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Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy

Chapters 23-28

Chapters 15-22

Analysis

Summary

Julian senses that Edith is hiding something from him, but she refuses to tell him what it is. He promises to wait until she is ready to tell him. Julian gives some of the nineteenth-century newspapers in his sleeping chamber to Doctor Leete Leete informs Julian that the anarchists who were making such a fuss in the nineteenth century were actually subsidized by prominent capitalists in order to scare the public into opposing economic and social reform. The reforms that did occur were brought about not by labor or political parties, but by a universal social commitment to the ideal of the brotherhood of man.

Women are also members of the industrial army, as they have been freed from the burden of domestic labor. Therefore, women are no longer dependent upon men for their maintenance. They are ranked according to a different system than male workers, and they have their own female general-in-chief, elected in the same manner as the male general-in-chief. She serves in the President's Cabinet and has veto power over any measure concerning women's work. Female judges preside over cases that involve only women, but judges of either sex may decide cases involving parties of both sexes. Leete explains that marriage is now based on love rather than wealth. Now that women are free to marry men who make the best fathers, society in general has improved greatly. Moreover, the relations between the sexes are much more frank. A woman can just as easily confess her love for a man as vice versa.

One Sunday, Leete invites Julian to listen to a sermon by Mr. Barton transmitted over the telephone wires like music. When Julian hears that he has been the inspiration for the sermon, he is eager to listen. Barton praises the vast improvements made in the conditions of the nation's citizens in only a century. The conditions of the nineteenth century seem now like unmitigated barbarism. Afterwards, Julian becomes melancholy because he contributed to the inhumane and immoral conditions of the nineteenth century that Barton so fiercely criticizes. He feels that he inspires revulsion, pity, and curiosity in the people around him as a representative of such an ugly age. Noting his distress, Edith asks Julian to tell her the reason for it. Julian explains that the sermon has dashed his hopes of becoming an equal and integrated member of modern society. Edith assures him that she and her family are sincere in their feelings of friendship for him. Julian confesses his love for Edith, and Edith confesses her love for Julian. Afterwards, Julian learns of her secret: she is the great-granddaughter of Edith Bartlett

Julian has a nightmare that his awakening into the twentieth-century utopia was all a dream. In the nightmare, he reads a nineteenth-century newspaper, a catalogue of the human misery caused by an economy based on private capital. In the nightmare, he fervently explains to Edith Bartlett's family why their way of life is so horrendous. He tries to explain to them how society can be changed for the better, but they become angry and expel him from their home. Julian is greatly relieved to find that his sudden return to the nineteenth century was nothing but a nightmare.

Commentary

For a nineteenth-century reading audience, Bellamy's ideas are radical, incredible, almost frightening. Likewise, the anarchist movement was reviled as a serious threat to social order. Bellamy cleverly makes his ideas for social reform more palatable by implying that they are less radical and threatening that those of the anarchist movement.

Bellamy only belatedly addresses the role of women in his imagined utopia. He very delicately addresses the narrow roles allotted to women in nineteenth-century society, because the women's rights movement was an extremely controversial issue when he wrote his novel. He ignores the matter of women's rights in favor of pushing for economic reform. Although this may have been a pragmatic move, it is problematic that Bellamy affords so little attention to half of humanity in his portrait of the perfect society.

Bellamy's reluctance to address this issue in a direct manner reveals the traces of his own biases against women. He maintains a strict separation between the sexes in his imagined utopia: women are not ranked under the same system as men. Women have their own general-in-chief, so it seems that a woman can never become President in Bellamy's ideal society. Therefore, there is no pretense to complete social equality between men and women in Bellamy's imagined utopia. He also seems to believe that women only become full adults when they marry and bear children. Single, childless women would not be allowed to hold positions of power in the government of Bellamy's ideal society. Nevertheless, Bellamy does support the notion that women can have lives and careers outside their marriages, an unorthodox attitude for the nineteenth century. Women are also equal with respect to pay in his imagined utopia. Therefore, Bellamy pushes for reforms that increase economic opportunities for women. However, he takes care not to frighten or threaten his nineteenth-century audience by assuring his readers that the sexes will still be distinct and separate, and that men will have greater responsibilities and privileges.

Bellamy only vaguely addresses religion in his novel. In his day, religion was the source of a great deal of conflict and controversy. He merely implies that religion continues to exist and be important in his ideal future society. Nevertheless, he does not offer any hard and fast details about the role religion plays. He uses Barton's sermon only as a means to summarize his critique on nineteenth-century society. Bellamy was well aware that religion was a powerful, influential institution in nineteenth-century society. Hence, he makes his radical ideas for social reform more appealing by placing them in the mouth of a trusted and familiar source--a preacher. He avoids offending any particular religious denomination, however, as the sermon itself does not promote any particular ideal of religious orthodoxy.

Julian's nightmare about returning to the nineteenth century allows Bellamy to shock the reader into realizing how completely he or she has begun to identify with his ideas for social reform. He also manipulates the reader's emotional attachment to Julian to draw him or her further into identification with his proposal for the ideal society. Bellamy hopes that the reader will rage and suffer with Julian when he tries in vain to enlighten his nineteenth-century friends and associates. He hopes that the reader will be as enraged, frustrated, and saddened by their complacency as Julian is.

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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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