have a deep interest in Graham. The Council, who are in charge of his fortune, want him to stay asleep so they can continue to rule. The downtrodded masses have a superstitious expectation of the Paradise that will arrive when the Sleeper awakes. A fellow named Ostrog manages to wake him and overthrow the Council, in order to rule in Graham's name, while keeping him ignorant of the world of the 22nd century.
After learning of the plight of the people, Graham seizes power himself and inspires the people to fight against their oppressors. The book ends as this battle seems to be victorious, but Graham himself is on the verge of being killed when his aeroplane crashes.

Wells, as usual, describes the world in a thought-provoking way. Graham's egalitarian and democratic ideals are sympathetic, but he lets himself be fooled by the power-hungry Ostrog, who isn't such a champion of the people as he gives himself out to be. Have we seen that before, I wonder? The class society of the 22nd century is a reflection of Imperial England of Wells' time, even to the fact that the lowest classes can be recognized by their uncouth dialect. The power of international corporations over all other political, spiritual, and social forces is well described, while carrying it to its extreme.
The development of the hundred years since the book was written has, of course, carried us in directions different to what Wells describes. The difference, however, is one of detail only, I fear. The trend of power for its own sake and the trend of economic power being the strongest one is, indeed, still to be seen.
One can only hope that we and our decendants will be able to break these trends and create a more humane society than that which the Sleeper awakes to.

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