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Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy

Chapters 8-14

Chapters 1-7

Chapters 8-14, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Leete explains that there is no longer any need for money to facilitate exchanges because the nation is the only producer and distributor of goods and services. Each year, the nation's wealth is divided evenly. Each citizen is issued a credit card for his share of the nation's wealth to purchase the goods and services he desires. Credit is not transferable, so there is no buying and selling between private citizens. The credit is more than enough to fulfill a citizen's needs, but there are provisions to manage the credit of those who spend recklessly. At the end of the year, any surplus credit returns to the nation. All citizens perform the same amount of labor, because the nation expects every citizen to do his best with his skills and abilities.

Julian asks why the average citizen would work so hard if he is guaranteed to receive the same pay as anyone else. Leete is surprised that Julian seems to think that only fear of poverty and love of luxury can motivate men to do their best. He reminds Julian that honor is also a motivation, pointing out the heroic acts of military men as an example. Now, a citizen's labor for the nation is the only means to gain honor and distinction. Each worker is assigned a grade and a class within his grade in recognition of his skill and effort. At fixed intervals, every worker is re-evaluated. Workers of higher standing are given first choice as to which part of their chosen industry to work in. For small, but still praiseworthy performance, there are numerous prizes and awards. Likewise, there are proportional punishments for those who fail to do their duty. Workers of higher grades are officers in the industrial army, and their performance is measured by the work of the men under their command. Those who are handicapped are given tasks suitable to their abilities. Those who cannot perform any tasks are not required to work. Julian is astonished that those who do not work can still claim an equal share of the nation's wealth as a right. Leete replies that even able-bodied men in a society derive benefits from the labor and skills of others.

Julian accompanies Edith on a shopping trip to her ward's distribution center, a beautiful, impressive public building. The nation tries to ensure that every citizen is within walking distance of a distribution center. After inspecting an astonishing variety of samples, Edith gives her order to the clerk, who transmits it by vacuum tube to Boston's central storehouse. Her goods will be delivered to her house before she gets home. The selection of goods is exactly the same in every distribution center, and even isolated villages are connected to storehouses by the tube system. Edith tells Julian that a citizen has 24-hour access to professionally-performed music, transmitted over a telephone connection. Julian is astonished at the wide selection of music on the day's program.

Julian no longer suffers from insomnia, because he falls asleep with the aid of the musical telephone. In the morning, Leete explains to Julian that many countries have converted to the same industrial system as the United States. Those that have not are slowly being transformed. An international council regulates the trade between nations. A country cannot charge more than it charges its own citizens for a good or service. International debts are averaged and settled every few years to prevent large trade imbalances from developing. Moreover, citizens are free to emigrate to other countries. Tourists trade their credit for cards of the country they visit. Afterwards, Edith shows Julian the family library, full of classics by the writers of Julian's day.

Julian joins the Leetes for dinner at a public kitchen. During the walk, a fierce storm overtakes Boston, but the pedestrians are protected by a large covering over the sidewalks, a public umbrella of sorts. Edith Leete is surprised to discover that, in Julian's day, certain jobs, such as that of a waiter, were considered "menial." Now that everyone belongs to the same class, there are no such attitudes.

Commentary

The long discussions between Julian and Doctor Leete are a symbolic representation of the dialogue between Bellamy and his audience. Julian, as a product of the nineteenth-century society, represents Bellamy's readers. Doctor Leete, as the mouthpiece for Bellamy's ideas, represents Bellamy himself. Through Julian, Bellamy anticipates the questions and concerns of his audience about his proposals for social reform. He rationally and systematically responds to these questions and concerns through Doctor Leete.

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Stagecoach analogy

by callmeklutchkid, February 16, 2014

I think it's important to include the stage coach analogy in the summary because I think it plays a big role in the set up of the story and it's just overall a big point in the book.

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